50 Years of ‘Dirty Water’ by the Standells

The surprising origin of Boston's unofficial anthem.

the standells dirty water album cover

Though the Charles River’s days as a toxic cesspool are long over, the Standells’ 1966 hit “Dirty Water” still fires up the drunken masses during Sox and Bruins games, 50 years later. But Standells lead singer Larry Tamblyn had never stepped foot in Boston when he first wailed, “Oh, Boston, you’re my home.”

It was producer Ed Cobb who originally wrote the song. While Tamblyn’s never been able to confirm it, he says Cobb (who passed away in 1999) was inspired to pen those lyrics about lovers and thieves after having been mugged in Boston and hassled about his girlfriend’s dorm curfew. When Cobb approached the Standells to record his song, the band had its doubts: “We weren’t too impressed with it,” Tamblyn recalls.

Nevertheless, the Standells piled into Cobb’s garage studio to record the track, which dropped to little fanfare—until a few months later, when it set the East Coast ablaze. Soon enough, they were touring with the Rolling Stones, and played their first Massachusetts gig in 1966. “Since then, Boston has adopted us in every way,” Tamblyn says.

While there are presently no plans for the Standells to play Boston on the golden anniversary of “Dirty Water,” Tambyln, now 73, wants nothing more than to return: “Boston is really part of who we are,” he says. “It’s ingrained in the Standells.”


Chris Sweeney Chris Sweeney, Senior Editor at Boston Magazine csweeney@bostonmagazine.com