#1151: Why Pick On Me by The Standells

Peak Month: November 1966
7 weeks on Vancouver’s CFUN chart
Peak Position #12
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 #54

“Best known for their hit Dirty Water, The Standells released a string of snotty, aggressive garage singles in the mid to late 1960s which are now rightly regarded as proto-punk classics. “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White”, “Why Pick On Me”, “Riot On Sunset Strip” ~  the songs of The Standells have been covered by everyone from Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith and U2 to Spacemen 3, Minor Threat and a million 77 punk bands as well as many subsequent scene bands. ”

– Pat Long

The Standells are considered by many to be the godfathers of punk rock. The group was formed in 1962 in Los Angeles by keyboardist and lead vocalist Larry Tamblyn and guitarist Tony Valentino. Larry created the name from “Standing” around booking agencies trying to get work. Originally the group was called the “Standels” (with one “l”), but was changed to the “Standells” spelling in 1963. The name was also lengthened for awhile to Larry Tamblyn and the Standells, as noted in the Vernon Joynson book “Fuzz Acid & Flowers”. Their first recording, “You’ll be Mine Someday”/”Girl in My Heart”, was recorded in 1963 and released in 1964 on Faro Records. Later that year, the name was shortened to “Standells”.

In 1963 The Standells appeared in the Connie Francis movie Follow the Boys, where they played background music at party scenes. The brother of Standells lead vocalist and drummer, Larry Tamblyn, was Russ Tamblyn. Both brothers had roles in the film. The older brother, Russ, played the role of Riff, the leader of the Jets gang in the 1961 movie musical version of West Side Story .

The Standells were signed by Liberty Records and issued an album The Standells In Person At P.J.’s in 1964 (later re-released as The Standells Live and out of Sight). After having no success with Liberty they signed with Vee Jay in 1965 for two singles, one of which was produced by Sonny Bono of Sonny & Cher. Cher did backup vocals on one of the songs, “The Boy Next Door”.

In 1964 The Standells guest starred as themselves in an episode of the The Munsters, “Far Out Munster.” In the episode they performed “Come On and Ringo” and a cover of The Beatles hit, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.

That same year The Standells appeared in the movie, Get Yourself a College Girl. This beach party movie featured other artists including The Animals, Nancy Sinatra, The Dave Clark Five, Donnie Brooks and Stan Getz. In the movie The Standells performed cover versions of “The Swim” and “Bonnie Maronie”.

The group began 1965 with a January 18 appearance in The Bing Crosby Show episode “Bugged By the Love Bugs”, playing the fictional band, the “Love Bugs”. They appeared as a nightclub band in the “Three L’il Lambs” episode of Ben Casey on March 18, 1965. They also sang the title song for the children’s movie, Zebra in the Kitchen

In July of 1966 their first hit single on Tower Records “Dirty Water” reached #11 on the Billboard charts, #8 in Cashbox, and #1 in Record World. They also appeared on TV shows like Shindig!, American Bandstand and Where the Action Is. Despite the references to Boston and the Charles River in “Dirty Water”, The Standells are not from Massachusetts. Nevertheless, “Dirty Water” is still played after every home victory won by the Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics, and Boston Bruins as well as at Northeastern Huskies’ hockey games. One would be hard-put to find either a sports fan or rock music lover in Massachusetts who had never heard of the Standells.

“Why Pick On Me” was The Standells third single to chart in Vancouver. Curiously their biggest hit stateside, “Dirty Water”, only peaked at #22 on CFUN. While their two follow up singles missed the Top 40 in the USA, both find their way into this 1130 Top Hits list.

“Why Pick On Me” is about a female who is plays the field and the “tease” to get men turned on. She’s someone who “lies,” “somebody who messes you up.” The singer wonders why she picks on him wearing “short, short skirts and dirty boots”, and “puzzled lips dipped in wine”. He sums up:
“Long hair up against my skin but never once have you given in.
To any one of my wants or needs no matter how my poor heart bleeds”.

Standells - Why Pick On Me 45 (Uptown Canada).jpg

The song peaked at #54 on the Billboard Hot 100. But in Vancouver the song spent several weeks peaking at #12. Their follow up single, “Don’t Tell Me What To Do“, had a Vaudeville sound like Sopwith Camel’s “Hello Hello”.

Their next single was the theme song from Riot on Sunset Strip. This was a 1967 low-budget counter-culture era movie filmed and released within six weeks of the actual late-1966 Sunset Strip Curfew Riots. The film attempted to capture the essence of the period around the Sunset Strip riot, and also added a subplot concerning a young girl’s troubled relationship with her divorced parents. Her dosage with LSD by a would-be seductor, the subsequent ‘acid trip’ she experiences, and her later discovery by a police sergeant as the victim of gang rape, were among the movie’s peak moments. The Standells performed their non-charting single, “Riot On Sunset Strip”, written for the film.

In 1967 they were featured on Art Linkletter’s House Party, debating moral majority broadcasting mogal Gordon McLendon who banned their recording “Try It”. McLendon deemed the songs lyrics to be obscene.

The Standells still actively perform in concert. They appeared at Game 2 of the 2004 World Series as well as the first game of the 2007 American League Division Series at Fenway Park in Boston where they sang the national anthem. Since the early 1990s “Dirty Water” has been the Red Sox unofficial anthem. More recently US performances include the Cannery Casino amphitheater in Las Vegas, the Hollywood landmark Amoeba Music, the EchoPlex, and the featured performers at the June Lake Loop Mountain Music Festival. Their 2010 six – nation European tour included performances in Madrid, Bordeaux, Rennes, Paris, London, Oslo, Berlin, Athens, and Frankfurt. In the summer of 2015 The Standells put together “The Dirty Water Tour”. It also included Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels (“Devil With a Blue Dress”) Gary DeCarlo of Steam (“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”) Jimy Sohns of the Shadows of Knight (“Gloria”) and Johnny Echols of Love (“7 and 7 Is”).

For more song reviews visit the Countdown.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter