Dock of the Bay half a century away

Otis Redding died in a plane crash, aged 26, fifty years ago. He shared the fate of a number of musicians who toured the US by air, didn’t quite make it to the 27 club.

(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay is one of his best known songs. It was incomplete when he died – he had recorded it in an initial session but planned a final session. The song was mixed after his death, with effects added (seagulls and wave sounds), and released posthumously.

The song is about his own experiences on a houseboat. In November 1967 he and guitarist/producer Steve Cropper recorded the first session in Memphis. Cropper explained the song’s origin in a 1990 interview:

Otis was one of those the kind of guy who had 100 ideas. […] He had been in San Francisco doing The Fillmore. And the story that I got he was renting boathouse or stayed at a boathouse or something and that’s where he got the idea of the ships coming in the bay there. And that’s about all he had: “I watch the ships come in and I watch them roll away again.”

I just took that… and I finished the lyrics. If you listen to the songs I collaborated with Otis, most of the lyrics are about him. […]

Otis didn’t really write about himself but I did. Songs like “Mr. Pitiful,” “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)”; they were about Otis and Otis’ life.

“Dock of the Bay” was exactly that: “I left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay” was all about him going out to San Francisco to perform.

From Wikipedia:

Redding had considered the song to be unfinished and planned to record what he considered a final version, but never got the chance.

While discussing the song with his wife, Redding stated that he had wanted to “be a little different” with “The Dock of the Bay” and “change his style”.

The song features a whistled tune heard before the song’s fade. It was originally performed by Redding, who (according to Cropper) had “this little fadeout rap he was gonna do, an ad-lib. He forgot what it was so he started whistling.”

Redding died in a plane crash in Wisconsin on 10 December 1967.

The song mix was completed and released the following month. It got to the top of the US Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Rhythm and Blues Singles chart.

It peaked at 3  on New Zealand’s Listener chart on 7 June 1968. Here’s a blast from the past:

I can’t remember what I preferred then (not most of those songs), but Dock of the Bay would be my easy favourite out of that list now.

A great ‘capture the mood’ song.

Dock of the Bay, half a century away, but timeless.

13 Comments

  1. Conspiratoor

     /  December 10, 2017

    It’s interesting to speculate how some songs stand the test of time while most, like the others on this list, are easily forgotten. Perhaps a catchy tune is less enduring than a good story about a man down on his luck

    • Trevors_Elbow

       /  December 10, 2017

      Delilah still beloved by welshmen everywhere! 😁

    • Gezza

       /  December 10, 2017

      I remember nearly all of those songs although Dock of the Bay is easily the most memorable one. Some of the others I remember mainly for being kitsch. Standouts are Delilah – right up there with DOTB, & then Xanadu, If I Only Had Time, Jennifer Eccles (wolf whistle in the chorus), Lazy Sunday, Poor Jenny (funny) & Lady Madonna (excellent piano riff number).

      • PDB

         /  December 10, 2017

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  December 10, 2017

          It’s interesting that most have survived-I have never heard ‘1941’, but almost all of the others are still played from time to time.

          I wonder how many of 2017’s top 50 will still be known in 2067-oh, for a time machine.

          Most of those have stood the test of time fairly well-but Honey is well named, too sweet and sickly beyond words.

  2. Blazer

     /  December 10, 2017

    some real …cringers’ in that…list.

    • PDB

       /  December 10, 2017

      What do you mean?

      • Blazer

         /  December 10, 2017

        that no.4 and no.10….

        • PDB

           /  December 10, 2017

          “Honey” (no. 4) hit no. 1 in the NZ singles chart for one week on the 21st June 1968 before being overtaken by “Lazy Sunday” (no. 15) by the Small Faces.

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  December 10, 2017

            See the tree, how big it’s grown,
            But friends, it hasn’t been too long
            It wasn’t big-
            And I remember perfectly
            The first time that we planted it
            Was just a twig

            And Honey, I miss you (ou-ou-ou)
            And I’m (being good ?)
            And I’d love to be with you (ou-ou-ou)
            If only I could

            She crashed the car
            And she was sad
            And she was scared that I’d be mad,
            But what the heck-
            Though I pretended hard to be,
            Guess you could say she saw through me,
            And hugged my neck

            And Honey etc

            I came home unexpectedly
            And found her crying needlessly
            In the middle of the day,
            And it was in the early spring
            When flowers bloom and birdies sing
            She went away…

            And Honey etc

            There’s something about crying over old movies and the Late, Late Show that has slipped my memory-thank goodness.

            I am astonished to realise how many of those I can sing :-/

  3. PDB

     /  December 10, 2017

    Looks a bit like the new Labour-led govt?

    • Gezza

       /  December 10, 2017

      Have another look, with some glasses on. They look a lot more like the last lot. In fact, if it wasn’t for the likelihood PG would delete it, I could even advise all the names.

  4. Kitty Catkin

     /  December 10, 2017

    Did anyone else think that the boondocks in the song about down in the b, think that boondocks were the waterfront ?