96 Tears (1966)
? And The Mysterians
The ultra-minimalist, offbeat “96 Tears” can legitimately be called one of the chief inspirations of Punk music, one that was in turn influenced by the ragged sound of a slice of the British Invasion (The Who and The Kinks’ early work). It is also one of a handful of garage-band songs that leapt into the national limelight in the early- to mid-1960s and has remained part of the Rock-N-Roll vernacular ever since.
“96 Tears” stakes out a special corner of the higher-stature field because it is one of the first hit songs by an all Mexican-American group, ? and all the Mysterians being from the families of migrant workers In the Saginaw Bay area of Michigan.
Listen to “96 Tears”
“96 Tears” is austere, a bit pathetic because of the singer’s mock dominance of the object of his affections, while simultaneously projecting an oddly comical twist.
You`re way on top now since you left me
Youre always laughing way down at me
But watch out now, I`m gonna get there
We`ll be together for just a little while
And then I`m gonna put you way down here
And you`ll start crying ninety-six tears
There was a thick vein of revenge-motif songs that stitched through the mid-’60s, perhaps as some early reaction to what was then the still-nascent women’s liberation movement. Among such famous control-freak songs of the era are The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb” and The Who’s “I Can See For Miles.” (It worked the opposite way across the gender divide, too. Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walking” and Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” fall into the category.)
Today, songs like “96 Tears” seem misogynistic, but are more likely projections of male adolescent angst and frustration. Unpleasant any way you slice them, yet embarrassingly entertaining. Lord knows, trying to control another is probably the surest way to end a relationship, but we humans are fascinated by some dances.
? And The Mysterians were part of an uncoordinated movement in Rock that grew out of hot-rod and surf cultures, as well as out of the hard-life industrial cities of the Midwest. (? And The Mysterians hailed from Bay City, Michigan.) Other artists in the early years of the Garage/Punk genre include The Kingsmen (of “Louie, Louie” fame); The Rivingtons (“Papa-Omm-Mow-Mow”) and The Standells (“Dirty Water”).
Listen to “Papa-Omm-Mow-Mow”
The covers history is intriguing. Soul divas, Aretha Franklin and Big Maybelle both covered “96 Tears” in 1967, the year after ? And The Mysterians made a #1 smash out of it. Talking Head David Byrne covered it, lending even more legitimacy to the song’s Punk granddaddy-influence. Iggy Pop hit it up, as did The Cramps.
Most appealingly – or appallingly, depending on your aesthetic – “96 Tears” has given rise to a number of the most bizarre music videos of all time. Sample the ones in the Video Library. They’re not offensive; they’re not insulting. They are just plain weird.
- Bruce Springsteen And The E-Street Band were once asked to play “96 Tears” as part of the “stump-the-band” routine they sometimes do during concerts. The song has since been inserted semi-regularly into Bruce’s playlist.
- “96 Tears” is mentioned eight times in Steven King’s Hearts In Atlantis, the stumbling, bumbling critique of Baby Boomers.