The T.A.M.I. Show, which stands for Teenage Awards Music International was originally conceived to be an annual event. In reality, it only happened once, for two performances on October 28 & 29 at the 3000-seat Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. The details of how the concert came together are explained in the liner notes of the DVD, so I'll skip how The Rolling Stones, James Brown, The Beach Boys, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Miracles, Leslie Gore, Chuck Berry and the others all ended up on the same stage for a five hour show. The film of the concert came out in theaters two weeks after the shows, played for months and then disappeared until last March except for some bootleg copies and some footage that was added to the T.N.T. show and released on a video in 1982. The Beach Boys had their footage cut from every print after the run, and it only re-surfaced in their own recent anthology and is now included in the DVD. Remastered and gloriously restored to fullscreen format, the DVD release presents the entire concert from October 29th in its entirety for the first time in 46 years.
I caught it quite by accident more than 20 years in the TAMI/TNT version and as I mentioned in my earlier post, was floored by how great it was. Ever since then I've wanted to see it again, and I bought a copy of it the day it came out. Since then I've watched the whole thing 6 or 7 times, and the James Brown segment at least a dozen times. What has impressed me with each viewing is how phenomenal the entire show was, and how it captures a time in the pop music scene that is forever irretrievable, even though festivals such as Outside Lands, Coachella and Lollapalooza try to make a modern day version of it. As great and diverse as the contemporary festivals are, it's not the same. But then there is little, if anything, that's the same in pop culture now as it was in 1964.
To put it in perspective, in 1964 Chuck Berry had his biggest hit with "Nadine," but he was already considered an "oldies" act by that time, since he'd been making records since 1955, debuting with "Maybelline". Elvis was already making two movies a year. Beatlemania was in full bloom and men were starting to be drafted into the Vietnam war in large numbers. The Jackson 5 wouldn't release their first single for another 5 years. Concept albums didn't exist and it would be another year before the Beatles released their first song that wasn't about a girl ("Nowhere Man"). The Civil Rights Act had just passed.
Now consider that Pink's first album came out ten years ago. Beyonce' has been singing since 1997, the Stones are still touring and most pop careers span decades without the stigma of being "oldies" acts. For example, U2's first album was released thirty years ago, Madonna's in 1983 and Radiohead's in 1993. Rap is more than 30 years old. Barack Obama is president. In 1964, listening to the equivalent of some of today's most popular pop artists would have made you a fan of early Bing Crosby, Tommy Dorsey and Perry Como while your contemporaries were listening to I Want to Hold Your Hand and Pretty Woman.
Okay, enough of that, because while the subject what changed in the United States that made American culture synonymous with pop culture is really fascinating, what I really want to discuss are the music and performances in the show.
After a somewhat lame title sequence featuring hosts Jan and Dean skateboarding to the Civic while "Here They Come From All Over the World" plays over the titles, we're smack in the show with our hosts introducing "the man who started it all back in 1958 [where the hell did they get that date from?]... Chuck Berry!"
Berry, who maintained his tradition of being paid before he hit the stage for this gig, causing it to start late, looks great as he launches into "Johnny B. Goode," complete with go-go dancers tearing it up on risers behind him. The back up band in this case is Phil Spector's Wrecking Crew, which at the time included Glen Campbell and Leon Russell. Next comes "Maybelline," and Berry starts to look like he's having a blast. After the first chorus, Gerry and the Pacemakers take the song over, giving it a distinctly British Mersey meets Nashville flavor that really works. The Pacemakers are a pretty homely looking bunch, but they can play. They then launch into their big hit, "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" and one realizes how brilliantly this particular band summarizes British pop of the early 60's. From the same city as the Beatles and managed by Brian Epstein, Gerry Mardsen's vocal style is easily recognizable as influencing everyone from the Beatles to the Clash. They tear into "It's Gonna Be Alright," a garage anthem before the term was ever coined, which sounds like something that could easily have been done by Social Distortion.
