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Chapter 2 Sex Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll : 
? and the Mysterians Derail the Last Train to Clarksville

What are we doing in New York City? Manhatten? 1966 – How did we get here?
How did we get here, New York, of all places, Manhattan?
We never planned this—we never even talked about it, but we did make a recording.
BUT, I must confess that I had set my goals for Broadway back in 1957.

My main goal of course was to be on American Bandstand in 1958, and show the world how to dance, then to proceed in NY, Manhattan, to do a tv show that was very popular from 1950-1960, which I also wanted to be on so I could show the world how to dance. The show was called The Arthur Murray Party and featured dancing and guest vocalists. Of course ultimately I wanted to make my presence known on Broadway – in a musical production, or any kind of production, and later on as a serious actor.

When I said how did we get here, I am referring to ? and the Mysterians. I don't know what their goals were back then – Little Frank Rodriguez, our keyboard player, was just 14 and our guitarist Bobby Balderrama only 15. I'm not sure they, or Frank Lugo and Eddie Serrato HAD any real goals, so I really should say “what am I doing here”? This wasn't how I planned it.

In August, 1966, we arrived in Manhattan at night on the 22nd and I wrote my mother that tomorrow I was going to visit the Empire State Building and was going to go all the way to the top (which I did, to the 102nd floor) Of course I was on the inside, looking through the portholes on the 102nd floor –King Kong was on the outside.

BUT, lets go back to the 1st week of August because this is about a so-called group called the Monkees and another group called ? and the Mysterians and who was going to get to the top spot on the Top 100. Of course, we were. I had no doubt even before I ever heard of the Monkees that we were.

I told everyone when we recorded “96 Tears” that it was a million seller. The first week of August 1966 we were in Dallas TX promoting 96 Tears, which was then still on the Pa-Go-Go label. We already knew it was to be released the 1st week in September on the Cameo Parkway label. We were at a radio station doing a promo stop and a dj there told us “We really like your song a whole lot better than this new group we have to play. We'll play yours next week. The reason is because they have a TV series called “The Monkees” coming out.” Of course I replied “Its too bad we don't have a tv series” and that set in motion the plan to derail the Monkees from reaching the top spot on Billboards top 100 before we did.

At the time, there were also such notable groups as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys who went on to become the so-called “greatest” groups in Rock and Roll History.

The clock starts now and is ticking away. The last week of August, ? And the Mysterians “96 Tears” was listed on the Billboard rankings as  #112   “bubbling just outside the top 100”. There were no Monkees listed.

September 3, 1966 – Lyndon Baines Johnson was president and the 24th Science Fiction convention honored Gene Roddenbury-a week later “Star Trek” debuted on NBC.  On the top 100, 96 Tears has jumped to #75, while the Monkees, even with their upcoming tv show, were only at 101, just outside the top 100. The Beatles Yellow Submarine was #5 and their Elenor Rigby #47, Beach Boys “Wouldn't It Be Nice” was at #11 and the Rolling Stones “Mother's Little Helper” was fading at 40. The race was on.

By September the 10th, ? and the Mysterians are now recording our first album. Everyone KNEW this record was going to be a major hit so into the studio we went. “96 Tears” is now #45 but the Monkees are now climbing and are at #67. Beatles Yellow Submarine #3 and Elenor Rigby jumped to 26, Beach Boys Wouldn't It Be Nice at 11 AND 42 God Only Knows.

On September 15th, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson responding to a sniper attack at the University of Texas at Austin, writes a letter to the United States Congress urging the enactment of gun control legislation. The Monkees TV show debuted on the September 17th 96 Tears has continued to climb to 25 and the Last Train To Clarksville chugged along at #43. Still floating the Yellow Submarine was #2 and Eleanor Rigby at 14. The Beach Boys Wouldn't It be Nice counted in at #8 and God Only Knows at 40. We were still ahead of the prefabricated fake tv band.

From September 24-30, Hurricane Inez, killed 293 in the Caribbean, Florida & Mexico. In OUR world, in the week ending September 24th , 96 Tears has broken into the top ten, at #8, the fastest rising single on the charts. The Monkees “Last Train To Clarksville” crawled to #26; The Beatles “Yellow Submarine” dropped to #4 and “Elenor Rigby” just at 11; The Beach Boys “Wouldn't It Be Nice “ was #9 and their “God Only Knows” was at 39

A little trivia for everyone out there-- how many of you owned a Chevy Camaro at one time or another- did you know it was originally called the Panther. It was first released September
29 , 1966. That same week, the week ending October 1st , finds 96 Tears at #6, up two positions, Yellow Submarine dropped to 8 and Eleanor Rigby in at 11, Last Train to Clarksville was at 18, Beach Boys Wouldn't It Be Nice at 23 and God Only Knows on its way out at 45. Neither of the Beach Boys songs from their highly acclaimed album made #1, In fact God Only Knows didn't fare well at all.

