In 1966, L.A.’s Standells defined sixties garage rock and gave Boston its signature song when they recorded former Four Prep Ed Cobb’s “Dirty Water”. With its sneering delivery, greasy riff, and show of solidarity with “muggers and thieves” (cool people, all), the track defined the band as bad boys even though Larry Tamblyn, Dick Dodd, Tony Valentino, and Gary Lane insisted that they were a nice quartet of young fellows. However, going that route would do them no favors, and The Standells were absolutely at their best when playing the role of druggies (“Medication”), rabble rousers (“Riot on Sunset Strip”), and letches (“Try It”…the wide banning of which was a huge feather in the band’s collective cap).
They pulled off that masquerade without fail on their debut album. Dirty Water is a consistently nasty collection of menace and mayhem. Obviously, the title track and the minor classic “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” are fabulous, but so are relative oddities like the sexy/stoned “Medication”, the lascivious “Little Sally Tease”, and the fuzzy “Rari”. A cover of “19th Nervous Breakdown” won’t make you forget who Mick Jagger is, but it is right at home here. Even the token ballad “Pride and Joy” is tough.
The problem with The Standell’s follow up Why Pick On Me/Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White (aside from a title that makes the name of The Left Banke’s debut seem positively concise) is that they go too soft on certain tracks like the Italian-language “Mi Hai Fatto Innamorare” and the almost Four Seasons-like “The Girl and the Moon”. The approach simply does not suit The Standells. Still, the sophomore album with the name I don’t have the energy to type again has enough grungy smashes to redeem it. “Black Hearted Woman”, “Mr. Nobody”, the brooding “I Hate to Leave You”, and the tracks for which the album was named do exactly what you want Standells tracks to do, though “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” is a pointless rerun after its appearance on Dirty Water.
Released in 1967, the year of obligatory experimentation, Try It proved that The Standells could stretch themselves without violating their attitudinal ethos. Soulful horns embellish “Can’t Help But Love You” and a cover of “Ninety-Nine and a Half” powerfully, while the breezy, keyboards, mallets, and Brasil ’66-style harmonies of “Trip to Paradise” and the trippy swoops of “All Fall Down” are perfectly picturesque. In this more eclectic environment, even the light “Poor Shell of a Man” sounds really good. There are also more traditionally punky tracks like “Try It”, an acid-spitting take on “St. James Infirmary”, the throbbing “Barracuda”, the psychedelic yet totally exciting “Did You Ever Have That Feeling”, and the chaotic “Riot on Sunset Strip” for those who prefer The Standells to stay in the garage. All of this makes for what may be the band’s best LP.
Sundazed records is now reissuing these three essential Standells albums on LP and CD. The CDs also include a few bonus tracks each. A fairly weak crop augments Dirty Water, though an appropriately tongue-in-cheek version of the Batman theme is a lot of fun and features some thunderous drumming. The trashier extras on Why Pick On Me/Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White are more essential because they help dilute the softness that plagues some of the proper album tracks. Try It, the most eclectic Standells album, also receives the most eclectic bonus tracks with the demo-like “Get Away from Here”; “Animal Girl”, which repeats the too-soft problem of those Pick On Me/Good Guys tracks; the stilted R&B of “Soul Dripping”; and the smoother soul of “Can You Dig It”. Sound across all three mono CDs is exceptional. You grumpy few who gripe that Sundazed’s discs are often too murky will have no such complaints here.