The Standells reached #11 with Dirty Water in 1966, and though follow-ups were less successful, they established themselves as prototypical punk rockers whose records influenced a new generation of young musicians 10 years later.
The Los Angeles band had been playing clubs since the early 60s, with a repertoire that mostly consisted of covers of pre-Beatles rock hits.
Drummer – and eventual lead singer – Dick Dodd had been a Mouseketeer on television, organist Larry Tamblyn was the brother of noted film actor Russ Tamblyn, and Tony Valentino was a recent immigrant from Italy.
Gary Leeds (later to join The Walker Brothers) was an early member though he was replaced by Dodd.
Prior to Dirty Water the band recorded some ordinary albums and singles for Liberty, MGM, and Vee Jay, appeared in the movie Get Yourself A College Girl (1964), and did a lot of television work (most notably a well-remembered guest appearance on The Munsters where they did a woeful version of I Want to Hold Your Hand).
There were flashes of gritty inspiration on early cuts like Big Boss Man and Someday You’ll Cry, but the group didn’t really hit their stride until teaming up with producer Ed Cobb, formerly of the clean-cut vocal group The Four Preps.
It was Cobb who wrote Dirty Water, which marked quite a change of direction from their previous clean-cut image. In fact, the group didn’t even like the song, which took about six months to break into a hit.
Their image now considerably toughened, the group churned out four albums in 1966 and 1967, as well as appearing in, and contributing the theme song to, the psychedelic exploitation movie Riot on Sunset Strip (1967).
In addition to Dirty Water, Cobb also wrote their other most enduring singles, including Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White, Why Pick on Me and Try It (the last of which was widely banned for its suggestive delivery).
The group did write some decent material of their own, such as the tense Riot on Sunset Strip, and the psychedelic All Fall Down, which bears an interesting similarity to some of Pink Floyd‘s early work.
The Standells never had a stable line-up. Bass players, in particular, were constantly leaving (John Fleck, aka John Fleckenstein, who was briefly in an early version of Love, held the spot for a while), and Dick Dodd went solo in 1968, the year they released their last single.
Tower, as was the case with most of its artists, didn’t apply intelligent long-range planning to the band’s career, issuing too many albums at once.
Their albums were quite inconsistent – in fact one of them, Hot Ones (1966), consisting of covers of big mid-’60s hits, was altogether dispensable – which makes it advisable for all but the truly committed to look for greatest hits compilations that selectively weed out the best stuff.
The group didn’t help their own cause by issuing an awful vaudeville-rock single, Don’t Tell Me What to Do, under the transparent pseudonym of The Sllednats.
They didn’t record after 1968, though the group dragged on in one form or another until the early 70s (Lowell George was even a member briefly before joining Little Feat).
The Standells reunited for a few one-off performances during the 1980s and appeared at New York’s Cavestomp festival in 1999. With replacement bassist Peter Stuart they delivered a brilliant performance which was recorded for posterity and released in 2000 as Ban This!. It remains their only live album.
Bassist Gary Lane died of lung cancer on 5 November 2014, age 76.