(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay ► Monday Music Appreciation

On this day in 1968 “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” rose to the top of the charts, making Otis Redding the first recording artist to have a posthumous #1 hit. Too bad he was no longer around to enjoy it.

Redding died on December 9, 1967, when his private airplane crashed as he and his band flew from Cleveland to their next gig in Madison, Wisconsin. According to the WikiWackyWoo, there was only one survivor:

Although the weather was poor, with heavy rain and fog, and despite warnings, the plane took off.[60] Four miles (6.4 km) from their destination at Truax Field in Madison, the pilot radioed for permission to land. Shortly thereafter, the plane crashed into Lake Monona. Bar-Kays member Ben Cauley, the accident’s sole survivor,[51] was sleeping shortly before the accident. He woke just before impact to see bandmate Phalon Jones
look out a window and exclaim, “Oh, no!” Cauley said the last thing he
remembered before the crash was unbuckling his seat belt. He then found
himself in frigid water, grasping a seat cushion to keep afloat.[53] A non-swimmer, he was unable to rescue the others.[61] The cause of the crash was never determined.[62] James Brown claimed in his autobiography The Godfather of Soul that he had warned Redding not to fly in the plane.[63]

“(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” was released in January, just weeks after the plane crash. It was quickly picked up by radio stations and took almost no time to rise to the top of the charts. However, it didn’t get there just due to sentiment over Redding’s untimely death. The song, co-written with Stax Records‘ guitarist — and the song’s producer — Steve Cropper, is the very definition of a great tune.

“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” has been a hit with ears ever since:

In 1999, BMI named the song as the sixth-most performed song of the 20th century, with about six million performances.[25] Rolling Stone ranked The Dock of the Bay number 161 on its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, the third of five Redding albums on the list. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” was ranked 28th on Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, the second-highest of four Redding songs on the list, after “Respect“.[26]

Musicians, who are paid to know good songs, agree:

“The Dock of the Bay” has been immensely popular, even after its stay at the top of the charts. The song has been covered by many artists, from Redding’s peers, like Glen Campbell, Cher, Peggy Lee, Bob Dylan, Percy Sledge, Dee Clark, and Sam & Dave, to artists in various genres, including Jimmy Velvit (whose cover version was included on his 2001 Grammy-nominated album Sun Sea & Sand), Widespread Panic (who opened their New Year’s Eve 2005 concert with the song), Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson (whose duet peaked at number 13 on the U.S. country singles chart), Kenny Rankin, Dennis Brown, Michel Pagliaro, Jacob Miller, Pearl Jam, the Format, T. Rex (as the B-side of “Dreamy Lady”, released in 1975), Brent Smith of Shinedown (during an acoustic set in 2008 and with Zach Myers in a 2014 EP), Justin Nozuka (2007), Sara Bareilles (2008), and Garth Brooks (for the 2013 Blue-Eyed Soul album in the Blame It All on My Roots: Five Decades of Influences compilation). Playing for Change recorded a version featuring Grandpa Elliott, Roger Ridley, and other performers.

The proof, as always, is in the grooves:

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.