Dirty Water

Album: Dirty Water (1966)
Charted: 11
Play Video

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 Standells were an LA garage band; the song was written by their producer, Ed Cobb, another 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 but a hit for the electro group Soft Cell in 1981. 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."

    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.
  • This was a pretty big hit when it was released in 1966, but it didn't gain its mystique until 50 years later, when the Boston professional sports teams adopted it. The Boston Red Sox baseball team was 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. These teams got really good in '00s and '10, all winning championships, which helped rally even more enthusiasm for the song.
  • 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.

Comments: 5

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 18th 1965, the Standells appeared on the CBS-TV sitcom 'The Munsters', in an episode titled 'Far Out Munsters'...
    The LA quartet performed the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand"...
    A little over a year later on April 17th, 1966 they debut on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at #98 with "Dirty Water", eventually it peaked at #11 {See 2nd post below}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, Ny'Well I love that dirty water, Oh Boston you're my home'...
    On March 4th 1822, the city of Boston, Massachusetts was incorporated...
    And here's some more obscure trivia for ya; exactly fifteen years later on March 4th, 1837 the city of Chicago was granted a charter by the state of Illinois.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn January 28th 1967, the Standells performed "Dirty Water" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
    Nine months earlier on April 17th, 1966 it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; and on July 3rd, 1966 it peaked at #11 (for 2 weeks) and spent 16 weeks on the Top 100...
    It was track five on their album of the same name, the album reached #52 on Billboard's Pop albums chart...
    One other track off the album also made the Top 100, "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White", it peaked at #43...
    "Dirty Water" was composed by Ed Cobb; he wrote three other songs that made the Top 100; in 1964 Brenda Holloway took his "Every Little Bit Hurts" to #13 (for 2 weeks), then in 1982 Soft Cell reached #8 (for 2 weeks) with "Tainted Love" and it stayed on the Top 100 for an amazing 43 weeks (and only 3 of those 43 weeks were on the Top 10)...
    His biggest success was "SOS"; and on May 7th, 2006 Rihanna peaked at #1 (for 3 weeks) with it.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyPosting with sadness; Dick Dodd, the Standells' vocalist and drummer, died of cancer on November 29th, 2013 at the age of 68...
    May he R.I.P.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyIn 1979 the English band The Inmates covered this song, it peaked at No. 51 and it was the only charted record they had in the U.S.A.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Jeff Trott

Jeff TrottSongwriter Interviews

Sheryl Crow's longtime songwriting partner/guitarist Jeff Trott reveals the stories behind many of the singer's hits, and what its like to be a producer for Leighton Meester and Max Gomez.

The Real Nick Drake

The Real Nick DrakeSong Writing

The head of Drake's estate shares his insights on the late folk singer's life and music.

Al Kooper

Al KooperSongwriter Interviews

Kooper produced Lynyrd Skynyrd, played with Dylan and the Stones, and formed BS&T.

Eric Clapton

Eric ClaptonFact or Fiction

Did Eric Clapton really write "Cocaine" while on cocaine? This question and more in the Clapton edition of Fact or Fiction.

Loudon Wainwright III

Loudon Wainwright IIISongwriter Interviews

"Dead Skunk" became a stinker for Loudon when he felt pressure to make another hit - his latest songs deal with mortality, his son Rufus, and picking up poop.

Hardy

HardySongwriter Interviews

The country hitmaker talks about his debut album, A Rock, and how a nursery rhyme inspired his hit single "One Beer."