If Jean-Luc Godard hadn’t beaten them to it, the filmmakers of The T.A.M.I Show could have called it Breathless. From its frantic pacing to the rockers performing with every ounce of their youthful energy, you’ll never again see a concert film as exciting as this one. In 1964, some of the most talented black and white artists across the globe came together for a show of unparalleled pop madness, shown on closed-circuit screens across the U.S. Unfamiliar with the historic gig?
On Oct. 28-29, 1964, a dozen acts came together for a special concert that would capture a rock and roll moment in time like no other. Held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, the idea behind the Teenage Awards Music International was to present a snapshot of the music explosion being embraced by youngsters of the era. A film of the shows was released in theaters later that year as the ‘T.A.M.I. Show.’
As Jan & Dean sang in the theme song, they did come from all over the world to be part of this show, resulting in one of the most impressive bills in rock history. From Liverpool to Detroit and from Los Angeles to New York, the lineup was stunning. The Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, the Supremes, Gerry & the Pacemakers, James Brown and the Famous Flames, Lesley Gore, Marvin Gaye, Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, the Barbarians, Chuck Berry and, acting as hosts, the very lame, Jan & Dean.
Unlike with most of today’s filmed performances, there’s no lip-syncing or miming with instruments. Everyone from Marvin Gaye to Gerry and the Pacemakers sings and plays live. “I didn’t go back and edit or fix a thing,” Binder says. “Plus, we didn’t have separation of cameras in those days. And only four tracks for recording. Still, somehow? The concert really worked.”
If that wasn’t enough, the house band consisted of some of the L.A. session pros that became known as the Wrecking Crew, including Hal Blaine (drums), Glen Campbell and Tommy Tedesco (guitars), Leon Russell (piano) and Jack Nitzsche (keyboards and arranger). Jack Nitzsche, who at the time was Phil Spector’s arranger. And went on to work for The Rolling Stones (he did the chorale for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”), Neil Young, and many others. “Jack was also the guy responsible for picking most of the talent for the show,” Binder says.
Throughout the film bikini clad and nubile young ladies ran & jumped & gyrated with their male counterparts behind and within the performances. This was quite provocative for 1964. The choreographer was David Winters, a dancer who played one of the Jets in West Side Story. His assistant was none other than Toni Basil, who, 18 years later, sang the new wave smash”Mickey.” Oh, and one of the dancers was a hip woman named Teri Garr, who went on to silver-screen stardom.
Meanwhile and audience of screaming teens grinned away and practically melted in their seats. Binder remarked, “I did try to edit out some of the girls screaming. I’d never heard girls screaming at a concert before and thought it would ruin the sound. It was crazy. I mean, if a stagehand had walked out there? He would’ve gotten the same response.” According to director John Landis, he and his seventh grade classmate, the future Keith Partridge, David Cassidy, were both in the audience.
The brains behind the film were director Steve Binder and his crew from The Steve Allen Show, and television producer Bill Sargent, the latter of whom had developed a new technology of filming called ‘Electronovision.’ The process, which used a high-resolution videotape that allowed for a better picture quality when transferred to film, is considered to be a precursor to high-definition TV. The film was the second of a small number of productions that used the system. By capturing more than 800 lines of resolution at 25 frame/s, the video could be converted to film via kinescope recording with sufficiently enhanced resolution to allow big-screen enlargement. It is considered one of the seminal events in the pioneering of music films, and more importantly, the later concept of music videos.
“We actually shot over two nights,” Binder says. “Half the rehearsals were in the afternoons and then I shot the acts over a two-day period. But I never did a retake when it was over. If it felt right, I kept it. That’s one reason why the film is so exciting.”
One key thing about this show was that most of the acts were either at the top of their game, or just about to explode. The Beach Boys, for example, were in the midst of a great run of hits including ‘Fun, Fun, Fun,’ ‘Don’t Worry Baby,’ and the chart-topping ‘I Get Around,’ all of which were only months old at the time of filming. Lesley Gore had hit the Top 40 seven times within the year or so leading up to T.A.M.I. and the Supremes were at the start of an incredible five No. 1s in a row.
Chuck Berry, representing the old guard, kicked off the show with a stomping take on ‘Johnny B. Goode.’ ‘Maybelline’ segues right into Gerry & the Pacemakers, doing their own version of the song in an almost changing-of-the-guards fashion. Gerry & Co., who, along with Kramer, were there to represent the Liverpool scene in lieu of the Beatles, also deliver a supercharged versions of their classic hits ‘It’s Gonna Be Alright,’ ‘I Like It,’ and ‘How Do You Do It?’
The excitement of the Motown sound was showcased by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye and the Supremes. The Miracles are spot-on with a sampling of their hits including ‘You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me’ and ‘Mickey’s Monkey,’ while Gaye commands the stage for a handful of his own hits including ‘Pride and Joy’ and the killer ‘Hitch Hike.’
Lesley Gore was given a six-song set to showcase her many hits including ‘Maybe I Know,’ ‘It’s My Party,’ and ‘You Don’t Own Me.’ T.A.M.I. shows her at the top of her game, and all at the age of 18. At that time she was the biggest name on the bill!
The lone obscurity on the bill, the Barbarians gave the crowd a taste of what American teenagers influenced by the British acts sounded like with a killer ‘Hey Little Bird.’ They would have a modest hit (No. 59) the following spring with the taunting ‘Are You A Boy, or Are You A Girl?” which would become a garage rock classic. These guys were from Provincetown on Cape Cod. The drummer Moulty (Victor Moltier) blew his hand off on a home made bomb and used a hook to hold one of his drum sticks.
When the film was shown, the Beach Boys segment was cut out of the film. Rumors were that Brian Wilson was unhappy with the band’s performance, but there are also reports that their manager, the Wilson brothers’ father Murry, kept the footage out of the film due to contractual issues. The 2010 DVD release restored the footage, and you can see the band tear through first-class renditions of ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.,’ ‘I Get Around,’ Surfer Girl’ and ‘Dance, Dance, Dance.’ Though Dennis Wilson was not always featured on the band’s records, his drumming here is nothing but powerhouse as he pushes the band onward.
Still in their striped-shirt phase, The Beach Boys’ harmonies are so perfect, they sing like angels from Los Angeles, and without Auto-Tune. But there’s a sad secret lurking about as well. “The thing you need to remember,” Binder says, “is this was just about the last show Brian did before he quit touring with the band due to a nervous breakdown. Still, it’s absolutely amazing they sang so well. The girls were shrieking so loud, I don’t know how they heard themselves.”
James Brown was next with one of the most incredible and legendary sets of his life. In only four songs, ‘Out of Sight,’ ‘Prisoner of Love,’ ‘Please, Please, Please,’ and the closer ‘Night Train,’ Brown and his Flames kicked the energy level off the scales. From his grand entrance to the famous cape routine and beyond, he delivers a full concert’s worth of excitement in only 18 minutes. It remains one of the most thrilling performances by anybody ever captured on film.
“Everyone had about a half hour to rehearse before we filmed them,” Binder says. “I barely knew who James Brown was when I went up to speak to him. The first thing he said to me was, ‘I don’t rehearse! You’ll know what to do with the camera when you see me.’ I was petrified. Somehow, I managed to capture his amazing moves. To this day, I don’t know how. It was God-given, I guess.”
“James won a lot of money playing craps backstage that afternoon,” says Binder, chuckling. “Also, I believe he got lucky with one of the go-go dancers we had onstage.”
Although they would later say following Brown was a mistake and that they had to be persuaded to do so, the Rolling Stones nonetheless gave a stunning performance of their own. The Stones, who had yet to become household names, were on fire, delivering a blistering ‘Around and Around,’ ‘Off the Hook,’ ‘All Over Now’ and ‘Time Is on My Side.’ A particularly unhinged ‘I’m Alright’ made their set the stuff of legend. Even at this early stage of the game, the attitude and charisma of the band is shining through. Within six months, they would be riding high with ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.’ Mick Jagger, who was terrified to follow the incendiary James Brown. On T.A.M.I., The Stones played all covers (this was a year before “Satisfaction”), but acquit themselves admirably. Mick moves a bit, but sometimes seems to be holding onto the microphone for dear life.
Binder added, “I’ve done a lot of Diana Ross specials since ’64, including the Central Park one. Years later, if I said, ‘Hey Diana, at one point, I’m going to have 15 dancers come onstage and go in front of you,’ she’d think I was crazy. But back then? She was totally cool with it.”
To create some real rock and roll excitement, Binder decided to have all the acts come onstage at the end of the show to dance. Binder told everyone. Except The Rolling Stones. “They finished and thought that was it,” he says. “Then Nitzsche and the house band went into a Bo Diddley beat. Jagger didn’t know what was going on. But suddenly, the stage was filled with dancers and all the other performers — The Supremes, The Righteous Brothers, The Miracles. What’s great is, you see Mick smile and just go with it.” It’s total mayhem and so rock and roll.
Later festivals such as ‘Monterey Pop’ and ‘Woodstock‘ were obviously of a different era. Even though it was only a few years prior, The ‘T.A.M.I. Show’ represents the peak, and end of its own era. That moment in time when teenagers had found their own music and their own identity, which would soon change and morph into something even more unexpected. With a nod to cliche, it was before that dreaded loss of innocence’ had set in. This was pure and real excitement