Standells – Dirty Water

This was a pretty big hit when it was released in 1966, reaching #11 in the Billboard 100. It didn’t gain its mystique until 50 years later when the Boston sports teams adopted it. The Boston Red Sox were the first to use it, playing it after home wins in 1997.

The Celtics basketball team and Bruins hockey team followed suit, making it the song most associated with Boston sports, and thus the city as a whole.

The Standells were an LA garage band… the song was written by their producer, Ed Cobb, a Californian who was once a member of The Four Preps and wrote the song “Tainted Love” recorded by the soul singer Gloria Jones in 1964. Cobb wrote “Dirty Water” on a visit to Boston that turned ugly. “I was with a girl,” he told Blitz magazine. “Two guys tried to mug us, but they ran away. So when I got back to the hotel, I wrote the song.”

From Songfacts

The “Dirty Water” is the notoriously polluted Charles River in Boston, which had become a receptacle for industrial waste. But the song comes off as a celebration of Boston, not an ecological warning:

I love that dirty water
Boston, you’re my home

It may be dirty, but it’s their home and they love it anyway.

The song has become a Boston anthem and a source of pride for the city, but it was written and performed by guys from Los Angeles who didn’t have any good tidings toward the city.

The guy in the song is happy to live in this gritty city among the “fuggers and thieves.” After all, it’s his home.

The line, “Frustrated women have to be in by 12 o’clock” refers to the curfew observed by Boston University co-eds at the time.

Standell’s drummer Dick Dodd, who was once on The Mickey Mouse Club (he claimed to have bought his first snare drum from fellow Mouseketeer Annette Funicello for $20), handled lead vocals on this track. His spoken lines and interjections (“I’m gonna tell you a story…” “Have you heard about the Strangler?”) he made up in the studio.

The Standells hit #43 with their follow-up, “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White,” but never got any higher on the chart and broke up in 1968. Variations of the group appeared in the ’80s, and when “Dirty Water” became a Boston favorite in the ’00s, they became more visible, showing up to perform the song at sporting events and corporate functions. Dick Dodd, who sang lead on the track, died in 2013.

This song is now considered a classic of the garage rock genre. Garage rock is an undervalued genre of rock. It starts with late ’50s/early ’60s bands like The Wailers, The Kingsmen, The Trashmen (“Surfin’ Bird”), and The Standells. It continues through The Shondells, Shadows of Knight, ? & the Mysterians (“96 Tears”), and Patti Smith. And it comes all the way up to the present time with The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Von Bondies, and The Detroit Cobras. Other genres spun out from garage rock, including surf rock, indie, proto-punk (Hello, Velvet Underground!), and punk rock.

The Standells were pretty happinin’ by 1966 standards. They made appearances in 1960s B-list films such as Get Yourself a College Girl and Riot on Sunset Strip. But that’s not their greatest credit – that would be an appearance in the TV series The Munsters, episode #26 “Far Out Munsters!” In it, The Standells appear as themselves and offer to pay the Munster family a handsome sum to use their house as a recording studio for a week. The Munster family goes to stay at a hotel, but gets homesick for 1313 Mockingbird Lane and comes back early, only to find The Standells throwing a wild party.

This was used in the 2015 episode of The Last Man on Earth, “Alive in Tucson.” It has also appeared in these films:

Fever Pitch (2005)
Stateside (2004)
The Secret Life of Girls (1999)
Edtv (1999)
Celtic Pride (1996)

To enhance the Boston theme, a snippet of “Dirty Water” plays in the 2020 Hyundai Sonata Super Bowl commercial, “Smaht Pahk,” where Chris Evans, Rachel Dratch and John Krasinski revert to their Boston accents as Krasinski shows them how to pahk the cah.

Dirty Water

I’m gonna tell you a story
I’m gonna tell you about my town
I’m gonna tell you a big fat story, baby
Aw, it’s all about my town

Yeah, down by the river
Down by the banks of the river Charles
(Aw, that’s what’s happenin’ baby)
That’s where you’ll find me
Along with lovers, muggers, and thieves
(Aw, but they’re cool people)

Well I love that dirty water
Oh, Boston, you’re my home
(Oh, you’re the number one place)

Frustrated women (I mean they’re frustrated)
Have to be in by twelve o’clock (oh, that’s a shame)
But I’m wishin’ and a-hopin’, oh
That just once those doors weren’t locked
(I like to save time for my baby to walk around)

Well I love that dirty water
Oh, Boston, you’re my home (oh, yeah)

Because I love that dirty water
Oh, Boston, you’re my home (oh, yeah)

Well, I love that dirty water (I love it, baby)
I love that dirty water (I love Boston)
I love that dirty water (Have you heard about the strangler?)
I love that dirty water (I’m the man, I’m the man)
I love that dirty water (Ow)
I love that dirty water (Come on, come on)

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

11 thoughts on “Standells – Dirty Water”

  1. I have always loved this song. It’s so funky & cute. Very 60s!

    I had to look up the Hyundai Superbowl commercial. I watched the game but missed some of the commercials. Chris Evans with his natural Boston accent is weird. Matt Damon has trouble hiding his.

    Liked by 1 person

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