? and the Mysterians “96 Tears”

For an outfit whose very name professed a preference for anonymity, there’s a surprising amount of information available nowadays about this bunch of rockin’ Chicano chavales; check out their Wikipedia page for the full Monty. Question Mark himself has gone to considerable lengths to conceal his identity over the years, and why not? It’s one of rock’n’roll’s best-loved clichés. However, copyright registrations in the Library of Congress show his birth name as Rudy Martinez.

This, the first of their two albums, followed the runaway success of the single “96 Tears” as the title indicates, but it’s not the usual mid-sixties cash-in collection with a couple of hits padded out by inferior versions of “I’ve Got My Mojo Working” and “Summertime”. Of the twelve tracks, only one is a cover – “Stormy Monday”, the band’s inevitable contemporary bow to the blues – and the rest are originals, the writing mostly credited to all the band members. Simple stuff, mostly, with a limited palette of keys and chords, but at least they made the effort.

Of course they’re the quintessential R’n’B garage band, with the leanest, meanest sound around; they make Booker T and the MGs sound like the Electric Light Orchestra. The British Invasion influences are crystal-clear: the bass/guitar/organ interplay on the sparse twelve-bar “Up Side” shows a clear link from Eric Burdon’s original Animals, while the choppy rhythm of “You’re Telling Me Lies” is a direct steal from Doug Sahm’s own Invasion- derived “She’s About A Mover”. The more vehement of ?’s vocals, as on “96 Tears”, are a dead ringer for Van Morrison in his Them days. There’s also a closer-than-accidental resemblance to the Rolling Stones’ earliest American recordings that goes deeper than ?’s occasional Jagger impersonations. Play any of the Stones’ tracks recorded on their 1964 visit to Chess and released on the 5 x 5 EP (UK) or the 12 x 5 album (US) and you’ll see what I mean: that wiry, reverbed sound on the Stones’ “Confessin’ The Blues” as against the Mysterians’ take on “Stormy Monday”, or on the steady-rollin’ “Empty Heart” as against “Ten O’Clock”. The major differences are the forefronted Vox Continental on most of the Mysterians’ waxings and the undeniable fact that Bobby Balderama was no Brian Jones when it came to creative guitar playing.

So, derivative certainly. But, hey, if you really need originality, go play “Pet Sounds” or “Odessey & Oracle”. This is one to put on when your head’s woolly from the perplexing complexity of prog-rock and all you need is a fix of something raw and primal. For twice the strength, get the 2005 compilation Cameo Parkway – The Best Of which has the whole of this album and the follow-up Action – more of the same, though a bit denser sonically – carefully remixed from the originals, plus both sides of their valedictory non-album single. (Avoid other compilations, most of which contain re-recordings.)

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“I Need Somebody”

:) Original Vinyl | 1966 | Cameo | search ebay ]


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2 Comments.

  • o

    fair enough on the resemblance of ? to many of the pop bands of the era. but you could throw another lens on this by considering that versus stealing, the bands mentioned seemed to be working out a shared pop sound at a shared pop time. the mysterians formed (and martinez wrote “96 tears”) in ’62–two years before Them, the same year as both eric burdon & the animals and the rolling stones got together, and three years before the release of “she’s about a mover.” no-doubt everyone was aping everyone–and we all know they were aping the blues in some fashion.

    cool doug sahm reference. the mysterians, the sir douglas quintet, sam the sham & others are all great evidence of the presence of latino pop rock at that moment, and they all have roots/upbringing in the texas-tejano scene. (some critics credit the mysterians with being the first successful mexican rock band–no small feat.) alongside the undeniable influence on garage rock & detroit–i’ve read that iggy had an ear on these guys–the wikipedia page you reference credits the mysterians as the first punk band. personally, i wouldn’t go that far, but it’s interesting to chew on. finally, yeah, i hear you on the “cliche” of the cryptic identity. been done a ton. it might be a fun, cool, Rising Storm-topic to explore just how many pop-rockers were doing it before 1962, and/or the roots of such playfulness.

    sorry to ramble. y’all are my fave music site, my go-to for learning & i don’t want to take up too much space, nor act like i know much about much. i don’t. but i do feel like these guys have some pretty interesting reach/impact. thanks & keep it up! o.

  • Len Liechti

    Yep, you’re quite correct, o. We need to remember that the whole Merseybeat / British Beat sound was itself based on the merging and refining of imported American styles – blues, R’n’B, rock’n’roll, country, Tamla, Brill Building pop and folk, of which only country and folk music can be traced back to an earlier-still northern European root, all the others being indigenous to the States and of mostly black origin. The British Invasion acts radically recycled this stuff and stripped it down, removing the big-band elements and the string orchestras and reducing it to a raw quartet or quintet scale, and then offered it back to its originators with astonishing success. However these musics had never stopped developing in their homeland, even if underground during the wretched Fabian / Bobby Vee pop-idol period 1959-1964. Outfits like the Mysterians, the Byrds, the Raiders, even the Beach Boys took the Invasion formula and mixed it right back in with what they’d already been doing to produce yet another hybrid. Isn’t that the joy of the wonderful mongrel we call rock music? And it’s still happening in this Postmodern age, except that the elements have been around a lot longer now and don’t sound so radical.

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