One of the least compelling derisions against modern pop music concerns today's overnight successes and the head-dizzying ascent of stars like Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Kesha; the criticism being that these newly minted babes could not possibly have the experience to lay a claim to any artistic throne. But viable pop stars have rarely had a moment to catch their breath before superstardom since the beginning of pop.
Releasing this Tuesday, March 23, the T.A.M.I. Show DVD proves this point. The concert film, shot in October 1964, highlights an unending parade of future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers at the ear-shattering height of teen-pop idolization. All but a few veterans on the stage were mere months from their breakthroughs, yet here they are being filmed for a movie that, weeks later, will be shown in theaters. It's nothing short of a coronation, and most of these kings and queens haven't lost their baby fat.
Masterminded by executive producer Bill Sargent, then a kind of Mark Cuban of entertainment tech, the Teenage Awards Music International show featured the Rolling Stones (inaccurately introduced in the film's opening tune as hailing from Liverpool) just a few months after their first U.S. album (of cover songs, no less), as well as the Supremes (two months after their first Top 20 single), Gerry & the Pacemakers (three months after their debut), Marvin Gaye, who, at the time, still fancied himself a jazz artist slumming it in R&B and, acting as the show's awkward hosts, Jan and Dean, a whole year into their Beach Boys-riding success. (Brian Wilson and the gang sleepwalk through their allotted time here.) Filling the bill are a couple of stillborn fads: Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, who look like local newscasters and whose unearned air of smugness — they were Brian Epstein's failed Liverpool follow-ups and John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote the bulk of their songs — lent predatory underpinnings to their hit "Little Children" ("I'll give you candy and a quarter if you're quiet like you oughta be," sneers Kramer), and garage rockers the Barbarians, who had a drummer with a hook for a hand. "I always felt like they were the house band for Bill Sargent," quips show director Steve Binder on the disc's commentary track. "I was asking, ‘Why are they in this show?' Looking at `the film` again, they were damn good."
Despite the frozen smiles of future legends Diana Ross and Mick Jagger, and the unlistenable pitch problems of a Miracles-fronting Smokey Robinson, the acts perform admirably. But if there's one glaring truth within the 112-minute film (seeing the light of day for the first time in any format since 1965), it's that experience speaks louder than screaming girls.
With the backing of the Wrecking Crew, Chuck Berry kicks off the proceedings with a frenzy, ripping through "Johnny B. Goode" and "Maybelline" before tossing the ball to the Pacemakers next to him. These two acts hot potato through a steaming medley of tracks, bouncy go-go girls behind them (choreographed by a 21-year-old Toni Basil!) while Berry does the twist.
Ultimately, it's James Brown who owns the night. A relative dinosaur by this time, Brown's manic performance and downright alien dance moves make everyone else flee the scene. The included essay claims that when the Rolling Stones found out they were appearing after Brown, they begged off the closing spot.
The T.A.M.I. Show Collector's Edition makes undeniable claims to both the eternal persistence of pop babies and the authoritative power of longevity. It's also rife with trivia: director John Landis (Animal House) excitedly relates his experience as one of the wide-eyed kids in the audience, and that actress Teri Garr (Tootsie) was one of the dancers on stage. Watching the pre-"Satisfaction" Rolling Stones, Landis remembers being unimpressed: "We just thought, ‘Who is this English twerp? Bring James Brown back onstage!'" Now, thankfully, the late Brown can stay firstname.lastname@example.org