The song was originally written by likely Question Mark, Rudy Martinez, around 1962. The recording was done in Bay City, Michigan. It was first released on the small Pa-Go-Go label and then picked up by Cameo Records for national distribution. The original issue is quite rare and sought after by record collectors.
Known for its signature organ licks and bare-bones lyrics, "96 Tears" has been widely-recognized as one of the first garage band hits and has even been given credit for starting the punk rock movement. It is generally accepted that rock critic Dave Marsh coined the term "Punk rock" when referring to this song.
The song hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. in 1966 and almost simultaneously topped the RPM 100 in Canada and was the band's only major hit single. Follow-up song "I Need Somebody" peaked at number 22 later that year and no other U.S. top-forty singles followed. It appears on the band's album 96 Tears.