On January 8, 1968, 45 years ago today, one of the greatest songs in the history of recorded popular music was released as a single. Ever since we've been sittin' here dangling our feet off the dock just wastin' time.
During the summer of 1967, singer Otis Redding was riding high. He headlined successful tours of Europe and began to bring along new artists under his wing. In June, he left a pool of sweat on the stage during his set at the Monterey Pop Festival. This headlining appearance on Saturday night brought him to a much wider audience with a show-stopping performance of some of his best hits backed strongly by Booker T. & The M.G.'s.
During the tour Redding started to write a new song on scraps of paper and napkins. In response to the Beatles latest album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, he wanted to shift his sound against the wishes of his wife and record label. By the time he got to the studio he was able to finish the song with guitarist Steve Cropper.
Opening with a machine simulating ocean waves and a slow bass line, the song sounded more pop than his previous work, but the melancholy lyrics still resonated with deep soul. According to Peter Gurlanick's book, Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom, Redding thought it was the best song he ever wrote and believed it would top the charts.
Tragically, less than a month before "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" was released, Redding lost his life along with six others from his backing band The Bar-Kays in a plane crash into Lake Monona outside Madison, WI. He had recorded the song at Stax Studios in Memphis, TN on November 22, 1967 with overdubs on December 8, just two days before the plane crash. Posthumously, the single became the first song to reach the top of the charts.
Otis Redding - "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay"
We will never know what future greatness Redding had in store for us had he lived and continued to create music, but he left us with a wonderful catalog to remember his legacy.
In response to Redding's death, singer Eddie Floyd, best known for his hit "Knock On Wood," wrote a song to express his feelings of heartbreak over the sudden loss of his friend. "Big Bird" was written while Floyd waited in a London airport for a plane back to the United States for Redding's funeral. While he never mentions Redding directly in the lyrics, there is the line that makes it clear who it's about.
With me down here
and you up there
now all we know is
it ain't no fair
Floyd's tone is far from melancholy as the groove pounds with help from Booker T. Jones on organ and guitar, Al Jackson, Jr. on drums, and Donald "Duck" Dunn on bass; you can hear the frustration in the tone of Floyd's voice and the musicians playing their instruments. The song is a fitting tribute to the powerful singer from Georgia that left us much too early.
Eddie Floyd - "Big Bird"