Finally, The T.A.M.I. Show Arrives!

Yesterday Shout! Factory released The T.A.M.I. Show on DVD, and believe me this is a cause for rejoicing. This concert film was shot in October, 1964, when the music industry was at a crossroads of black and white performers, and US and UK bands. And in one film, they all take the stage—James Brown, The Beach Boys, Lesley Gore, Marvin Gaye, and The Rolling Stones, among others—with a shitload of young dancers gyrating in the background, and 3,000 screaming teenagers in front of them.

As exciting as this film is—and it’s also brilliantly staged and shot—it has never been released on VHS or DVD. Over the last 46 years, its lived in only four forms: as legend (I’ve read for decades about James Brown’s feet in this film); as the original 16 mm prints shown at very infrequent screenings; as crummy, nth-generation VHS bootlegs; and in that one damn line in that Police song that confused so many teenagers.

As for me, I saw it in 1993, on 16mm in the worst of all possible places: an acoustically awful classroom at college. However, my buddy Brian and I loved it. The energy, the joy and the raw-yet-naïve sexuality of the performances transcended the less than desirable circumstances.

The Bootleg: Lesley Gore is in here somewhere.

Next, in the late 90s, I broke down and got a bootleg tape. This time, the joy of the film could NOT transcend the limitations of the presentation.

But all of that is irrelevant now. The DVD looks and sounds gorgeous; with great packaging; an essay; an audio commentary by director Steve Binder; and even a trailer with an commentary by director John Landis (I’m not sure why yet, but he’s there nevertheless). And all for only $12 on Amazon (hint, hint).

Here’s a little context, a side-by-side of my VHS bootleg ($25) and what I just got for half the price:

And Shout! Factory’s generously posted clips on YouTube, including a trailer and performances by Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys and Marvin Gaye.

Last night, I watched it in its entirety for the first time in seventeen years, and I can’t believe how my favorite moments from ‘93 still resonate. These include:

Sexy white women dancing behind Chuck Berry, while he sang “Sweet Little Sixteen” (and, undoubtedly, thought about eating his breakfast).1

Lesley Gore hypnotizing me through a Vaseline-soaked lens.

Keith Richards being sillier than I thought possible.

And my favorite: James Brown has an explosive 17-minute set, where he makes it absolutely clear why he was called the Hardest Working Man in Show Business. And at the end, after he’s collapsed, screamed, crooned, danced, cried, died and been re-born (several times), he walks to the end of the stage and takes a seat on a riser:

He cracks a proud smile and looks at his band, his Famous Flames and his orchestra, and he is clearly the master of all he sees. It lasts only a few seconds, but it’s the only time I’ve ever seen JB give himself a breather.

By the way, T.A.M.I. is an acronym for Teenage Awards Music International, and you’ll have to read the DVD’s essay to really understand what the Hell it means.

BACK TO POST 1If you don’t get this reference, I extend my apologies. And if you do get it, well, I extend a different kind of apology.


Filed under Film, Music

10 responses to “Finally, The T.A.M.I. Show Arrives!

  1. Erin

    When I heard this yesterday I jumped for joy (well, figuratively). I had the immense pleasure of seeing this last year in a dark room with a bunch of other strangers. The feeling in the room was electric, and James Brown’s performance brought the house down.

    I also liked Leslie Gore’s performance as the awkward, jilted white girl. It is both enchanting and weird within the context of the show.

    • It’s so damn vibrant, Erin. I’m glad you got the chance to see it with a crowd.

      It’s weird how Lesley Gore keeps smiling through these songs, many of which are about suffering (though some are about her triumph over adversity). Definitely weird stuff. She’s got a Hell of a strong voice, too.

  2. Chris Houghton

    Many years ago, in a film magazine I can’t remember, Richard Price published an article. This was after Wanderers but before Clockers, I think it was around the time that he started writing screenplays for Scorsese. And it was a memory piece on various movies he’d seen over the years, focused not on the movies but on the drama in the seats. Seeing The Onion Field in a Harlem theatre, falling in love with a girl because she wanted to bail on a weak foreign film and see an action movie, great stuff like that.

    And the best was him seeing the T.A.M.I show in the Bronx with his gang of friends, including his girlfriend, who he didn’t much like, and who he had gladly dumped by the movie’s end because she couldn’t appreciate James Brown. I wish I could find the article and review his description of Brown’s performance.

  3. Adam L

    how much do i love my wife? tonight i arrived home to find a dvd copy of the T.A.M.I. show waiting for me in the mailbox. fuckin’-A, right?

      • Adam L

        then we stayed up all night and watched it together. holy-moly! can you imagine being treated to that show? hi-energy scantily-clad full-figured dancers, fashionable set design, wardrobe and lighting, and the greatest mix of not only the most stellar acts of their day but of all time. there couldn’t have been a better bang for your buck in the history of modern consumerism. richie havens at woodstock? the apple rooftop concert? van morrison during the fillmore’s last waltz? i think this may be the toppermost of the poppermost. takers?

      • It’s certainly up there. The energy of the whole thing is amazing, but those first ten minutes are especially wonderful. Everyone and everything is firing on all cylinders: the shooting, the singing, the music, the bikinis. It’s so joyous that it affected my breathing and made me feel like a teenager again (what better praise can you give something that has “teenage” in the title?). And when you realize that Chuck Berry and Gerry & The Pacemakers are trading fours (and Chuck Berry is dancing along with one of their songs), it shatters so many preconceptions about the understanding of black music and white music co-existing. (Sure, we hear stories about the Ronettes opening for the Stones in the mid-60s, but most of the time I think the whole race thing as something that passed largely unnoticed until AFTER it happened, at least in the mainstream. This opening is proof that someone was thinking: “Black and White can share the stage TOGETHER AT THE SAME TIME.”)

        A live mix and a live edit (only 4 cameras!) only confirm that EVERYONE brought their A-game.

      • Adam L

        those long sustained shots from behind the performers with the audience in the background had an inexplicable effect on me. of all the shots, that one made me feel like i was really there (and i don’t mean the time i was at the civic auditorium for the cat show in ’07). this morning i immediately ordered up more copies for various family members.

      • No way! I had the SAME reaction to the SAME shots. I can’t put my finger on it, but they were really unique and effective (and used very sparingly, which helped, too).

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