Song Analysis: “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of a Bay” by Otis Redding

Otis Redding has been noted as one of the greatest soul singers and composers of all time. Also known as the “The King of Soul,” he is remembered mostly because of his powerful voice, soulful lyrics, and who he inspired.
Redding did not only influence the masses, he influenced many famous musicians. Some artists that Otis Redding have inspired or have covered his songs include The Grateful Dead, The Doors, Willie Nelson, Al Green, Pearl Jam, Etta James, Rod Stewart, and Kanye West. Even if Redding had a seemingly-short career, his sound will carry on for many generations.

The song I chose to analyze lyrically is “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of a Bay.” The reason I chose this song is that it is unlike his many romantic and love-centered tracks. This song is more introspective and discusses an inner battle as opposed to having problems with a significant other. Although it could be thought of as a song he wrote in a moment of happiness and peace, my impression was more pointed towards defeat. Redding wrote it after being influenced by The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. He listened to the album during a week he spent at a houseboat in California while performing at San Francisco’s Fillmore West Theater in 1967.

There are some noticeable influences The Beatles had in this song when comparing to Redding’s former music. Like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, there were moments of musical simplicity and lyrics that mostly talked about oneself, instead of a proclamation of love. He was unable to finish writing the last verse though, as he passed away just four days after recording began. His co-writer Steve Cropper decided to fill in the last verse with Redding’s whistling. Before learning this, I thought the whistling was intentional and fit perfectly, representing how the meaning of a song could be understood without words being spoken.

“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” sold over one million units and was Redding’s first number one single on Billboard Magazine’s pop chart. The song also won two Grammys in 1968. This song is credited with further influencing the soul movement by combining R&B and folk.

Alexandria Sanders
Alexandria Sanders

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