[29 March 2010]
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)
Nearly three years before 1967’s Monterey International Pop Festival and five years before Woodstock, an amazing assemblage of rock and soul talent shared the stage at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Known as “The T.A.M.I. Show,” the two-hour live concert film of the occasion, recorded on Oct. 29, 1964, presented virtually every significant style in contemporary pop music.
Although the concert film was released in movie theaters later that year and incomplete bootleg home video versions have appeared over the years, “The T.A.M.I. Show” (an acronym for Teenage Awards Music International) has just made its first official DVD release in a restored, high-definition collector’s edition (Shout! Factory, $19.93, not rated). It comes with a 20-page commemorative booklet featuring an informative essay by music historian Don Waller, an audio commentary by Waller and the show’s director, Steve Binder, plus the original trailer and a series of radio ads for the movie.
The show took place at a crossroads in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. The Beatles and the British Invasion had landed in America earlier that year, while Motown artists were exploding on the airwaves. The founding fathers of rock ‘n’ roll, including Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, were still turning out hits, while surf rock bands like the Beach Boys were adding imaginative vocal harmonies to Berry-style uptempo rhythms. Pop singers, though starting to give way to rock groups, were still riding high on the charts, while grittier African-American performers like James Brown and Otis Redding were beginning to crossover to wider, multi-racial audiences. (One other major style of pop music, folk rock, did not emerge until the following year, when Bob Dylan went electric and former folkies like the Byrds began adapting folk songs to rock ‘n’ roll instrumentation.)
The completely live show — no lip-syncing, no overdubs, no retakes — was the brainchild of executive producer Bill Sargent. He recruited L.A. musician/producer Jack Nitzsche to put together the show’s stellar back-up band (for the artists who didn’t perform as self-contained bands) and help choose the talent. Sargent also hired choreographer David Winters, who selected an interracial group of dancers to do the frug, the monkey, the shimmy, the pony and a bunch of other popular dances while the musicians played.
They first booked two already-touring packages. One featured three of the hottest stars on the Motown label — Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Supremes and Marvin Gaye. The other brought two rock bands from Liverpool, England, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. These latter two groups may seem like odd choices today, given the general lack of esteem paid to them by history, but between them they had already scored five Number One hits in the United Kingdom during 1963 and early ‘64. The bands also had the same manager, Brian Epstein, who happened to have another Liverpool band in his stable which had done quite well after crossing the Atlantic. (That band was, of course, the Beatles.)
From the Southern California surf rock scene the producers signed the Beach Boys, still in their original lineup with Brian Wilson playing bass and sharing lead vocals, and Jan and Dean, who also served as laid-back hosts of the show. Chuck Berry, still reaching the Top 40 in 1964 with “Nadine (Is It You)?” and “No Particular Place to Go” nine years after he first hit the pop charts, was added, as was singer Lesley Gore, at 18 already a hit-making machine. The Barbarians, a garage band from Massachusetts, somehow got added to the show to perform one number (“Hey Little Bird”).
Rounding out the lineup were two special acts. James Brown, already a major star in the African-American community and known as one of the most dynamic live performers in pop music, was just starting to attract legions of white fans. Much to the chagrin of Brown, who always closed the show when appearing with other acts, Sargent signed some young upstarts from London, the Rolling Stones — making their first tour of the United States — to be the final act.
The concert packed 3,000 teenagers, many from Santa Monica High School, into the auditorium, and they screamed, danced and applauded throughout the entire show. The performances onstage were often exceptional, even though the main attractions only had 10-15 minutes to do three to five songs apiece.
The Motown groups all gave solid renditions of their most recent hits — Gaye’s “Hitch Hike,” the Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go” and Smokey’s “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me,” among them. Gore impressed with her crystal-clear voice, perfect pitch and catchy tunes (including the proto-feminist “You Don’t Own Me” and “It’s My Party”), although her style of pop would soon be eclipsed by heavier, more aggressive and more counter-cultural rock bands. Berry, who had gained a reputation for giving lackluster live performances when not properly inspired, delivered the goods on “Johnny B. Goode” and three other songs. And the Beach Boys showed that they were as effective on stage as in the recording studio, with their soaring harmonies and Brian Wilson’s heavenly falsetto blending perfectly with both fast rockers (especially a dynamic version of “Dance, Dance, Dance”) and ballads (“Surfer Girl”).
On the other hand, the two Liverpool bands, despite receiving warm receptions from the audience, showed why their “Mersey beat” sound never translated that well in America. Compared to the Beatles and the other successful groups among the British Invasion bands, their songs were cutesy and lightweight. Jan and Dean, though affable as emcees, came across as Beach Boys-lite when singing “The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena)” and “Sidewalk Surfin’.”
As for the final two acts, James Brown, accompanied by the Flames (three male backup singer-dancers) and several members of his touring band, tore up the stage with his moans and moves. This was most likely the first time the young, mostly white audience had ever seen Brown live, and the crowd instantly became swept up by Brown’s passion and propulsion as he performed hits like “Out of Sight” and “Please, Please, Please.” Years later, Brown wrote in his autobiography, “I don’t think I ever danced so hard in my life, and I don’t think (the crowd) had ever seen a man move that fast.”
No sane group would choose to follow James Brown onstage, and the Stones, according to legend (and Waller’s DVD essay) asked to switch places with him in the lineup. But after Sargent refused to make the change, the band, led by 21-year-old Mick Jagger and 20-year-old Keith Richards, rose to the occasion. Their five-song set of cover tunes (“Around and Around,” “Time Is On My Side” and “It’s All Over Now”) and not-yet-recorded originals (“Off the Hook” and “I’m All Right”) was bursting with energy, yet tight and precise, while Jagger took his singing and dancing to a new level.
“The T.A.M.I. Show” remains one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll movies ever made. Coming out in late 1964, the same year the Civil Rights Act banned racial segregation in schools, work places and in public accommodations, the film captures a wonderful era in pop music when racial barriers started to break down.
THE T.A.M.I. SHOW
Cast: The Rolling Stones, James Brown and the Flames, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Lesley Gore, Jan and Dean, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, and the Barbarians
Director: Steve Binder
Distributor: Shout! Factory