No one among us (with the possible exception of our parents) underrated the place of the Standells’ “Dirty Water” in rock and roll history. Years later, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would include “Dirty Water” on its list of 500 songs that shaped rock and roll. But to a 12-year-old — that’s how old my friends and I were at the time in 1966 when the song was a hit — “Dirty Water” was attainable. You heard it on the radio and you could remember it because it only had four simple notes and three or four major chords that were right out of the Mel Bay workbook: E, A, and D. The toughest was the B7 at the bridge. I’d guess that incalculable numbers of kids actually learned to play guitar back then by figuring out how to work this garage-rock classic.
The record also defined how an electric guitar would sound for the next generation: a Fender Stratocaster played through a Vox AC 30 amplifier. In turn, that sound (and the song) has been quoted by U2, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Aerosmith, and more.
There’s a local connection, sort of. Dick Dodd, drummer and vocalist, was a Standell in 1965 and sang the lead on “Dirty Water" and “Riot on Sunset Strip.” The former Mousketeer now lives in Redondo Beach, and when Richard Livoni re-booted his Blitz Brothers band last year, Dodd was his first choice for drummer. The Standells are likewise listed on the page of one-hit wonders. “Dirty Water” was pretty much it for them, but it was enough. When the remaining Standells play Adams Avenue, we will sit politely through Bump, their new album, and we will wait for that one familiar tune about a polluted river and thugs and the Boston strangler, because for us, it was a song that was a gateway into a new world.
The Standells: Adams Avenue Street Fair, Saturday, September 28, 8:30 p.m. 619-282-7329. This is a free, all-ages event.