“(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay”
Became Otis Redding’s Swan Song
When Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” was released 50 years ago on Jan. 8, 1968, the hit song quickly became a musical touchstone, selling approximately 4 million copies worldwide and receiving more than 8 million airplays. At the time, Redding was a giant in the world of rhythm and blues but had not yet crossed over to achieve superstardom in the pop and rock worlds. With this catchy song, he truly broke through and won a worldwide audience. And yet, this tune may never have been heard if not for the singer’s tragic death in a plane crash just a few weeks earlier in December 1967.
Redding learned guitar and piano as a child, but his passion was for singing. He had deep roots in gospel music from his experience singing in the church choir but later said Sam Cooke and Little Richard were the inspiration for his distinctive style. Beginning in the late 1950s and continuing through his successful recordings and performances during the 1960s, his career followed a smooth trajectory upward.
During the spring of 1967, Redding’s Stax Records concert tour of Europe had made him a sensation on the continent. His astonishing performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June of the same year won him even more fans and publicity. He was on the cusp of superstardom and was eager to return to the studio to put the finishing touches on a song that he was certain would be a hit. He remarked, “This is my first million seller right here.”
Some record company executives were not so sure. The song was a departure for Redding and was considered too experimental—neither R&B nor rock nor folk. There were those who doubted it would ever be released. Any such doubts were erased by his death. As the music world mourned, the producers at Stax Records rushed the unfinished song to completion, production, and release. “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” ended up being Redding’s closing statement and his biggest hit, winning him two posthumous Grammys. This brilliant singer-songwriter is now a legend; his song remains for the ages.
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