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Review: The Best of ? and the Mysterians

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The dreaded Abkco is finally resurrecting the golden oldies it extinguished back in the ‘60s (when Allen Klein bought and shut down the crumbling Cameo-Parkway empire). Following a four-CD overview of Cameo-Parkway’s hits and oddities (Cameo Parkway 1957-1967) comes individual retrospectives of Bobby Rydell, Chubby Checker, Dee Dee Sharp, the Dovells, the Orlons, the Tymes (all those lamers that filled the radio dial with mush between the eras of Chuck Berry and the Beatles) – plus the one Cameo-Parkway act that truly has something to say in 2005 (the year of garage): ? and the Mysterians.

For sure, their 1966 Number One killer-diller, “96 Tears” is timeless. The fleet-fingered intro itself is the alpha and omega of trash rock. But ? and the Mysterians are no “one hit wonder”; their second 45, “I Need Somebody” landed #22 nationally – higher than the celebrated MC5 ever got with their one wondrous hit.) Here’s a group who could make an LP: like the Ramones, every frugging, hook-filled tune by ? and the Mysterians is interchangeable, essential, elemental, all-out rockin’ fun. Best of all, the entire original lineup is still together, still performing and (if my recent conversations with lead singer ? is any indication) still crazy as hell.

“I’m leaving signs behind in the media so when I’m reincarnated next time around, I’ll know where to look. I’ve been a popular entertainer since the beginning of time and I’ll be a popular entertainer forever,” ? told me. He’s got things to say about dinosaurs, Mars, Stephen King, the “People of the Future” and a lifetime of rocking out for a living – but ?’s magical thinking comes across best in his music. Merging riffs that boogie the human soul on a molecular level with poetry that speaks to the subconscious landscape of reason, all of it recorded after last call the other side of the crystal ball, ? & the Mysterians embody the core dialect of teenage desperation and its amplified sublimation.

The truly profound cuts: the surf-O-matic “Up Side,” the inebriated “Don’t Tease Me,” the hypnotic “96 Tears,” the riff-packed “Girl (You Captivate Me),” the Mersybeat “I’ll Be Back,” the Stonesy “Smokes,” the twist-crazed “It’s Not Easy,” the new wave “Don’t Hold It Against Me,” and, finally, the pure power-pop “Do Something To Me.” Anyone who cherishes their B52s and Blondie albums can now chuck ‘em out the window – the master of feel-good boy/girl kitsch-rock is back!

It should be added that this compilation is a guilty pleasure. In theory, Klein (a common gangster) should be boycotted for 96 years. After all, he bought Cameo-Parkway merely for a stock-market swindle and, failing that, tossed every recording act onto the street without a penny’s royalty, all the while deep-freezing the catalog (entire careers) for decades. Dig Jeff Tamarkin’s take on the matter in his liner notes: “? and the Mysterians didn’t hold on for long. Cameo-Parkway soon scaled back operations and although the band recorded for other labels in various guises, by 1968 they were through.”

The animosity continues into the present: ? is plenty pissed off about the two unreleased demos added to the CD expressly against his wishes. “That’s so stupid, those were /never/ meant to be released, they were dryruns, just to set levels, the feeling isn’t in them. If they would have kept their word and not included them like they promised, then I wouldn’t have to explain all this now.” I can’t comment on whether they were worth adding, my copy started skipping the track prior – a direct intervention by the cosmic People of the Future, no doubt.

Even if ? & the Mysterians didn’t, I got my money’s worth. The remastering is fine, the cover is orange (?’s fave color) and, fuck it, it’s sure wonderful to hear this stuff again. Now go see the band live!

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About DAyTripper

  • What was the MC5’s one wondrous hit? I’m afraid it’s obvious, but maybe not.

  • “Kick Out The Jams” (brothers and sisters version) made the Top 40; although the follow-up LP was groomed for radio, it failed to make the Top 10,000. This of course is the radio perspective of a hit.

  • Although a lot of Cameo-Parkway’s stuff was indeed Philly dross, I do have a soft spot for a couple of those records. Despite Chubby Checker’s version of “The Twist” being a virtual clone of Hank Ballard’s, Checker’s version (at least on the original 45 I have) is a big, great sounding record with a lot of oomph to it. It’s the perfect jukebox record – I particularly like the way the saxes sound on that platter. The Dovells’ “You Can’t Sit Down” is a nice vocal take on the Phil Upchurch song (and unlike the Upchurch version, it’s more concise and doesn’t peter out).

    Allen Klein of course should get prostate trouble at a bare minimum considering his “contributions” to the business side of rock and roll. There’s an interesting reference in the Badfinger book “Without You” from the notorious Stan Polley, where he claims that Allen Klein was his accountant. ‘Nuff said…