Berry comes back for "Sweet Little Sixteen" and what becomes obvious is what a great guitar player he is, in a thrash and burn kind of way- a sound that becomes so ingrained in rock that it's easy to forget he's the one who largely invented it. "Sixteen" is cut short so the Pacemakers can romp into "How Do You Do it?" which sounds like a Beatles tune of the same era.
Now we come to "Nadine" and this is truly the first of many great moments to come. Chugging at full steam with the Wrecking Crew rocking in full blast behind him, the camera frames berry from the waist up so we can see him playing his Gibson in the low part of the frame. Above him on risers are two female dancers frugging like mad. One is in her pajamas and pigtails and to her right is a girl dancing with wild abandon in a bikini who likes like she belongs in a Russ Meyer movie. Not only is the bikini-girl built to thrill, but she dances her ass off and seems to be defying gravity. Berry never even looks back over his shoulder at them, but his performance is so charged it seems like the bikini-vixen is dancing right in front of him. The audience sounds like its completely freaking out at this point, and the camera cuts away to the Pacemakers hilariously clapping along way off the beat.
Berry brings "Nadine" to a close way too early, clearly leaving the audience (and this viewer) wanting more.
Gerry and the Pacemakers then pick up the pace with "I Like It" which sounds like it could have easily been on The Clash's Sandinista- which I find a bit shocking when I first hear it, but after repeated viewings it makes sense to me and has given me lot of respect for this band that has somehow been remembered for being lightweight, which this video certainly proves is wrong.
Next up are the Miracles, before Smokey Robinson's name was placed in the front. Wilson's voice is already gold at this point in their career. Beginning with "That's What Love is Made Of", when Smokey sings "snakes, snails, puppy-dog's tails, sugar, spice, everything nice," you see a singer so in command of his talents that it's no wonder that he became a superstar. And he can belt it out- when the Miracles sing "You've Really Got a Hold On Me" the smooth Smokey is nowhere in sight and he's much more reminiscent of Sam Cooke trying to work up to Otis Redding's world. The Miracles, dancing and singing back-up, are the definition sixties soul cool. "Mickey's Monkey" is a rave-up that the recorded version doesn't even come close to capturing. Robinson really puts on a show with this number. When the Miracles all remove their jackets and get down low to wind it down before winding up the ending and walking offstage while the music is still playing, it makes me think had Marvin Gaye never come to Berry Gordy's attention, it would have likely been Smokey who would have been seen as Motown's sex symbol.
Thankfully Marvin did show up and he follows the Miracles. Looking super dapper in a white tux with a bandolero type jacket, Gaye exudes extreme confidence and youth as he sings "Stubborn Kind of Fellow" and "Pride and Joy." But there is little evidence of what was to come a few years later, either in the material or the presentation. At this stage he's just a beautiful man with a great voice singing standard Motown pop. During "Can I Get a Witness" two dancers come up on each side of him and he doesn't seem to know what to do with them. You don't get that impression with Smokey and the Marvin of a few years later would have handled it very differently. "Hitchhike" is his last number and he does some uncomfortable looking dancing (Gaye was never known to be a good dancer), but vocally at this point he's fully warmed-up and he sounds great.
Leslie Gore, who was one of the top-billed acts of the show, was for me the biggest surprise of the concert after watching a few times. All these years later, it's easy to remember her for the silliness of "It's My Party" and "Judy's Turn to Cry," both of which have been parodied and used in advertisements for so long it's hard to hear them as anything but novelties. But Gore begins her set with "Maybe I Know" and then launches into "You Don't Own Me" which kind of floored me not only because of its strong feminist statement, but she delivers it with such haunting conviction it made me think Debbie Harry was nothing but a poseur in those early Blondie years. Gore was the real thing. The rest of the set is "You Didn't Look Around" and a sneering, sassy "Hey Now" before the two crowd-pleasers mentioned at the top. Gore looks ridiculous in her tight curl and painful looking eyebrows, and she's dressed like her mom, but Leslie Gore is the epitome of the "girl group" sound of the sixties and her set, which has the most songs because of her popularity in 1964, is a true highlight on a disc that has a lot of competition. She was all of 18 when this was filmed. Amazing.
