? and the Mysterians are (still!) a garage punk band, a Latin band (although their Mexican ethnicity was deliberately downplayed by their ’60s label, disc jockeys, and the press), sorta bubblegum too. Sadly, they produced the quintessential rock song only to witness rock dissipate: “When we first came out, it was ‘the new age of rock’n’roll,’ I called it, but it didn’t last long after ’96 Tears’ because after that there was Haight-Ashbury and protesting about the war—and I wasn’t into that,” recently declaimed the former Rudy Martinez (now legally ?), who beat smarmy Prince to the symbol-name thing by three decades.
Deviously repetitive, “96 Tears” is the best song I know. Some reasons: the utterly infectious two-note organ pounding. The most-accessible-ever subject matter, rightful revenge on a rejecting fool, posited as a philosophical imperative—96 tears are simply “too many teardrops for one heart to be crying.” Naturally, there are three versions of “96 Tears” on ? and the Mysterians’ new double record More Action: English, Spanish, and instrumental. Why not exploit what you know is fucking great?
Boss covers pepper More Action, as well. “Don’t Give It Up Now” by the Lyres gets invigorated by ?’s high, smooth vocals, and rivaling “96 Tears” in obsessability is a dreamy super-perv remake of “Cheree” by Suicide (who in turn have been known to cover “96 Tears”—badly!), rendered so superlatively naughty I crimson deeply every time I hear it. ? is blatantly rubbing one off as he croons, and he punctuates the song with loud, shivery panting, which crescendoes in an exalted peak of excitement. Martinez-composed winners include the catchy four-syllable titles “Ain’t It a Shame” and “Do You Feel It.” And one of my favorites will always be the boppy “Hangin’ on a String,” in which I swear macabre ? sings: “Don’t leave me hanging baby, like a purple baby.” (Though my less keen friends insist he doesn’t wanna be left hanging like a puppet, baby.)