Question Mark & the Mysterians - 96 Tears/Action (ABKCO/Real Gone Music)

Finally, you can own both albums on audiophile 180-gram vinyl — at 45 rpm

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Both albums on audiophile 180-gram vinyl at 45 rpm


You had few options if you wanted to listen to these Question Mark records when they first came out in 1966 and '67 respectively. If you were lucky, your parents might've let you play them on the living-room record player, one of those that was more of a piece of furniture than a sound device, that, when you turned it up, the speakers rattled and distorted like a mofo. (It sounded great when they played those Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass records!)

If you had a record player in some other room, like your bedroom, it most likely was a mono player with detachable speakers. You were livin' large. But there was no great sound there either, and you had to become adept at listening at low volumes because "Turn it down!" would be bellowed from some other room. Headphones had yet to make it to us at that level of technology. "96 Tears" sounded great on the radio driving around drinking beer or Arrow Lime Green Vodka (two bucks a pint if I remember). The speakers in those cars were crap. But with enough alcohol and distortion you remembered it sounding great.

One thing I learned from years of collecting records was that albums were mastered to sound best on basic consumer stereo stuff: cheap speakers and even cheaper ceramic cartridges. The albums were mixed to sound like what the average consumer was going to hear them on. Those raised on Little Richard 45s didn't know that the bass was really the distortion the producers knew was going to result on our cheap record players. Early CD issues that were straight tape-to-digital transfers sounded horrible. Where was the bass? Where was the distortion that was imprinted on our listening memories? 

My point? 

Playing this music on relatively high-end audiophile equipment misses some context; these Bay City musicians came from the wrong side of town — Latinos who had squat for money or equipment. The Farfisa organ was a cheap piece of shit — the bare minimum to be afforded. Same with the guitars and amps and drums. Not everyone could afford a bass amp. Cheap! 

So we are going to listen to flimsy instruments recorded most likely in a four-track studio with less than optimum microphones and mixed to sound good on cheap consumer audio gear? A band for whom Dave Marsh coined the term "punk rock" years before '76? Only now in audiophile quality vinyl? Heart and ears be still!

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