Song 304: The Standells, “Dirty Water” (1966)


What does it mean to be from Boston? For one thing, it means embracing a song about your hometown that celebrates curfews, muggers, the Boston Strangler, and a polluted river. We are a strange people, but we have a damn great sense of humor when we want to.

The Standells had a pretty great sense of humor too, though they hailed from California, not Massachusetts. Their hit “Dirty Water” was written by their producer, Ed Cobb, who was once mugged in Boston. He used the his music business standing to gripe not only about our crime (including our famous serial killer, whose murders were only a few years old in 1966), but the college women with curfews, and the then-disgusting Charles River.

“Dirty Water” is basically just a verse bookended by choruses, but it holds years of resentment and celebration, especially when you consider its place with the Red Sox. The song was actually used as a victory anthem for the Bruins first, and the Sox followed suit in 1997. Since then, “Dirty Water” has closed out every home win, and it’s been a rallying cry for Red Sox Nation, and for Bostonians everywhere, for untold years.

It’s also a prime example of the garage rock genre, blah blah blah, whatever. When we won the World Series last night for the third time in nine years, “Dirty Water” played over the PA. Our team consisted of a bunch of guys with huge beards, and one of them, a tree trunk of a man we call Big Papi, put on a giant helmet right before the last out, preparing for an inevitable bench-clearing party at the mound like a soldier dressing for battle. The Sox have always been a weird, motley crew, just like us. That’s why we love them.

We may not be underdogs this year; we haven’t been underdogs since October 2004. But it’s been a rough year for Boston. We needed this one.


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