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'The T.A.M.I. Show': A pop music time capsule

The 1964 concert never turned into the annual fundraiser it was envisioned as, but it did bring together the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys and James Brown, and now it's on DVD.

March 23, 2010|By Randy Lewis

"The T.A.M.I. Show," the fabled film document of an equally legendary 1964 concert in Santa Monica with the Rolling Stones, James Brown, the Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, Chuck Berry and a half-dozen other acts, has a back story that reads like the inspiration for the Stones' observation years later about getting what you need even when you don't get what you want.

As originally planned, "The T.A.M.I. Show" was supposed to be considerably more than a concert film featuring several of the day's hottest pop-music acts.

Executive producer William Sargent Jr. envisioned the event, whose acronym stood for "Teenage Awards Music International," as an annual nonprofit concert series and award ceremony that would be televised internationally, with proceeds going toward music scholarships and programs benefiting teens worldwide.

None of that ever panned out.

"I think Bill was the prototype for the Zero Mostel character in 'The Producers,' " says Steve Binder, the director of "The T.A.M.I. Show" feature film that arrives Tuesday for the first time in an official home-video release.

"He would come up with these great ideas," Binder recalled last week, gently chuckling at the memory, "but he tried to do them independently, and he always seemed to run into money problems."

Fortunately, that first and only "T.A.M.I. Show" turned out to be one of the most celebrated, and sought-after, assemblages of talent in pop music history, documented by the same director and much of the same crew that four years later would be responsible for the equally venerated Elvis Presley 1968 "comeback" special.

"One thing about 'The T.A.M.I. Show' is how beautifully shot it is," said pop music historian and documentary filmmaker David Leaf, who included Binder's film in a class on rock documentaries he taught recently at UCLA. "It captures that era in a way I don't think anything else does. Those extreme close-ups are just stunning: Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, to see them in the first blush of their careers, when they were young and becoming stars . . . . And it may be the best footage of James Brown ever. Rolling Stone called it the greatest rock 'n' roll film of all time, and in certain ways it is."

The DVD includes the complete feature film that premiered theatrically just two weeks after the concert took place at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium -- including the long-missing segment featuring the Beach Boys that was excised from more than 2,000 prints a short time after it first screened.

How and why that happened remains a subject of some debate. Binder, who says he wasn't privy to the legal wranglings that went on after he delivered the two-hour film, believes that Murry Wilson, the father of Beach Boys siblings Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson who had worked for a time as their manager, insisted it be snipped because "he didn't want them to continue to be associated with those early songs about cars and surfing and girls."

Others have suggested it was more a matter of the group's handlers not wanting the quintet -- the most popular American band of the time -- to share a stage with anyone. The success of the Beatles' feature film debut, "A Hard Day's Night," had primed the pump for pop groups making the jump to the big screen, and the Dave Clark Five, Herman's Hermits and Gerry & the Pacemakers (the latter also on the "T.A.M.I." lineup) each eventually starred in films, and some in the Beach Boys camp thought the group might have a shot at a movie of its own too.

Whatever the reason, most people who eventually saw the film -- and there weren't nearly enough of those for it to turn a profit -- saw it minus "Surfin' U.S.A.," "I Get Around," "Surfer Girl" and "Dance, Dance, Dance." Most who have viewed or owned it in the subsequent 45 years did so by way of copies bootlegged from a few isolated television screenings in the 1970s.

The film's labyrinthine ownership trail was finally sorted out by Dick Clark Productions and Shout! Factory, the company specializing in vintage audio and video reissues.

Binder notes in the director's commentary, one of the DVD's bonus features, that Lesley Gore was the biggest star on the bill, having come off a peak year in 1963 when she scored four Top 5 pop singles, including her signature hit "It's My Party."

But the performer who most impressed many of the "T.A.M.I." participants was Chuck Berry. Although it was years past his biggest '50s hits, in 1964 he'd found his way back into the Top 10 with "No Particular Place to Go."

"That was the kind of music Jan and I listened to -- we were in awe," said Dean Torrence, who with his Jan & Dean singing partner Jan Berry not only performed on "The T.A.M.I. Show" but served as its stripe-shirted, skateboard-riding hosts.

Chuck Berry opens the show, then trades songs with Gerry & the Pacemakers, another batch of Liverpudlians handled by Beatles manager Brian Epstein and produced by their recording studio overseer, George Martin.

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