TERRY GROSS, host:
All-star reviews in the early years of rock 'n' roll were varied grab bags, but none were like "The T.A.M.I. Show," which featured Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, Lesley Gore, The Rolling Stones, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Supremes, James Brown and more.
Filmed in October 1964 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, the lineup included performers who weren't yet stars, like The Supremes and The Stones, and those at the peak of their fame, like Lesley Gore and Jan and Dean.
The filmed performance has never been available outside theaters until now. Critic Milo Miles is very pleased to review the first official DVD release of "The T.A.M.I. Show."
(Soundbite of song)
Unidentified Man (Musician): (Singing) (Unintelligible)
MILO MILES: The early '60s were a time of big ideas and big projects, and television producer Bill Sargent was a man of the times. He had a new filming technology called Electronovision, a precursor of digital cameras, and he decided to showcase it with an all-star rock 'n' roll concert documentary. The performances were given the clumsy title Teenage Awards Music International and the catchy acronym "The T.A.M.I. Show". However, Sargent ran out of funds and lost all rights to his project almost immediately, and it remained the most famous never-seen music show for decades.
The theatrical trailer for "The T.A.M.I. Show" describes it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I'm glad to say that's an understatement. "The T.A.M.I. Show" is a unique concert, never to be repeated. The closest parallel I can think of to its power and range is John Hammond's "From Spirituals to Swing" concerts of 1938 and '39, and they weren't filmed.
The look of "The T.A.M.I. Show" was also groundbreaking and influential. The bonus commentary from music critic Don Waller and director Steve Binder delivers a host of backstage tidbits and fascinating comments. Binder says what you want out of a filmed concert is the view from front row center, with no weird angles, and edits only when there's a reason to do so.
And this is what you get with "The T.A.M.I. Show." The audience-view perspective is a tradition that continued when Binder later directed "Elvis: The '68 Comeback Special," and you can see it in outstanding latter-day concert films like Talking Heads' "Stop Making Sense." Binder also offers overdue homage to the lively effect of go-go dancers and tells you which one is Terri Garr as she dances past Marvin Gaye.
(Soundbite of song, "Hitch Hike")
Mr. MARVIN GAYE (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) Now I'm going to Chicago; that's the last place my baby to see. Hitch hike. Hitch hike baby. Hitch hike baby. I'm packing up my bags, gonna leave this old town right away. Hitch hike. Hitch hike girl. Hitch hike baby. Gonna to find that girl now if I have to hitch hike around the world. Hitch hike. Baby. Baby, ooh.
MILES: There are a few snags in the cavalcade of glories. Marvin Gaye nails his performance, but with repeat views you notice that, as always, he was horribly tense on stage. Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas is the only blah act on the bill, but milquetoast they are. And you wish garage rockers The Barbarians had been able to feature their slightly later single, "Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?"
But I'd like to underscore three key performances. If I was trying to explain Lesley Gore to somebody, I would direct the person to her "T.A.M.I. Show" set. She was the biggest star of the show, barely 18 and coming off a string of four Top 10 singles. Despite her shellacked flip and dowdy suit, Gore seethes with leather-jacket girl-group defiance. She equals not just The Shangri-Las but Sleater-Kinney with her readings of "You Don't Own Me" and "It's My Party."
(Soundbite of song, "It's My Party")
Ms. LESLEY GORE (Singer): (Singing) It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to. Thank you. Cry if I want to, cry if I want to. You would cry too if it happened to you. Well, now, nobody knows where my Johnny has gone. But Judy left the same time. Why was he holding her hand when he's supposed to be mine? It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to, cry if I want to, cry if I want to. You would cry too if it happened to you.
MILES: And then there's The Beach Boys. Their control-kook father kept this footage away from the world for decades, and it was a great disservice to the band, because I've never seen them so comfortable with each other on a stage. You want to see Brian Wilson happy and in full voice? "Surfer Girl" is the grail.
(Soundbite of song, "Surfer Girl")
THE BEACH BOYS (Music Group): (Singing) Little surfer little one made my heart come all undone. Do you love me, do you surfer girl surfer girl my little surfer girl? I have watched you on the shore standing by the oceans roar. Do you love me do you surfer girl surfer girl surfer girl, surfer girl, surfer girl.
MILES: Finally, the undeniable consensus is that this is James Brown's single most overwhelming performance on film. The Motowners all have more of an act than the rockers at this stage, but Brown goes beyond. This wasn't spontaneous spasms or mere acting. Brown had learned from Southern gospel services, and what he offered was an ecstatic ritual minutely choreographic but utterly heartfelt. A passion play of the soul brother reborn and reborn, indestructible. How do you get to transcendent possession on stage? Practice, practice, practice.
(Soundbite of cheering)
(Soundbite of song, "Please, Please, Please")
Mr. JAMES BROWN (Musician): (Singing) Please, please, please. Please, baby, please don't have to go. Baby please, please, please don't have to go. Honey please. Don't go. I love you so. Please, please, please don't. Baby, you know you broke my heart when you went away.
GROSS: Milo Miles reviewed the DVD release of "The T.A.M.I Show." He lives in Boston.
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