? & the Mysterians


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In 1966, ? & the Mysterians went from playing dances in Bay City, Michigan to having the number one single in the United States in a matter of months when "96 Tears" became the freak hit to end all freak hits. By mid-1967, the band's career had already peaked, but they still had enough momentum that Cameo-Parkway Records brought the band back into the studio to cut a second album. Released in 1967, Action lacks a galvanizing hit single like "96 Tears" to pull the songs together (though "Can't Get Enough of You Baby" comes close), but the band sounds tighter and more accomplished on these sessions. A few months on the road had helped to toughen up the Mysterians' chops, and while this music still leans to the punky side of '60s garage rock, Frank Rodriguez's minimalist keyboards show a lot more confidence, and guitarists Larry Borjas and Bobby Balderrama contribute some sharp, flinty guitar riffs that add texture to the organ-driven melodies. Vocalist ? declaims as remarkably on Action as he did on the debut; while he can sound sweet and smooth on numbers like "Can't Get Enough of You Baby" and "I'll Be Back," when he stretches out vocally on "Smokes," "Got To," and an extended cover of "Shout," he brings a frantic R&B edge to his delivery that's a much closer approximation of his explosive stage performances. The production makes this sound like not much more than five guys in a room, but it's a better-sounding room than the one where they cut "96 Tears," and the overall effect is that of a band that's eager to please but can't help but bring a delinquent sneer to its music. 96 Tears may be the definitive ? & the Mysterians album, but Action runs a very close second, and fans of '60s garage sounds should seek it out.

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