On October 6th there was a partial meltdown at Detroits's Fermi 1 nuclear reactor AND
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) is first declared illegal in state of California, other states follow.. The Billboard charts for the week ending October 8th, 96 Tears continued its climb, now at #3 , The Monkees “Last Train to Clarksville” moved up to #6, Submarine down to #16 taking Eleanor Rigby to #21 – the Rolling Stones entered with “Have you Seen Your Mother Baby (Standing in the Shadows)” at 40 from out of nowhere, and “Wouldn't It be Nice” dropped to 45-- God Only Knows what happened to “God Only Knows”—it was GONE.

On October 13th , 1966, 173 US airplanes bomb North-Vietnam and on the 14th 175 US airplanes bomb North Vietnam. Back at home, the Billboard chart for the week ending October 15, our
“96 Tears” was for a second time #3, the Monkee's “Last Train to Clarksville” right behind us at #4, Mother Baby has gone from 40 to 14 in a week, Yellow Submarine has dropped to 32 and Eleanor Rigby at 37 – Wouldn't it be Nice is GONE

October 13-Oh My Goodness, It's my BIRTHDAY!!!
In celebration I decided to skip down Wall Street, Broadway, 5th Avenue, Greenwich Village, Time Square, Central Park, over to Harlem to the Apollo Theatre, through Tiffany's where I skipped right through the jewelry because material things really don't mean much to me, The Secretariat Building in the UN Complex (The Glass Wall – remember the movie?), Five Points and to the top of the Empire State Building, and on the 86th floor observatory, I skipped all the way around there too. When you visit NYC, I encourage you to Skip to My Lou (Judy Garland version perhaps?) around them all and photograph or videotape it and send it over to
On October 21st, 144 died as a coal waste landslide engulfed a school in Aberfan, South Wales
Billboard's Week ending October 22, 1966 chart we moved up one more spot- ever closer to derailing the Last Train to Clarksville....”Reach Out I'll Be There” by the Four Tops became the #1 song in America, but close on their heels was US--“96 Tears” now at #2 and ahead of “Last Train to Clarksville” by a single spot. Stones Mother Baby was hung up at 13, and both the Beatles songs and the Beach Boys two hits had quietly faded away.
And then it happened...the chart for the week of October 29, 1966 was released and sitting on the top of the world was ? and the Mysterians with “96 Tears”!
The Monkees, propelled by their tv show and big studio money STILL couldn't beat us, a little band of Mexicans from Michigan, to the top...and they were #2. The Stones “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby” never got past #9 where they were on this chart. There was not a peep from the Beatles or the Beach Boys... We were promoting 96 Tears and our next record “I Need Somebody” on the east coast in October and November. We were doing bigger concerts with Sonny & Cher, The Beach Boys, The Mamas and Papas, The Left Banke, and others who were eager to be on the show with us.

The week before 96 Tears became the #1 single in the country, this is what happened.
? and the Mysterians are about done recording our debut album, “96 Tears” and Neil Bogart came into the studio.
“Why don't you guys take a break, I have something to tell you.” he said.  “Next week you guys are going to be #1 ; are you all excited?”

Bobby, Little Frank, Frank Lugo, Eddie Serrato all started yelling and screaming “Number 1, Number 1!” Neil Bogart looked at me and said “Question Mark, aren't you excited?” and I said “No”.

Before Little Frank was in the group, back in 1963, somebody booked us in Adrian MI, which is about 10 miles from Ohio. We had never played any further than a 25 mile radius from home so going to Adrian MI was like going to the moon. We knew nobody there and they didn't know who we were but after we played 2 sets, everyone loved us. At that time we were known as the Mysterians, ?, X, Y and Z.

I was thinking about this, my reply to Neil Bogart was “So what's more exciting—we've gone out of MI into OH, IN, FL, NY, PA (which we continue to do today without another gold record)

Article made by Question Mark & Susie Martin/2014
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