1001 Songs Challenge,  1960s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #214: Dirty Water (1966)

On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.

My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.

I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.

So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…


The Standells – Dirty Water (1966)

We enjoy a break from flying today, dear reader. We’re staying in the US and remaining in California. We have come across a few garage rock bands so far and today we have another one by the name of The Standells. Their most famous song was written by their producer, Ed Cobb, and was inspired by a visit to Boston with his girlfriend. Dirty Water would prove to be The Standells’ biggest success and they would not come close to replicating it but its legacy resonates powerfully to this day. More on that later. 

Dirty Water is an account of Boston and, suffice to say, it’s not exactly a glowing tribute. There is reference to the Charles River which was heavily polluted at this time and that is where the narrator likes to be, on the riverbanks with “lovers, muggers and thieves”. He tells us of frustrated women who have a 12 o’clock curfew which is said to be a reference to the rules in place at Boston University for women. We also hear mention of the Boston Strangler, so on the surface it doesn’t sound like Boston has a lot that would appeal to the average tourist, well, the macabre one maybe. Despite all this, the narrator assures us that he loves the place, especially the “dirty water” of the title. It’s his town and he is happy to be there.

Dirty Water is an interesting tribute of sorts to Boston and the love for the place does come through despite the often negative descriptions. The Standells could not replicate the success of this song, sadly, but their legacy was assured when sports teams in Boston later embraced the track as their personal anthem. Both Boston Red Sox (baseball) and Boston Bruins (ice hockey) apparently play the track whenever they enjoy a home win. It’s definitely different when it comes to a song you might sing along to while watching your favourite sports team. I shudder to think what a song about my hometown of Barnsley would be like.


Favourite songs so far:

Ben E. King – Stand By Me (1961)

The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)

Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)

The Righteous Brothers – Unchained Melody (1965)

The Who – Substitute (1966)

The Rolling Stones – Paint It Black (1966)

The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)

The Beatles – Eleanor Rigby (1966)

The Four Tops – Reach Out (I’ll Be There) (1966)

The Monkees – I’m a Believer (1966)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

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