Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 12, 2010)
Back in 1980, Sting sang “James Brown on The TAMI Show - same tape I’ve had for years". 30 years later, Der Stingle gets to retire that worn-out bootleg videocassette, as the legendary TAMI Show finally receives a home video release. (Despite its great reputation, the full TAMI never received legal, official distribution in any video format.)
What was the TAMI Show? “TAMI” stood for “Teenage Awards Music International”, but no one cares about the meaning behind the acronym; indeed, an alternate meaning also was bandied about in the day. Fans of a certain age view The TAMI Show as a conglomeration of some of music’s best acts from 1964.
Although envisioned as a yearly event, only one TAMI show occurred. Well, two actually, but both featured the same lineup of acts. The movie’s footage all comes from the second concert on October 29, 1964, and it features the following performers/songs:
Jan and Dean: “(Here They Come) From All Over the World”, “The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena)”, “Sidewalk Surfin’”;
Chuck Berry: “Johnny B. Goode”, “Maybellene”, “Sweet Little Sixteen”, “Nadine (Is It You?)”;
Gerry and the Pacemakers: “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”, “It’s Gonna Be Alright”, “How Do You Do It?”, “I Like It”;
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles: “That’s What Love Is Made Of”, “You’ve Really Got A Hold on Me”, “Mickey’s Monkey”;
Marvin Gaye: “Stubborn Kind of Fellow”, “Pride and Joy”, “Can I Get a Witness”, “Hitch Hike”;
Lesley Gore: “Maybe I Know”, “You Don’t Own Me”, “You Didn’t Look Around”, “Hey Now”, “It’s My Party”, “Judy’s Time to Cry”;
The Beach Boys: “Surfin’ USA”, “I Get Around”, “Surfer Girl”, “Dance Dance Dance”;
Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas: “Little Children”, “Bad to Me”, “I’ll Keep You Satisfied”, “From a Window”;
The Supremes: “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes”, “Run, Run, Run”, “Baby Love”, “Where Did Our Love Go”;
The Barbarians: “Hey Little Bird”;
James Brown and the Flames: “Out of Sight”, “Prisoner of Love”, “Please Please Please”, “Night Train”;
The Rolling Stones: “Around and Around”, “Off the Hook”, “Time Is On My Side”, “It’s All Over Now”, “I’m All Right”.
All of the acts combine for a show-closing rendition of “Let’s Get Together”. Note that not all of the performances appear in the order indicated above; to simplify, I just listed each act’s songs all together rather than jump around a bunch.
Obviously, TAMI doesn’t offer a perfect representation of the 1964 pop charts; among others, it lacks a certain combo from Liverpool. (No, the Pacemakers don’t offer a quality replacement.) Nonetheless, TAMI provides a pretty nice snapshot, and it certainly delivers a diverse lineup.
And a roster that often qualifies for legendary status. As the disc’s booklet notes, seven of the 12 acts reside in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: the Stones, the Beach Boys, Brown, Berry, the Supremes, the Miracles and Gaye all earned induction years ago. None of the others seem likely to gain entry to the HOF without a ticket, but all maintain some level of continued resonance among pop fans; even obscurities like the Barbarians maintain points with “garage rock” buffs.
If you dig 1960s pop, you’ll have to find music to like here. TAMI touches so many bases that it has a little something for everyone. Personally, I don’t much care for surf music, so the Beach Boys and J&D leave me cold. Lesley Gore was mopey chick music before that became an official genre in the 1970s; possibly the movie’s biggest flaw comes from its inclusion of six Gore songs, which means she gets more tunes that anyone else. And I could live without Brit Invasion also-rans the Pacemakers and the Dakotas.
That said, some of the performances prove to be surprisingly engaging. Stuck in the unenviable spot after true legend Chuck Berry, the Pacemakers sounds better than expected. I wouldn’t say they rock, but I wouldn’t say they don’t, either; they show decent life and vivacity in their short set.
The Beach Boys also deliver an energetic show. In particular, drummer Dennis Wilson packs a real wallop; he almost comes across as a surfer Keith Moon. (Which might make sense, as Moon loved surf music and probably took some early cues from Wilson’s drumming.)
For its first 35 minutes or so, TAMI cranks at a good pace. From Berry to the Pacemakers to the Miracles to Gaye, it just zooms along like a runaway train. I’m not wild about the decision to put two Motown acts back to back, but the show later positions two surf groups in tandem, so I guess there was a method to the madness.
