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Monday, October 24, 2011

Dock of the bay...Every song tells a story.


(SITTIN' ON) THE DOCK OF THE BAY
- written by Otis Redding and Steve Cropper
- lyrics as recorded by Otis Redding December 7, 1967, just three
days before his death in a plane crash outside Madison, Wisconsin
- #1 for 4 weeks in 1968

Sittin' in the mornin' sun
I'll be sittin' when the evenin' come
Watching the ships roll in
And then I watch 'em roll away again, yeah

I'm sittin' on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Ooo, I'm just sittin' on the dock of the bay
Wastin' time

I left my home in Georgia
Headed for the 'Frisco bay
'Cause I've had nothing to live for
And look like nothin's gonna come my way

So I'm just gonna sit on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Ooo, I'm sittin' on the dock of the bay
Wastin' time

Look like nothing's gonna change
Everything still remains the same
I can't do what ten people tell me to do
So I guess I'll remain the same, yes

Sittin' here resting my bones
And this loneliness won't leave me alone
It's two thousand miles I roamed
Just to make this dock my home

Now, I'm just gonna sit at the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Oooo-wee, sittin' on the dock of the bay
Wastin' time


 
We hear songs all the time and after a while we really don't hear them.
Almost all of us have heard Dock Of The Bay by Otis Redding hundreds of times. It is a classic and a staple song. The sound of the ocean at the start, the whistling at the end. Otis Redding's smooth soulful voice and delivery. All the elements are there. Most of us have an idea what the song is about. But do we really?
In a 1990 interview , Cropper explained the "origins" of the song:


Otis was one of those kind of guys who had 100 ideas. Anytime he came in to record he always had 10 or 15 different intros or titles, or whatever. He had been at San Francisco playing The Fillmore, and he was staying at a boathouse, which is where he got the idea of the ship coming in. That's about all he had: "I watch the ships come in and I watch them roll away again." I took that and finished the lyrics. If you listen to the songs I wrote with Otis, most of the lyrics are about him. He didn't usually write about himself, but I did. They were about Otis' life. "Dock Of The Bay" was exactly that: "I left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay" was all about him going out to San Francisco to perform.

The waves and tide roll in. Then they roll out. That is what we hear and feel first.
Many don't know that was added after Otis Redding died, to enhance the song. He never heard that part. I am sure it was something he experienced when he wrote part of the song, but it wasn't there when he sang it.
Otis Redding whistled at the end because he forgot the lyrics so that just came naturally to him. Of course, it is now a trademark of the song and we can't imagine the song without that part.
That is just how it goes sometimes.

"There were concerns that "The Dock of the Bay" had too much of a pop feel for an Otis Redding record, and contracting Stax gospel act The Staples Singers to record backing vocals was discussed, but never carried out. The song features a machine sounding like the ocean waves, coming and going, as well as Redding's familiar whistling tune, heard before the song's fade."

-from the Wikipedia article on the song.


Last week I discussed Yesterday by The Beatles. I pointed out how such a simple song could make you think and say so much. This song is another one of those.

http://markdeutsch39.blogspot.com/2011/10/where-do-great-songs-come-from.html

The song has a simple piano riff with a simple drum beat. There is nothing really special about the song musically. It is just a simple pop song. This was a major change in direction for Redding, who sang powerful, high emotion based soul songs to that point. This was to be a departure for him. Of course he didn't live to see the fruits of this change.

  Redding's restrained yet emotive delivery is backed by Cropper's memorably succinct guitar playing. The song is somewhat different in style from most of Redding's other recordings, but one with which he was very pleased. While discussing his latest song with his wife, Redding stated that he wanted to "be a little different" with "The Dock of the Bay" and "change his style".

-from the Wikipedia article on the song.


A lot of the lyrics of the song point to a change that Redding was hoping for in his life. In a lot of ways the song is about that. But I will discuss that in detail shortly.

Otis Redding was a big star and most of us would think he had it made. The reality is that we never know what is going on in someones life. He was actually very reflective and sad just before he died in the plane crash. Dock of The Bay is a song that reflects that sadness and conflict.











In doing an artist profile of Otis Redding, I listened more carefully to the lyrics of his songs than I had ever done before. This song was the one that grabbed me the most. It was the one I had heard the most times of all his songs, but I guess I had never really listened closely. In learning  about Otis for the profile, I learned more about where he came from, Georgia, and how he had to travel for years to get to the point where he could play a festival like the  Monterey Pop Festival. . Otis Redding married young and was a family man. Being on the road to make his fame and fortune and living was an internal struggle he faced as an artist.


"While on tour with the Bar-Kays in August 1967, Redding wrote the first verse of the song, under the abbreviated title "Dock of the Bay," on a houseboat at Waldo Point in Sausalito, California. He had come off his famed performance at the Monterey Pop Festival just months earlier in June 1967. While touring in support of the LPs King & Queen (collaborations with female vocalist Carla Thomas) and his live set Live in Europe, he continued to scribble lines of the song on napkins and hotel paper. In November of that year he joined producer and guitarist Steve Cropper at the Stax recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee.

As we look closer at the song, we can see the autobiographical elements of the song.  
Sittin' in the mornin' sun
I'll be sittin' when the evenin' come
Watching the ships roll in
And then I watch 'em roll away again, yeah

I'm sittin' on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Ooo, I'm just sittin' on the dock of the bay
Wastin' time
 

You get the feeling that he felt he was just passing time, wasting time, as the days rolled by and he was waiting for his career to take off. The tide rolls in, then it rolls out. Nothing much changes. Many of us feel that way from time to time, that life is just a grind. 

I left my home in Georgia
Headed for the 'Frisco bay
'Cause I've had nothing to live for
And look like nothin's gonna come my way
 

Of course, in this stanza, he talks about uprooting from his home, with basically nothing to show for it and the hopelessness that it doesn't seem to be happening for him. The irony is that this song made that happen for him, yet he never got to see it. In life, some of us do get to see the years of hard work and sacrifice pay off, while others like Otis die before they can enjoy those long hard fought for triumphs.

Look like nothing's gonna change
Everything still remains the same
I can't do what ten people tell me to do
So I guess I'll remain the same, yes


Here he talks about frustration and doing what everyone tells him to do, when he knows he really can't and coming to the realization that he just has to be what he always was and let the chips fall. For most of us, we have these external pressures that we internalize to the point where we just have to reject all the pressure to fit in the box that others want us to. 

Sittin' here resting my bones
And this loneliness won't leave me alone
It's two thousand miles I roamed
Just to make this dock my home


Once again, the road is a lonely place. Most performers say the only time they are really happy on the road is when they are on stage. The hotel rooms, the crappy restaurants, the interviews and the external things that must be done to make it a successful venture just tire them out. In those days, many traveled by bus and had a long ride night after night to the next show in the next town. Jackson Browne talked about that in the song below.

 
Clearly, the dock gave Otis Redding some peace and allowed him to reflect on where his career and life was going. Little did he know, as none of us really do, that 3 days after he recorded this song, his time was up. 
In the end, he achieved what he would have wanted. A song and songs that followed that were big enough to allow him to settle where he wanted and make the music he wanted. He didn't get to enjoy that, but he achieved it nonetheless.

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