For most of us old-timers, The Standells were a garage rock, proto-punk band best known for their 1966 one-hit wonder, “Dirty Water.” Ironically, while the song has many references to Boston in the lyrics and has become an official victory anthem for Boston sports teams, most notably the Red Sox, none of the LA-based Standells had ever been in Boston before they recorded the song. Interestingly, producer Ed Cobb wrote “Dirty Water” about a mugging he had suffered in the Massachusetts capital city.
But to relegate The Standells to “one-hit wonder” status is to forget the place they shared in mid-1960s pop culture. Formed in 1962, it was lead vocalist and keyboard player Larry Tamblyn who coined the band name, inspired by standing in booking agent offices looking for work. One early member, drummer and singer Dick Dodd, was a former Mouseketeer, and that wasn’t their only TV connection. The Standells either played music for or performed on Ben Casey, Bing Crosby Show, and, most famously, played “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on The Munsters. They were also seen and heard in teenage exploitation flicks like Get Yourself a College Girl, Follow the Boys, and Riot on Sunset Strip.
Musically, they were also plugged into the burgeoning LA rock scene. For a short time, their producer was Dewey Martin of the Buffalo Springfield. Another member with a short tenure was Lowell George of the Mothers of Invention and Little Feat. Then and now, the bassist is John Fleckenstein (Fleck), a veteran of Arthur Lee’s Love.
Over the decades, The Standells became an on-again, off-again touring outfit with the normal changes in their line-up. In 2009, the group reformed with Tamblyn, Fleck, and singer/guitarist Mark Adrian, guitarist Paul Downing, and drummer Greg Burnham. Along with a short stint with bassist Dodd, this was the ensemble that headlined the September 2012 Monterey Summer of Love “45 Years On” Festival. Around this time, group leader Tamblyn decided the band had reached a “bump” in the road and needed to do something new.
This something new, not surprisingly, was Bump, their first new collection of songs in over 45 years. It’s true the short album is full of mostly new songs, but the sound is distinctly 1966. Appropriately, according to Tamblyn, the band built “our own Standells Garage Studio, and I must say that in doing so it spawned our creativity.” That meant writing new tunes but performing them just like they did in the old days—simple, straight-up crunchin’ rock and roll.
One of the early results of this surge in creativity was a cover version of The Seeds’ “Pushin’ Too Hard.” It was part of Global Recording Artists president Karl Anderson’s push to assemble tributes to the late Sky Saxon. To date, these have included the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s cover of “Mr. Farmer” and the Electric Prunes’ very psychedelic version of “Pushin’ Too Hard.” In the hands of The Standells, “Pushin’” gets a rather Kinks-esque treatment with ragged “You Really Got Me” chords on Bump.
I have to think the third track on the album, “Boston’s Badass,” is both a thank you to all the responses the band has gotten for “Dirty Water” and an attempt to give Boston a new anthem to sing along with at sporting venues. For everyone else, “Mr. One Percent” is an anthem for people who wish those at the top of the economical food chain would spread a little of the wealth around. Similar sentiments are expressed in attitudinal numbers like “It’s All About the Money” and “Big Fat Liar.”
No, Bump isn’t a record to pop in when you have seduction on your mind or if you’re considering a short period of meditation. On the other hand, it’s not a collection so loud and discordant you need to be under 50 to enjoy it. Rather, it really is a time-capsule of what garage rock was all about in 1966, very recognizable as being new tunes recorded to sound like they were being jammed out before the summer of love kicked in. If you liked The Seeds, Electric Prunes, The Stooges, and the original Standells, this is a fun outing to enjoy even if Boston isn’t your home.