Week 210: “Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding


To me, this song is simultaneously relaxing and eerie. Relaxing because, well, who wouldn’t want to be sitting on a dock, wasting time? But it’s eerie because of the backstory.

By the late 1960s, Otis Redding was successful enough to be touring in his private plane. One foggy day, his good friend James Brown advised him not to fly, since conditions weren’t great. Redding and his band took to the air anyway, and the plane ended up crashing into Lake Monona in Wisconsin. Only one passenger survived, and Redding’s body wasn’t found until the lake was searched the next day.

At the time of the accident, this track had been recorded but not released. So you’ve got to figure there must have been plenty of discussion about when to release it. And you’ve got to imagine that somebody would have thought that opening the song with the sound of waves was a bit eerie, considering the circumstances of Redding’s death. But the sound effect is still there, and as lovely as the song is, it creeps me out just a bit.

Anyway, the song went on to reach #1, a first for a posthumously-released record.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The chords in the verse slowly rise and fall, like the tides that Redding is describing in the lyrics.

2. If you listen carefully, you can hear a bird that tweets quietly at 0:55, and again at 1:50.

3. Otis’ whistling at 2:19, which he did because he hadn’t yet come up with lyrics for the final verse. They decided to keep the whistling, because sometimes a whistle is worth a thousand words.

Recommended listening activity:

Planning a (road) trip.

Buy it here.