Music Monday: “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians

At first, I wasn’t sure if it was a real song.

I discovered it while reading Stephen King’s “Hearts in Atlantis”, which was recommended to me by Jeff Cann, a fellow blogger. You can find Jeff’s wonderful posts at “The Other Stuff“. The book was an enjoyable read, set back in the days of the Vietnam War.

At several points, King mentions the song “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians. I had never heard of the song, or the band, so I did not know if it was just something King had made up.

So I decided to check, and lo and behold, it is a real song.

Here’s a performance from 1966:

Here’s some background on the song, courtesy of Wikipedia:

“96 Tears” is a song recorded by the American garage rock band ? and the Mysterians in 1966. In October of that year, it was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. and on the RPM 100 in Canada. Billboard ranked the record as the #5 song for 1966. It is ranked #213 on the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Known for its signature organ licks and bare-bones lyrics, “96 Tears” is recognized as one of the first garage band hits, and has even been given credit for starting the punk rock movement.

And here’s a little background on the band, also from Wikipedia:

? and the Mysterians (or Question Mark and the Mysterians) are an American garage rock band from Bay City and Saginaw in Michigan, initially active between 1962 and 1969. Much of the band’s music consisted of electric organ-driven garage rock and an enigmatic image inspired by the 1957 Japanese science fiction film The Mysterians. In addition, the band’s sound was also marked by raw-resonating lead vocals of “?” (Question Mark, the stage name of Rudy Martínez, making Question Mark and the Mysterians one of the earliest groups whose musical style is described as punk rock. Their music and imagery were highly influential on later bands.

The reason I was not sure if it was a real song was because of the strange name for the band – starting with a question mark.

But now that I found out it’s real, I’m wondering if some of the other stuff I’ve read about in King’s books might also be real, like a dome covering a city, zombified cats, or heaven forbid, a terrifying clown named Pennywise…

*image from Please Kill Me

54 thoughts on “Music Monday: “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians

  1. I’ve always liked the song but never knew the name of the band. For some reason, it always makes me think of Monster Mash. (I have no idea why. And I’m sure it has nothing to do with Pennywise.)

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  2. An interesting find! I’d never heard of the song before, or the band, so I looked them up. Apparently this made #37 over here, back in the days when the singles chart was largely driven by what the pirate radio stations were playing. I guess the ones I listened to didn’t play this – but then again, it is instantly forgettable…

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      1. There are probably loads of those! The description in Wikipedia was revealing to me, as the US and UK definitions of punk rock seem to differ markedly. That is nothing like what we knew as punk rock, which didn’t start here until 1977 anyway, with the likes of the Sex Pistols.

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  3. I knew this song but not the band. I don’t read Stephen King’s books, LOL! There are some quotes of his that are good though, so maybe I should read one of his books. But I don’t want to have nightmares either about clowns. 😉

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  4. The song is sort of recognisable the lyrics are similar to another song but I can’t remember by whom but the one I am trying to remember is definitely better if that makes sense 🙂

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      1. that just happened to me this week; I’ve had the opening to a song stuck in my head for a week and I could not think of the song; it just hit me yesterday!


  5. Hey, I’ve read that blog, I recommend it heartily. Seriously, thanks for the shout-out. I don’t remember King mentioning the song in the book. It seems like the sort of thing I’d remember. I know 96 Tears well from Nuevo Wavo singer Joe King Carrasco (Latin New Wave). It was on the alternative radio station in DC all the time. Hearts in Atlantis is a book I catch myself thinking about quite frequently. I’m not sure why, but it really stays with me – especially the 2nd story).

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    1. thank you again for the recommendation; the song is mentioned a few times in the Hearts in Atlantis story (the second story). I’ll check out the other version you mention…


  6. Surely everything King write is real?! I loved that book. And, like Beth, growing up in that same area of Michigan, “96 Tears” was played a lot on the radio. Funny thing, though, I didn’t realize why at the time. Guess I thought that everyone knew about that group:)

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  7. JIM!!! This is one of the best songs. It’s on my playlist. I’m sorry you didn’t grow up with it. I did, and I still love it. Thanks for the memories and the video. I love the organ beat!

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  8. This song is unforgettable to me. Like several others, probably in the same genre of garage band (a term I’ve never heard of before), they were the soundtrack of many 6th grade dances. And now, Jim, it will probably be an earworm playing over and over in my feeble brain for at least the rest of this day if not longer!

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