Every year, I hear the announcement of the newest inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with excitement and, sometimes, head-scratching. For example, why did it take until 2021 for Tina Turner to be recognized and honored for her outstanding contributions to the rock genre? Even more puzzling is why certain artists were inducted over others; artists whose influence continues to be felt in the artists of today often are overlooked in the nominating process. Such is the case with The Standells.
For the record, I am not connected with the Standells in any way. I am merely a fan who would like to convince the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation that my favorite band should be a contender for the upcoming Class of ’22 nominees. In the genre of garage and punk rock, The Standells were pioneers. The Rock Hall lists their biggest hit, “Dirty Water,”as one of the songs that shaped rock and roll. The Institute even has a kiosk dedicated mostly to the Standells and Garage Punk. Rock Cellar Magazine listed “Dirty Water” as the No. 1 Garage Rock Song of All Time. And yet, strangely enough, the Standells have never been nominated – a real head-scratcher.
If a key factor of an inductee is lasting influence, one need look no further than the performers who cite the Standells as an inspiration who are already RHOF inductees: The Ramones, Sex Pistols, Stooges. Guns ‘N Roses and Bruce Springsteen also claim to have been influenced by the group. These are certainly not your average run-of-the-mill bands. Would they have achieved their enormous success without the Standells’ example?
To go a bit further, “Dirty Water” has been used in television (“City on the Hill,” “Last Man on Earth”), movies (“Fever Pitch,” “Stateside,” “The Secret Lives of Girls,” “EdTV,” “Celtic Pride”), and even in commercials (Benjamin Moore paints, Hyundai “Smaht Cah” 2020 Super Bowl). In fact, the Boston Red Sox have adopted “Dirty Water”as their victory anthem; it can be heard after every home win at Fenway Park. Even the Celtics and Bruins use it to fire up their fans as well. In 2007, the Massachusetts General Court proclaimed “Dirty Water”as the “Official Victory Anthem of the Boston Red Sox” by Court. In 2013, “Dirty Water” was performed by the J. Geils Band, Aerosmith, Dane Cook, Jimmy Buffett, James Tayler, Peter Wolf and New Kids on the Block as the keynote song at the “Boston Strong: An Evening of Support and Celebration” benefit for victims of the Boston marathon bombings. Many of the artists referred directly to the Standells. The song’s influence has been felt around the world, including Great Britain. The Standells are considered to be the “Godfathers” of punk rock by many accounts. How is it they are not inducted alongside the Ramones?
The Standells recorded other chart hits, such as “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” and “Why Pick On Me,”both of which have developed a cult following. The flip side of “Why Pick On Me,” “Mr. Nobody,”is a YouTube favorite. Many of their songs have been covered by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, Dropkick Murphys, Dave Matthews Band, Pretty Things, Fleshtones, as well as myriad punk bands.
Before the Standells ever cut “Dirty Water,”they produced two 45s and an album, “The Standells Live at PJ’s.” They had also put together a very impressive portfolio of film and television work. The Standells were featured on an episode of “The Bing Crosby Show,” “Bugged by the Love Bugs,” as a group called The Love Bugs, and also provided background music for the hit series, “Ben Casey.” Their biggest highlight was an appearance on the popular show, “The Munsters.” In the episode known as “Far Out Munsters”, the band appeared as themselves and both performed and acted. The final scene showed the Standells performing while the Munsters expressed their enjoyment in their own unique way.
The band performed a rip-snorting cover of “Boney Maronie” in the ’65 teen drive-in flick, “Get Yourself a College Girl,”starring Nancy Sinatra. Also appearing in the film were the Dave Clark Five and The Animals, two of the UK’s biggest rock bands of the day. They provided tracks for another film of the day, “Riot on Sunset Strip.”They performed the title track, “Riot on Sunset Strip,”and another, “Get Away From Here.”
The Standells dissolved, reunited, and in 2009, were reformed by Larry Tamblyn when Tony Valentino and Dick Dodd formally left. In 2013, Tamblyn and the band wrote and recorded a new album, “Bump,”which features songs written and performed by Tamblyn. It was met with high praise from music critics. There is an official Standells Facebook page which is managed by Tamblyn. The reformed Standells’ last performance was on the PBS special “Cornerstones of Rock,”from the “Soundstage”series. Out of all the groups appearing on the special – the Buckinghams, Ides of March, American Breed, McCoys – it is the Standells’ riveting performance of “Dirty Water” that was featured in the PBS ads for the show. Tamblyn still performs as a solo artist whenever COVID lets him.
In closing, I’d like to cite music critic Richie Unterberger, who in his 1997 book, “Unknown Legends of Rock ‘n’ Roll”wrote: “‘Dirty Water’ was an archetypal garage rock hit with its Stones-ish riff, lecherous vocal, and combination of rough guitar and organ. … Archetypal … the stuff of legends.”
The Standells left an indelible mark in the history of Rock ‘n Roll. Their contributions that have influenced so many performers should not be ignored. Thank you for your time, and I hope you will include the Standells on the 2022 list of nominees for the high honor of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- Author Steven G. Farrell is a retired professor of Speech and Theater from Greenville Technical College in South Carolina. His fiction and nonfictions have appeared in numerous magazines, including Scary Monsters, Crime, Frontier Tales, Lost Treasure and Candlelight Stories. His novel, Mersey Boys, was the basis for a 10-minute short film, Mersey Boys: A Letter From Al Moran, filmed in Ireland. The film has won four awards, including the Silver Award for Best Short from the New York International Film festival.