Jan and Dean then do "Little Old Lady from Pasadena" and "Sidewalk Surfin'." Even though they predate the Beach Boys, by fully adopting the surf music sound the Beach Boys refined to perfection, if not art, Jan and Dean have always struck me as second tier, even though they had a ridiculous number of solid hits and were solid songwriters. They're appealing in these two songs, though Jean looks slightly bored during "Sidewalk Surfin'" Dean looks like he's having a really good time, singing, dancing and riding a skateboard around the stage.
They then introduce "the real surfers- The Beach Boys!" Brian Wilson is with them, one his last appearances with the band, and their four-song set is comprised of: "Surfin' USA,"" I Get Around,""Surfer Girl," and "Dance,Dance, Dance." There is so much I could write about what is onscreen and what comes through the speakers over the next nine minutes that it would take me all night and there are still five more bands yet to take the stage. So to summarize:
- The rivalry between the Beach Boys and the Beatles never made sense to me until I saw this.
- The Beach Boys ability to harmonize, better than probably any other pop group ever, was not a studio creation, but the real thing.
- They could play their instruments really well.
- Dennis Wilson must have been a lot of fun to hang out with.
- Mike Love had the worst comb-over ever in the world of rock music.
- Chuck Berry really did start it all, just like Jan and Dean said he did.
- Brian Wilson is a genius.
After the Beach Boys, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas (who?) are introduced and perform four songs, beginning with their smash hit "Little Children." Kramer and the Dakotas were also managed by Brian Epstein, and they had Lennon-McCartney songs at their disposal, three of which- "Bad to Me," "I'll Keep You Satisfied," and "From a Window" are the remaining songs of the set. For awhile, these guys had some big hits, especially in England. "Little Children," however, is one of the creepiest things I've ever seen, ranking a solid ten on the ick factor, that makes it comically absurd. I don't care what the song's defenders on Amazon say, there is no way you can listen to this song in 2010 and not think pedophile creep. Especially with the then 21 year-old Kramer looking like a complete ponce. It's startling. Fascinating. Creepy. Yuck. And as much as I hate to admit it, it's really great in a Herschell Gordon Lewis kind of way. It causes one to forget the remaining three songs, written by Lennon and McCartney, are actually pretty good and sound exactly like the Beatles except sung by a much less talented singer than John and Paul were.
The Supremes, who like the Miracles at this point, didn't have Diana Ross' name out front, are from my perspective the only relative disappointment of the show. Not because they were bad, but because the show was filmed before they had made some of their best music, though "Baby Love" and "Where Did Our Love Go?" follow "When the Lovelight Starts..." and "Run, Run, Run." Their voices sound great, they look great, but there just isn't much excitement coming from them. They're a very polished trio at this point already, but maybe they don't have the awareness of what they're about to become within the next two years. They come across as a really good girl group with two great songs, but considering what's come before them, it's just okay, though the crowd obviously loves "Where Did Our Love Go?" and the choreography on that song for the dancers is among the most fun of the show- especially Teri Garr in a Target logo sweatshirt long before the logo ever existed.
The Barbarians are only there because someone associated with the show put out their single, "Hey Little Bird,"- a mod rave-up that sounds like a grungy version of the Who at that time. They also had a drummer with a missing left-hand, 30 years before Def Leppard had one.
Which brings us to the highlight of the concert- in fact, to one of the highlights of pop music period- James Brown on the TAMI show. With the Famous Flames tight on his right and part of his band handling the rhythm and percussion, Brown delivers eighteen minutes of scorching R&B that is simply unforgettable and has been the chief reason people have clamored so long for the release of this film. Once you've seen it you want everyone else you know to see it to. It's that fantastic.
