Thursday, September 23, 2010

"96 Tears" (1966)

62. ? & the Mysterians, "96 Tears" (Sept. 17, 1966, #1)

I remember how disc jockeys at the time this came out sounded, doubtless because of the band's name, as if they had suspicions that it was some far more famous act going incognito for whatever reason. I can't imagine who they could have been thinking it was, they never actually said and it doesn't sound much like anyone else ever, but I don't blame them. There's something entirely mysterious about this whole thing. The band's name, the song's name, the tune, the lyrics, the arrangement, maybe even the appeal itself—everything, all mysterious. Then factor in its ensuing reputation as the first punk-rock song and things really start to get baffling. In fairness, I'm not sure the '70s sense of the term is anything like what Dave Marsh of "Creem" had in mind when he labeled this as such (and in less fairness the Latino origins of the band would seem to render the label vaguely offensive anyway). Better to stick with "garage-rock," I suppose, although this is also a far cry from the "Gloria" kind of raw guitars 1-2-3-4 hit it sound. No, this is actually punk-rock garage-rock of the more rarefied Farfisa organ category, which instrument features prominently (albeit in a Chopsticks kind of a way) and leads the charge here. Is it simple, even simple-minded? Hell, yes. Does it work? Hell, yes. That singer sounds like he's in real agony, bitter, hurt, and spiteful and yet for all that entirely powerless, or dare I say impotent. "I'm gonna put you way down here / And you'll start crying / 96 tears," he moans desperately. But, hmm, no, I don't think so. I think the object of his desire so completely got the last laugh that she (or he?) is laughing still, 44 years later. And the singer is well on his way to teardrop #9,599. Them's the breaks.

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