96 TEARS: ? and the Mysterians
I was never sure where the idea that punctuation occupied an alternate alphabet came from, but it certainly seems to have been the case, ooo, well, at least as long ago as swearing. Or, rather, swearing being seen as too impolite to sully ones eyes with. Fine for ears, but even now many newspapers shy from printing all those words with "f"s and "c"s. I'm not even sure if SMM would thank me for spelling them out, especially as I mention this merely to wrest your attentions. This post is not in the least sweary or confrontational.
I remember the first time I heard this song. I was a young man in London, exploring both the city and my imagination, visiting all those places I had heard of and that sounded sufficiently outre and cutting edge to make me seem anything but the middle class mummy's boy I probably was. The ICA was one such place, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, just behind Trafalgar Square, through Admiralty Arch. I reckoned there would be a whole lot of crazy art there, and hippies and stuff. Hey, maybe even some nudes. It was, sadly, quite a disappointment, being full of odd and rather dull exhibits to my innocent eyes. But, it did have a juke box. (I have to say that as I type I wonder how sound my memory is, wondering how likely, even if it did, is it that I would have played it, but I am sure this happened. Can anyone confirm?) And I liked the name of the song. And the name of the band. That may have almost been enough, as I was, you may already have appreciated, a somewhat precious and precocious child, but the sound that came out the front of the wurlitzer was something so much more. Rinky dink single finger organ, snarled vocals and repetition. This was 1975 and it was already nearly a decade old. I had to have this and I eventually tracked a copy of it down, years later, in a 2nd hand record stall, when such things were on every corner.
So who were ? and the Mysterians, and who was ? himself? It seems they were all 2nd gen mexicans from Michigan, naming themselves after a 1957 japanese sci-fi film. Originally with no vocalist, when Rudy Martinez joined them, he took on the snappy monicker of ?. "96 Tears" appeared in 1996, which was a smash in the US, selling over a million copies, launching an acclaimed career. Or not, as, like me, I guess you would be fairly hard pressed to think of the name of anything else they ever did. Hell, I can't even remember the b side, yet, through the power of wiki, it looks as if a version of the band, sans ?, lurches on to this day. But who cares, like the altogether not dissimilar "Wooly Bull" by Sam the Sham and the Phaorohs, if you had but one song that you could be remembered by, wouldn't you want it to be like them. I know I would.
I was always amazed how few cover versions were ever made, thinking it a shoo-in to be covered when the term punk rock was resurrected from 60's garage bands to, well, 70's garage bands, albeit an ocean apart. Eventually, of course, towards the end of their classic era, the Stranglers did this version, which, however much I like the Stranglers, is distinctly 2nd division. They don't look as cool either.