The band and the Flames (at this point consisting of Bobby Byrd, Bobby Bennett, and "Baby Lloyd" Stallworth) are onstage and launch into "Out of Sight" with Brown shimmying in from the side on one leg. When he hits center stage and grabs the mic stand it's game time. It's obvious from the first minute of this performance why the Stones didn't want to go on after him and waited more than hour after he was finished to take the stage. The Flames are in total sync, giving Brown a vocal and dancing counterpoint at every beat. The Wrecking Crew's horn section are right there with them. When "Out of Sight" comes to a pause, only start up again with even more propulsion, Brown's already laid out the foundation of musical tension that is about to become funk. He holds back ever so slightly, so that the listener (or dancer) is anticipating the downbeat right before it actually arrives, and when it arrives it's all the more satisfying. Brown was still in R & B territory at this stage, but funk was beginning infect everything he did, making these performances of the songs "Prisoner of Love" and Please, Please, Please" so much more satisfying than their recorded versions.
"Prisoner of Love" is a ballad, but it doesn't feel like one at all- with the Flames alternating with Brown on the title words over and over, until Brown falls to his knees pleading and then screaming, they turn the song into a piece of theater. Everyone hits their mark- everyone onstage has a role. Brown is like the central figure in a Greek tragedy and the Flames are the chorus. Brown seems like he's opening up his chest and throwing his heart on the stage for no other reason than there's an audience in front of him who deserves such a sacrifice.
The theatrical nature of the performance just erupts during "Please, Please, Please." Pleasing, screaming, dropping to his knees on the beat, we are then treated the often imitated, never duplicated scene of Bobby Ray bringing James his cape and walking the exhausted performer offstage, where he can recuperate from giving everything he had to the audience. Brown takes a couple of steps, with Ray and the Flames looking concerned for his well-being (while singing the chorus, of course), throws off the cape and comes back to give more- because he must. They try to lead him off again, and Brown takes almost a full minute to walk four feet, before- wait! No!, He's back! Not only that, but then he breaks in a trotting-dance move singing "PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE" a dozen times in a row before finally bringing it to a close. The only thing that comes close to this as far as excitement goes is Michael Jackson's moonwalk on the Motown 25 special.
Closing it out with a hyped-up version of "Night Train" Brown hasn't even delivered all his tricks yet- call and response from the crowd, maniacal dancing from him and the Flames, the band in overdrive, the splits three different ways, it's just fucking incredible. The audience shots show people going nuts and others with a look on their face that can only be read as "what the fuck is this?" Simply put, it's James Brown for nineteen minutes of pure musical performance perfection and his segment alone would be worth the price of the dvd and the reason everyone should see this.
The Stones are last, and in a nice touch start off with Chuck Berry's "Around and Around." Jagger does some moves that make him look silly for even trying after James Brown, but the crowd is primed for the Stones and Richards and Brian Jones are completely engaged. As the set goes on Jagger loosens up and during "Off the Hook" the band is pretty much back to its own confident self. "Time is On My Side" makes the audience go wild and features a strong performance from Jagger."It's All Over Now" follows, featuring Jagger mugging for the camera and Jones throwing off some pretty nice guitar licks. Richards looks like a happy kid in this set, dancing and bopping his head like he wants to be a Beatle. Jones looks like a superstar. Bill Wyman, playing a really interesting looking bass and already wearing flower power duds, has his stoic stage persona already in place at this early stage of their existence and Charlie Watts looks like he's still having fun being before he simply accepts being the best drummer in all of rock and roll. In other words, it's a great set by the Stones, but they aren't the best thing here, and how many times are the Stones going to be outgunned?
The show closes with the Stones beginning "I'm All Right" alone on stage and then all the dancers pour onto the stage, followed by all of the performers, giving you the chance to see the Stones as the back-up band while James Brown, Chuck Berry, Smokey Robinson, Leslie Gore, Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross all dance in front of them. It's a once in a lifetime close to a once in a lifetime show. It can be summed up by one word- awesome!