Friday, February 28, 2014

T.A.M.I. in Love

Where has The T.A.M.I. Show (1964) been my whole life? I had heard of this, but didn't expect too much. I watched Wattstax (1973) some years ago, and was very disappointed - too much talking, not enough music. Not a problem with T.A.M.I.

In 1964, at the start of the British Invasion and Beatlemania, a concert was held in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. It was recorded in "Electronovision", a kind of primitive high-def TV. The audience (which included John Landis and David Cassidy) was mostly local high-school kids. It was hosted by Jan & Dean. The result is this movie.

It starts, like Rock 'n' Roll, with Chuck Berry, performing Johnny B. Goode and Maybelline. Then Gerry and the Pacemakers jump in with their version of Maybelline, followed by Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying. Berry is just electric, duck-walking all over the place, rolling his eyes and mugging for the camera. The Pacemakers, on the other hand - Look, I love Ferry Cross the Mersey as much as anyone, but they could not sound whiter if they were singing I've Got a Loverly Buncha Coconuts. They make it look like Merseybeat is about British music hall, not rock and rhythm and blues.

But that's all right - after the original rocker and the presumptive future have traded a few songs, we get The Miracles, then Marvin Gaye, and later on, the Supremes. These classic Motown acts are amazing, with great leads, harmony and dancing. And Diana Ross' Egyptian eyes in close-ups were mezmerizing.

We also get The Beach Boys and a couple of Jan and Dean songs. It really made me remember why The Beach Boys were so great, with the many-part harmonies, Dennis going crazy on drums, Al Jardine looking like a fierce little bantam punk, Brian leading it all. Jan and Dean did some rudimentary skateboarding, and sang Sidewalk Surfing - whatever happened to that skateboard fad?

Even Leslie Gore, Miss Bubblegum 1964, does a ferocious You Don't Own Me, with an ecstatic gleam in her eyes when she sings "I'm free and I love being free!"

We can skip over another Merseybeat band, Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas, and the proto-garage Barbarians - they don't even do their one hit Are You a Girl or Are You a Boy? But the last two acts...

James Brown! The hardest working man in show business! With the Famous Flames! Dancing like he had hover-heels. Collapsing during Please Please Please, then coming back, again and again, and ending with the fastest Night Train I've ever heard. Who could follow this act?

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones. I've read that they were very upset about having to follow James Brown, but they pulled it off. They kicked off with Round and Round, bringing it back to Chuck Berry. In fact, Jagger was dancing like Chuck Berry throughout. It was kind of neat to see how much of a rhythm and blues band they were, like James Brown, just letting the band lay down a groove while Jagger just kicks up his heels and sings "Alright, alright".

Although the film quality isn't so good, the cinematography is pretty good, with some nice close-ups and two shots - even a rack focus or two. The backup musicians are great, including many of Phil Spector's Wrecking Crew, with Jack Nitzsche producing. Nitzsche even shows up on camera, all nose and Beatle haircut, with the classic producer mike-and-headset.

I could go on about the go-go dancers (can you spot Terri Garr and Toni Basil?), or the fact that the audience and even some couples dancing were racially integrated, so cool for 1964. But I've got to stop sometime.

So in conclusion, very cool movie. If you like good music, check it out.

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