When Stevie Winwood first heard the single after which this album is named, he said “Is it a Dylan song? Eric Burdon? Sounds like Otis.” Stevie’s credentials are excellent, and his answer is very revealing. “Dock of the Bay” does sound very much like something that Dylan could have written. Both he and Otis were headed in the same direction.
As it is, it is Otis’ last single (Stax-Volt thinks they have enough good unreleased tapes to make another album) and the only indication left of where Otis was going to take us. It is possible to thing that the tremendous emotional impact of this song — and that would be the indication of its soul — is in part due to his death, but the song itself, a distillation of all that’s best in soul ballads, stands as one of Otis’ very best recordings. “Dock of the Bay” indicated a real change in Otis’ ballad style; he refined down to two beautiful lines the techniques of tension against melancholy that he used in “Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa” and “Try a Little Tenderness.”
The cuts on this “memorial album” were selected by Jon Landau, who went through all of Otis’ recordings and picked his best performances with the exception of most of the best-known material. People who don’t buy R&B singles should be especially grateful as should those who are not disc jockeys and did not obtain the Stax “Stay in School” album, a release which featured all the Stax-Volt performers in an antidrop out propaganda piece. “Huckle-Buck” from that album is a performance that swings like mad. Where the horns aren’t carrying it, the bass is. Just great.
“I’m Coming Home,” a nearly faultless display of Otis’ voice, because of the arrangement, particularly the horns which provide the primary texture, is relatively uninteresting and should probably not have been included in this set. “Ole Man Trouble” is too loose on this recording. While it is a fine song and a moving one with which to close this album, it can be found in a much better version on Otis Blue.
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Dock of the Bay is one of the finest collections of Otis’ recordings: the others are History of Otis Redding which contains all of his big hits; and Dictionary of Soul (“Complete and Unbelievable”).
Dock of the Bay is one of the essential LP’s for Redding fans. It is an excellent collection, obviously put together with both love and respect for what Otis Redding did and who he was. In many ways, this is the history of Otis Redding. “Tramp,” his duet with Carla Thomas, really brings it home. Carla says “You know what Otis? You’re country; you straight from the Georgia woods.” And Otis says “That’s good.” It sure is.