Music festivals and radio shows with stacked pop lineup are commonplace across America today, pairing Taylor Swift, Sam Smith, Ariana Grande, Iggy Azalea and Meghan Trainor all on the same bill, for instance. But nothing comes close to The T.A.M.I. Show. The 1964 concert film — which either stands for “Teenage Awards Music International” or “Teen Age Music International,” both of which were promoted with its release — is likely the most exciting concert film one will ever see.
To start, the lineup: Chuck Berry, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Lesley Gore, Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas, The Supremes, The Barbarians, James Brown and The Famous Flames and The Rolling Stones, hosted by Jan and Dean. And from that, in two hours, its a nonstop go go-dancing hit parade with some of rock, pop and R&B’s most essential and influential acts, defining many of their live performances as we recognize them today. And, though it’s more than 50 years old now, performances like those this contains never go out of style.
The whole event was shot over two days at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium with an audience made up of teenagers who’d received free tickets that were distributed to local high school students. For a sense of what a sensation this music was at the time, refer just to one of the shots that catch hundreds of kids screaming with excitement all at once. Even the most dud performance of the collection by Kramer and The Dakotas is made to look irresistible by the screams.
The Beach Boys are perfection — despite the deafening screams — on “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” “I Get Around,” “Surfer Girl” and “Dance, Dance, Dance,” in one of the band’s last shows before the brilliant Bryan Wilson quit touring with the band due to a nervous breakdown. (This performance was cut from the original airing but restored in the 2010 DVD release.) Their harmonies are spot on and Dennis Wilson’s drumming is a powerhouse.
Gore was the night’s most popular performer at the time, having hit the Top 40 seven times within roughly the year before, barely 18-years-old. Despite her youth (or perhaps because of it), Gore is the badass woman incarnate, embodying cool feminine defiance in a dowdy dress on “You Don’t Own Me” and “It’s My Party” before closing with “Judy’s Turn to Cry.”
Meanwhile, The Supremes were at the start of an incredible five No. 1s in a row. Robinson delivers with a cool you can’t touch, and Gaye nails his performance, despite some stiffness. And if that all wasn’t enough, the house band was made up of Los Angeles session players 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), who was also the show’s musical director and picked most the acts.
But bar none, the best set of the show goes to Brown. No one upstages Mr. Dynamite — and that statement stands beyond The T.A.M.I. Show to all time. The world’s greatest performer, the story goes that he was not pleased to have the young Rolling Stones following his set. “Nobody follows James Brown!” he kept telling the show’s director, Steve Binder. Even Mick Jagger was hesitant, watching the Brown’s amazing set nervously with his band from the wings. Keith Richards later went on to say even the idea of following James Brown was the biggest mistake of the Stones’ careers.
In four songs, Brown and his Flames performed what’s now considered one of the most incredible and legendary sets of his life. Through “Out of Sight,” “Prisoner of Love,” “Please, Please, Please,” and closer “Night Train,” to watch it now still the energy is undeniable and beyond human. From his grand entrance to the first time he pulled his “cape act” in the middle of “Please, Please, Please,” and his own mania, he drops to the floor with great drama and an offstage aide drapes a cape over his shoulders repeatedly as he seems to continue to defy death by passion.
This was the first time that Brown, while singing “Please, Please, Please,” pulled out his “cape act,” in which, in the midst of his own self-induced hysteria, his fit of longing and desire, he drops to his knees, seemingly unable to go on any longer, at the point of collapse, or worse. His backup singers, the Flames, move near, tenderly, as if to revive him, and an offstage aide, Danny Ray, comes on, draping a cape over the great man’s shoulders. Over and over again, Brown recovers, throws off the cape, defies his near-death collapse, and goes back into the song, back into the dance, with absolute abandonment to passion. Not then, not ever — nobody follows James Brown.
Watch The T.A.M.I. Show in full here: