On October 29, 1964, about 3,000 high school students—some with their parents—jammed into the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in California to hear a concert. The event would be filmed with new Electronovision technology that its developers claimed produced more vivid results than standard TV cameras. The concert was billed as The T.A.M.I. Show—which stood for Teenage Awards Music International. TAMI was a somewhat innocent acronym with viral power as evidenced by the audience's teens, who began screaming at the top of their lungs from the get-go in admiration of their favorite pop acts.
The concert's executive producer, William Sargent, had helped develop the new Electronovision camera and had ambitions to film similar teen-music events annually. But after its Los Angeles release in December 1964, the film appeared in national theaters only briefly before heading off to Britain for a fast debut in 1965. In need of cash, Sargent began selling the film's rights to various entities, a move that would ultimately complicate ownership. As a result, the film never saw light of day for 45 years.
Since the mid-1960s, prints of the film were impossible to find, even for stars willing to pay a fortune for copies. The big demand and zero supply pushed The T.A.M.I. Show into cult status, making it one of the most sought-after films documenting the dawn of modern rock and soul. Enhancing demand for the film were reports of James Brown's performance, which was said to be his most electrifying ever.
Then recently, Dick Clark Productions succeeded in acquiring all of the The T.A.M.I. Show's rights. A few weeks ago, the fabled film was finally released on DVD.
Over the weekend I watched The T.A.M.I. Show, and it is indeed a jaw-dropper. The sheer number of acts alone is mind-blowing: Chuck Berry, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Jan and Dean, the Beach Boys, the Supremes, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, the Barbarians, Leslie Gore, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye (backed by Martha and the Vandellas), James Brown and the Famous Flames, and the Rolling Stones. Seven of the 12 acts would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
How Sargent managed to bring these acts together on one stage remains a mystery. But the feat clearly was a combination of good timing (by late 1964, all sought to ride the Beatles' wave), the lure of Los Angeles (the new star-maker capital) and Sargent's salesmanship.
As you watch The T.A.M.I. Show, what's remarkable is the mesmerizing power these groups had over the audience's teens, who clearly must have been coached in advance to shriek their heads off. Even still, the raw youthful energy never lets up. Also remarkable was the variety of acts and integration of the groups and audience. East and West coast groups are here, rock and soul, old and new rock, girl groups, boy groups and U.K. stars. Black and white artists appeared on stage together, black and white go-go dancers do the frug and, based on camera pans of the audience, they too were happily integrated. As for the Electronovision's quality and camerawork, both are superb. [Pictured: the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium]
The big take-away, though, is the bold originality of the music and infectious charisma of the performers. If the Beatles' arrival in New York in February 1964 marked the beginning of the end of the music industry's grip on America's youth market, this concert is the final nail in the coffin. In just eight short months, teens and teen tastes clearly were no longer in the hands of older tastemakers. From then on, the tail would forever wag the dog. [Photo of Beatles fan at Los Angeles airport in 1964 by Julian Wasser for Life]
For a jazz fan, The T.A.M.I. Show is like watching a birth and a funeral. It's instantly evident from this concert film why jazz would have an increasingly tough time with teens. To a near-hysterical crowd hopped up on 45-rpm singles, dance beats and love songs, being entertained was all that mattered. The songs may have been silly, but to the teens there that day, tunes with words about getting around, old ladies from Pasadena and crying at your party if you want to ranked higher than any instrumental.
JazzWax video: The T.A.M.I. Show (Shout Factory) is must-see viewing. The excitement grabs you instantly by the throat and won't let go. James Brown's performance is indeed thrilling, but I'm not sure it's any more powerful than his later ones. For me, the Rolling Stones, with their simmering sexuality and sinister glances stole the show.
Interestingly, the backup orchestra was made up of rock studio musicians who were part of Phil Spector's Wrecking Crew. Directed by Jack Nitzche [pictured], the ensemble included Glen Campbell on guitar, Leon Russell on piano, drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Jimmy Bond, guitarist Tommy Tedesco and electric bass player Lyle Ritz.
What you have here in one DVD is the entire post-50s youth culture on exhibit—its raw energy, hypersexuality, fierce independence, snarkiness and inexhaustible stamina. It's a portrait of our culture, for better or worse, in its infancy. You can find this DVD as a Netflix rental or here.
JazzWax clips: Here's the promo for The T.A.M.I Show...
And here's part of James Brown's performance...