4 min readThe Standells – Dirty Water (1965)

The Standells - Dirty Water


In an obviously lip-synced unknown television version, this is the group at that time that recorded this song. I said “at this time” as the members of the Standells changed many times over the years. The original Standells band was formed in 1962 by lead vocalist and keyboard player Larry Tamblyn with guitarist Tony Valentino, bass guitarist Jody Rich, and drummer Benny King (aka Hernandez). Tamblyn had previously been a solo performer and is the brother of actor Russ Tamblyn and the uncle of actor Amber Tamblyn.

Despite being from Los Angeles and having never been to Boston before they recorded this song, the song is a loving tribute to Beantown, even though it references the Boston Strangler, muggers and “frustrated women” that have midnight curfews at their college dorms. It was written by their producer Ed Cobb and is reportedly based on an experience of Cobb and his girlfriend with a mugger in Boston in the mid-1960s.

The Standells were a Los Angeles garage rock band and are sometimes listed among others such as with late ’50s/early ’60s bands like The Wailers, The Kingsmen, The Trashmen (“Surfin’ Bird”), The Shondells, Shadows of Knight, ? & the Mysterians (“96 Tears”), and Patti Smith. The Standells band name was created by Larry Tamblyn, derived from standing around booking agents’ offices trying to get work. In early 1962, drummer Benny King joined the group, and as “the Standels”, their first major performance was in Honolulu at the Oasis Club. After several months, Rich and King departed. Tamblyn then assumed leadership of the group. He and Valentino re-formed the Standels, adding bass guitarist Gary Lane and drummer Gary Leeds. Later that year, the band lengthened its name to “Larry Tamblyn & the Standels”. In 1963 an extra “L” was added, and as “Larry Tamblyn and the Standells” the group made its first recording “You’ll Be Mine Someday/Girl In My Heart” for Linda Records (released in 1964). In the latter part of the year, the band permanently shortened its name to “The Standells” and after the Standells signed with Liberty in 1964, Leeds left the group, and was replaced by lead vocalist and drummer Dick Dodd. Dodd was a former Mouseketeer who had been the original drummer for The Bel-Airs and eventually became the singer who sang lead on all of the Standells hit songs. He reportedly bought his first snare drum from fellow Mouseketeer Annette Funicello for $20.

Although they never had much success other than this song, they also appeared in several low-budget films of the 1960s, including “Get Yourself a College Girl” (1964) and cult classic “Riot on Sunset Strip” (1967). The Standells performed incidental music in the 1963 Connie Francis movie “Follow the Boys”, which coincidentally co-starred Larry Tamblyn’s brother, Russ Tamblyn. The Standells played the part of the fictional rock group the “Love Bugs” on the television sitcom Bing Crosby Show in the January 18, 1965 episode “Bugged by the Love Bugs”. The band also appeared on The Munsters TV show, as themselves in the episode “Far Out Munster,” performing “Come On and Ringo” and a version of The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.

In early 1966, after recording “Dirty Water”, Dodd briefly left the Standells, and was replaced by Dewey Martin, who became a member of Buffalo Springfield. Dodd returned to the group several months later, as the song began to climb the charts. “Dirty Water” reached No. 11 on the Billboard charts on June 11, 1966, No. 8 on the Cashbox charts on July 9, 1966 and No. 1 on the Record World charts. The song might have cracked the Top 10 if it wasn’t up against heavy hitters like “Paperback Writer” by the Beatles, “Wild Thing” by the Troggs and “Paint It Black” by the Rolling Stones. “Dirty Water” was on the WLS playlist for 17 total weeks, tied only by the Mamas and Papas’ “California Dreamin'” for most weeks on that playlist during the 1960s. Though the song is credited solely to Cobb, band members Dodd, Valentino and Tamblyn have claimed substantial material-of-fact song composition copyright contributions to it as well as contributing to its arrangement.

In 1997, “Dirty Water” was decreed the “official victory anthem” of the Red Sox, and is played after every home victory won by the Boston Red Sox. In 2007, “Dirty Water, as sung by the Standells” was honored by official decree of The Massachusetts General Court. The song is now played not only at Red Sox games, but also those of the Boston Celtics, the Boston Bruins, and the Northeastern Huskies’ hockey games.

In 1968, Dick Dodd left the band to pursue a solo career, and the Standells continued to perform with a varying line-up thereafter, briefly including guitarist Lowell George who went on to play with Little Feat. Dick Dodd died on November 29, 2013 and as of 2014, some version using the name “Standells” continue to tour.

“Dirty Water” is listed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.”

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One thought on “4 min readThe Standells – Dirty Water (1965)”

  1. As someone who spent a goodly amount of time in the Boston area, this is a favored song. Technically, I lived on the other side of the dirty water. I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Still, most of us consider it a part of the “Greater Boston Area.”

    In fact, we’re so used to considering it as such, many of us will simply say “Boston” instead of elaborating that we’re in Cambridge, much like people will say they are from Boston instead of being more specific and saying they’re from “Dorchester” or “Roxbury.”

    There’s also “Sweet Caroline” which is so considered a Boston song that it’s traditionally sung during the seventh inning stretch at home Red Sox games. In that case, I don’t think most people actually know all the words, but they are enthusiastic at the “whoa oh oh oh oahhh” part. You’ll even hear people singing along when you use the seventh inning stretch as an excuse to get more beer and use the bathroom. They’re pretty enthusiastic about it!

    (I’m not really a baseball fan, but one can’t live in Boston, or near Boston, and not go to Fenway to watch some games. I’m pretty sure they revoke your Bostonian-Card if you don’t at least attend one game per year.)

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