? And The Mysterians – 96 Tears

18th May 2021 · 1960s, 1966, Music

If the marketing arm of the British musical instrument manufacturers Vox wanted one song to sell their electric organs, then they would surely give their donor card to 96 Tears.

It’s the only song anyone knows by ? And The Mysterians, the quintessential garage band, and it’s one of the foundation stones of punk rock.
You can hear the distinctive sound of the Vox Continental (easily confused with the Farfisa) in bands from The Beatles, The Animals and The Doors to early Elvis Costello and Madness.

Back in 1966, Rudy Gonzalez and his bandmates – all the children of Mexican migrant farmers who had moved from Texas to Michigan in search of work – loved a 1950s Japanese sci-fi film called The Mysterians so much that they named their band after it.

Already bit of an eccentric who liked to go by the name Question Mark, and always wore wraparound sunglasses in public, Rudy claimed that he came from Mars and (stop me if this doesn’t follow) once walked on Earth with the dinosaurs, and that voices from the future told him he would be performing 96 Tears in the year 10,000.

Anyway, Rudy wrote the lyrics for a song called Too Many Teardrops. Then he changed the title to 96 Tears because the number 96 had deep philosophical meaning for him (a different version says it was originally 69 Tears but that was rejected as too “suggestive”).

It went down a storm at their regular gigs at the local ski lodge and they recorded a version in the basement studio of their manager Lily Gonzalez, and pressed up 750 copies with a small laocal label.

It sold like hot cakes after the song was picked up by a local radio station and, needing a bigger label, Rudy chose to go with Cameo Parkway for one reason only: because the label of their discs was his favourite colour – orange.

Which may also explain the choice of a Vox Continental keyboard, which has an orange casing – and definitely explains the band’s later move to Ray Charles’s label, Tangerine Records.

Despite such eccentricities the single, with its insistent stabbing organ sound, shot to No.1 and Rudy celebrated by legally changing his name to an actual question mark, long before the idea occurred to Prince, who would have been a small child at the time.

The band now became ? And The Mysterians, causing confusion for filing systems in every record shop in the land for ever more, and 96 Tears was their only hit. When the band broke up, Rudy became a dog breeder but those voices kept coming and he has reformed the band several times.