96 Tears

What is it about this song? Do you need me to tell you? First of all, this:

And this: “Many critics and fans of ? and the Mysterians regard ‘96 Tears’ as a record of seminal importance—a garage-rock masterpiece worthy of…the label ‘proto-punk.’”

Here’s what I know.

The Mysterians (four Mexican-American teenagers from Saginaw, Michigan) started out in 1962 playing garagey/surf instrumental music. But it wasn’t until a guy (the former Rudy Martinez) who claimed to be an alien and called himself “?” (apparently he had legally changed his name to this punctuation mark) approached them after a gig at a ski lodge and asked to be their manager that they became “? and the Mysterians,” with ? as their lead singer and songwriter. And “96 Tears,” which was recorded in the living room of the head of a local record label, became a number one hit in October 1966.

The list of musicians who have covered this song (the Cramps, the Stranglers, the Prisoners, Eddie and the Hot Rods, the Modern Lovers, Iggy Pop, Garland Jeffreys, Aretha Franklin, to name a few) is practically endless. And I have to say that pretty much every single version of this song is good. For whatever reason you simply can’t go wrong.

Here are some of the more interesting versions I have found on my “96 Tears” journey. Let me know if you have heard any others worth noting.

Here is just a plain great Motown version by Jimmy Ruffin:

A version that is even groovier than the original from another garage band, The Music Machine:

Here is R. Stevie Moore with a somewhat creepy low-budget version of this song. It appears to have been partly filmed in an auto parts store.

I love how David Byrne’s voice makes this song completely his.

Whoa. What is happening here? This is seriously like the Joe Cocker version of this song.

I have always thought that if I were to cover this song I would want it as fast as possible, and this version by the Hypstrz is almost exactly what I was thinking of:

But then again, this could be my favorite version of all time. I wish Vic Chesnutt had covered this song. It would have sounded something like this.


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