Right from the off, with its rinky dink 2 note Vox Continental organ riff and garage backbeat, 96 Tears is just about the perfect record. Released in 1966 by ? & the Mysterians, it was one of those songs like Louie Louie or Wild Thing that went on to be recorded by everyone and anyone with a fuzz guitar and a hip ear to the underground. It has in its time gone on to sell over a million copies and had over 3 million airplays.
Not bad for a band of Mex-Americans from Michigan with a love of surf music and a well thought out marketing ploy – have an unusual name and an even more unusual singer. It might’ve helped record sales when their lead singer claimed to be a martian who had lived with dinosaurs in a past life. Yep. Or when he claimed to have visited other planets and periods in time. Uh huh. I once had a drama teacher who would say to the class, “I‘m going to turn my back and when I turn around again, I’ll be in character….(….pause….)…Beowulf!!!” Rudy Martinez must’ve been a bit liked this. He never went out without his sunglasses and only answered to his chosen moniker ‘?’, rather than his given ‘Rudy’, the name his mother preferred to shout when he was listening to his Van Morrison and Them records too loudly. If you’ve ever heard a ? and the Mysterians album, you’ll know how much a debt they owe to wee Van. If not, the ‘96 Tears‘ or ‘The Action‘ albums are good places to start.
96 Tears features regularly when my iPod is on shuffle. Most days will see an appearance of one version or another pop up. I’ve got what seems like 96 versions of it, most fairly pointless faithful recreations of the garage stomping original (Hello, Stranglers! Hello Music Explosion! I’m looking at you, Inspiral Carpets! You built an entire (early) career out of its Nuggety groove.) There’s one or two that take the original and mess with it so much, it just seems like the’d recorded a few minutes of pointless FM static and looped it ad infinitum (Hey there Primal Scream! Stop hiding at the back Suicide – how apt a name.) Favourites? Todd Rundgren‘s lo-fi fuzz-bassed studio demo is right up there, Aretha Franklin‘s soulful and (at first unrecognisable) version from Aretha Arrives is classic Aretha, with an almost Respect-like backing. Big Maybelle‘s a-whoopin’ and a-hollerin’ version, all Stax-inspired southern soul groove, underpinned by clipped guitars and a (bold as) brass section first came to my attention on 6 Music’s excellent Craig Charles’ Funk & Soul Show and has been on constant rotation ever since. Then there’s Gerardo Manuel & El Humo‘s super-heavy epic prog rock take. Think Iron Butterfly on jellies. It’s a grower, trust me!
Go fill yer boots…
96 Tears – ? & the Mysterians
96 Tears – Big Maybelle
96 Tears – Aretha Franklin
96 Tears – Gerardo Manuel & El Humo
96 Tears – Primal Scream
96 Tears – Inspiral Carpets
96 Tears – Music Explosion
96 Tears – Todd Rundgren
*…and I can’t believe I don’t have/can’t find a version by The Cramps, so here‘s Human Fly, featuring the line in the title at the top.