Gaye delivers the expected smooth, charming performance, and even throws out some nifty dance moves at the end of “Hitch Hike”. Robinson’s semi-manic turn offers a minor revelation, though. Vocally, he’s been better; particularly during “Mickey’s Monkey”, Smokey hits more than a few bum notes. However, he works the stage and almost comes across like a mini-James Brown. The Miracles have long been one of my less favorite Motown acts, and I always thought of Smokey as buttoned-down, so his wildness here comes as a pleasant surprise; even with some iffy singing, the performance burns up the floor.
Speaking of dancing, the kids recruited to cut a rug behind/alongside the musicians tend to be pretty out of control. They flail and jerk like they’re under the influence of Satan. In particular, one male dancer – most obvious during “Can I Get a Witness” – looks like a total goof. I do like the babes in bikinis, though, and we even get to see a young Teri Garr at times. (I first noticed her in the background during “Hitch Hike”.)
TAMI hits a lull when Gore appears. She gets a relatively long set, and her brand of whiny chick pop ensures that the show immediately loses momentum. (Gore’s set does include a surreal moment, as many of the show’s male performers are forced to stand in the background during “It’s My Party”. Why? I have no idea, but some of them – especially Robinson – don’t look too happy to be there.) Jan and Dean don’t do much to revive the concert after Gore’s snoozefest, but the Beach Boys – powered by Dennis Wilson – manage to bring back the pulse.
Which then immediately fails during a dull set by the Dakotas. At least the Supremes manage to deliver a few minutes of Motown pop goodness after the forgettable Dakotas. Unlike Gaye and Robinson, the Supremes were never very good live performers; even with their much-imitated choreography, they display little stage presence. Still, it’s hard to beat classics like the ones on display here, and I’m glad they threw in the underappreciated “Lovelight”.
With that we hit a brief and raucous turn from the Barbarians, along with copious shots of drummer Moulty, a dude with a hook instead of a left hand! I was surprised the movie revealed this to us; I’d have thought they’d have avoided it. Moulty wasn’t a great drummer, but if banging the skins with only one good hand isn’t rock ‘n’ roll, I don’t know what is.
As one might infer from the Police quote at this review’s start, James Brown’s set remains the movie’s most legendary. Seen more than 35 years later, it remains a pretty awesome display of musical prowess – and stagecraft. Brown makes it clear from moment one that he owns the stage, and he puts on a display of showmanship that continues to influence performers today.
It’s hard to imagine a stage gimmick quite as absurd as Brown’s cape routine – or one as damned delightful. Brown would probably milk it too much over the decades, but it really works here; every time JB throws off that cape and hits the ground, it’s like a bolt of energy. And Brown’s dancing still dazzles. This is a stellar little set.
Apparently the Stones didn’t want to follow Brown but the producer insisted. This has led many to believe that the Stones put on a lackluster performance, but the evidence here disagrees. No, they don’t live up to Brown’s greatness, but heck, who could?
The 1964 Stones weren’t really The Stones yet, a fact demonstrated by the total absence of original material. With “Satisfaction” still months in the future – and their generally accepted “golden era” a good four years away - they play a handful of covers, and they do so well. The opening salvo of “Round and Round” rocks nicely, and the other songs are pretty good as well.
The Stones simply suffer in comparison to the act that precedes them. I’m about 1000 times fonder of the Stones than I am of Brown, but I can’t deny that he puts on the better performance here. Still, the Stones are more than competent, and really quite good. I believe that if they’d played before Brown, this set would enjoy a much better reputation.
TAMI ends on a bizarre note with a performance of “Let’s Get Together”. At first it appears the Stones are playing the song – and it sounds a lot like “It’s All Right” – but it soon becomes clear that the house band handles it. (Jagger sings a repeated refrain of the title for a while, and at the start, Brian and Keith pretend to play, but they quickly abandon the ruse; Charlie does a little fake drumming later, though, and it kind of looks like Bill mimes the bass, too.)
The tune is pretty meandering, and it exists solely as an excuse to bring all the performers onto the stage for the grand finale. Other than Jagger, none of the acts do anything other than dance and run around the stage. Apparently this segment occurred because the show’s producer wanted to prove that all the performers were actually in the auditorium at the same time; otherwise it might’ve looked like the movie was cobbled together from gigs on a mix of dates.
That makes sense, but “Let’s Get Together” still ends TAMI on a messy note. Well, at least we get to see more of the show’s hottest bikini girl; it looks like JB tries to make some moves on her, too.
With so many acts on display, virtually no one will be totally happy with The TAMI Show from start to finish. Nonetheless, it offers a high-quality roster of performers, and most of them handle their time quite well. This becomes a great snapshot of popular music circa 1964.