Tunesday: Otis Redding – (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay

Ed. note: It’s Tuesday so that means at, it’s Tunesday! Every Tuesday, we will share a song with you that we love and hope you will too. Today, Monika picks Otis Redding.


I chose Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” for today’s Tunesday because it was my first favorite song. I can’t type the title without singing the chorus: “Sitting in the morning sun. I’ll be sitting when the evening comes. Watching the ships roll in, then I’ll watch ’em roll away again.”


I don’t know why a mournful song hooked me as a kid. I didn’t think of it as sad at the time. I just liked the voice, the words, the melody. The whistling. I couldn’t sing, but I could whistle! I grew up on the water, in foreign countries, so singing about being alone and watching ships was familiar. Didn’t we all sit on the dock? Back in the day, there was radio. You had to wait for your song to play. So when it did, you stopped everything, and you LISTENED to it. This made songs seem much more special back then. I was nine or 10 when I bought my first GE tape recorder for $18 at the military base exchange. I must’ve waited WEEKS for my song to play on the radio. When it did, I held my tape recorder up to my transistor radio (God, this is painful. Can I be that old?) and GOT IT. Now I could play it ALL the time. And I did, for awhile. Somewhere along the way, I lost it. Maybe the tape warped or I recorded a new song over it.
Cue the calendar quickly and theatrically fluttering through the years. New songs were played on the radio. Cassette tapes were replaced by CDs, CDs were replaced by digital. All the songs in the world were at our fingertips. And the story behind every song and every artist is available, too. The backstory of “Sittin'” is nothing short of tragic. Redding recorded the hit, but never knew its success because he died in a plane crash just days after recording. The iconic whistling was actually a placeholder for words he hadn’t composed and had planned to replace before it was released. I didn’t know the back story when I first fell in love with the song. I wonder if that knowledge would have affected my reaction to it. I wonder if all this INFO we have about the artist, the producers, the marketing campaign, the video, the creation ends up diluting the actual song? Or does a fuller story enhance the experience of listening?
Today, when I hear “Sittin,” I try to remember the purity of experiencing just the song like I did as a kid. Because then the only history is of me discovering the first song that was mine.