“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding

“Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” weaves the tale of an individual who quite frankly seems bored with life. In fact his pessimism extends beyond simple boredom, as he left his home in Georgia since he felt he “had nothing to live for”. Yet now “two thousand miles” away, situated in what is likely a completely-different environment on “the ‘Frisco bay”, Redding still finds himself with a “loneliness (that) won’t leave (him) alone”. Indeed while their, his time is preoccupied with lazily watching boats come and go.

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Otis Redding's (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay at Lyrics.org.

Despite the singer’s uninterested outlook on life, this song is not generally interpreted to be as bleak as the lyrics suggest. In fact the famous whistling outro suggests more of an indifferent feel than one of all-encompassing hopelessness. This is further illustrated in the bridge where Otis states that in light of ‘10 people telling him what to do’, he opts to “remain the same”. In other words, as lonely as it may be, he seems, at least to some extent, to have made a conscientious decision to seclude himself on the docks.

Lyrics of "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay

Facts about “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”

  • Otis Redding recorded “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” just three days before he tragically died in a plane crash on 9 December 1967.  But due to pressure by his record labels (Stax Records and Atlantic Records) to capitalize on this event, the song was officially released a month later on 8 January 1968.
  • Moreover Steve Cropper, who co-wrote the track, says that the experience of being forced to complete it freshly in the wake of Redding’s death was “one of the hardest things (he) ever had to do”.
  • In the process of doing so, Cropper and co. brought forth what turned out to be the first song by a deceased artist to top the Billboard Hot 100.  As such, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” also proved the be the signature song of Redding’s career, as it has sold in excess of four-million copies.
  • On the UK Singles Chart, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” peaked at number 3.
  • Additionally it has been placed on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list at an even equally-impressive number 26.
  • When the labels who employed Redding first heard “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”, they weren’t overly-impressed. And why? This was because it was a deviation from what they had grown to expect from the artist. His wife Zelma was not too enthused neither.
  • Otis Redding’s son, Otis Redding III, performed “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” at the inauguration of the Brannan Street Wharf in San Francisco on 17 July 2013. Moreover the lyrics of the song are actually engraved at the pier for viewing by the general public.


Logically a song of this magnitude has been covered by a number of artists.  In fact Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) has accredited “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” with being “the sixth-most performed song of the 20th century”, despite the fact that the artist behind it never had a chance to do so live. But for the sake of history, the most-notable cover is perhaps Michael Bolton’s, as not only did his rendition help launch his career, but it is also the favorite version of Zelma Redding’s, Otis Redding’s widow.

Iconic Whistling

Many have dubbed the outro to this song as “perhaps the most famous whistling in music history”.  However, Redding added this part only because he forgot the actual lyrics he intended to use in that section. Indeed this now-iconic whistling was more or less a placeholder, as in if Redding had actually survived to rework the song it is postulated that it would have been removed. In fact the whole song would have likely sounded differently had Redding lived to work on it further.

Did “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” win a Grammy Award?

This classic earned Otis Redding a posthumous Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Performance and both he and Steve Cropper a Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues Song.

Who wrote “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”?

Otis Redding only wrote the first verse of this classic. The rest of it was penned by Steve Cropper, a guitarist who was employed, like Redding, by Stax Records. Indeed Cropper claims that Otis “didn’t really write about himself”, and as such he was the one who usually handled the task of writing lyrics about Mr. Redding on a number of his songs.

However, Redding’s lyrics are still based on real-life events. In fact they were inspired by his stay in a boathouse in Sausalito, California.

Redding and Cropper are the only two writers of this song. The latter produced it. 

It should be noted that Redding’s composition of this track was inspired by an attempt by the artist to sound more like The Beatles and that fact that Redding was evolving artistically in general due to recent surgery he had on his vocal cords.

When did “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” come out?

It was originally released on 8 January 1968. The record label eventually included it on Redding’s posthumous album of the same name, The Dock of the Bay.

Usage of “Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay in Media

American soldiers who participated in the Vietnam War strongly-identified with this song due to it alluding to a more-peaceful reality than the one they were facing. Accordingly, it has been featured in the book We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War (2015). It also featured in American movies such as 1986’s Platoon and 1987’s Hamburger Hill, both of which were based on the aforementioned conflict.

Additional popular media this classic found its way onto is the 1986 Tom Cruise film Top Gun. It also appears in television shows like Family Guy and Sons of Anarchy.

Role in uniting America

Due to this classic being composed by both Black and White artists, it proved to be a symbol of racial unity in the wake of the murder of civil rights’ leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

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