One of my favorite ways to waste time in the mid-60s was calling up Washington/Maryland/Virginia radio DJs and making requests or trying to score an open phone line for a contest. In 1966, I finally was the '10th caller' and won my first vinyl 45. Damned if it wasn't 96 Tears by Question Mark & the Mysterians. Why do I remember that? Who knows - I just do.
I've always harbored a fondness for a certain kind of hard-bitten, testosterone-driven garage-ish rock. Give me quality fare by the Amboy Dukes, Bob Seger System or Standells and I was in some kind of heaven that helped me tap into the male side of my psyche, I guess. The Troggs, Them and Yardbirds from the other side of the pond had similar effects on me. Though a girl, I was as disaffected a youth as any, so the sensibility that oozed from the pores of this kind of music suited me just swimmingly. It wasn't trying to be pretty, it wasn't pretty, and yet it was alluring.
Question Mark and the Mysterians has been described as one of the first garage or punk-style bands to emerge in the U.S. and 96 Tears was a definite anomaly at the time it scaled the charts. The week it was #1, the group shared the Top 5 with the Monkees, Four Tops, Johnny Rivers and Left Banke. Like many such songs, 96 Tears started out as a local hit (they lived in Bay City, Michigan), but the British Invasion had opened up a mass market for bands that up until then were pretty much hanging out in their garages and basements. It got coveted airplay on CKLW in Detroit, and a recording contract with national distribution soon followed.
I loved playing it on my dinky turntable, especially because I knew my mother hated it, probably even feared it. That exotic Link Wray-like guitar (his theme song for the Batman TV show was big that year)! The organ riff! The seductive rhythm! They were Latino - even better! Nothing like my sanitized suburban existence - it just didn't get any better than that, some days.
Rudy Martinez (or ? as he is apparently legally known) and his Mysterians are still out there recording and performing, and have a bit of a following, although they never really had other commercial success of this magnitude.