If you're a believer in the popular adage "video killed the radio star," then you may be surprised to learn that the assassination was being plotted and almost carried out nearly two decades before the inception of MTV. The evidence isn't too hard to find, now that the 1964 concert film known as the T.A.M.I. Show has finally seen an official release.
Filmed at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and featuring an astonishing lineup that included the Beach Boys, James Brown, the Rolling Stones and a host of Motown and British Invasion acts, the Teenage Awards Music International show was an introduction to a grand plan that never came to fruition. The brainchild of ex-Navy engineers Bill Sargent and Joseph Bluth, the event was supposed to be the first of a series of concerts and award shows that were to be broadcast on national television. The best of the shows were to be shown in theaters, as the T.A.M.I. Show was (albeit briefly), where attendees could also vote for their favorite acts via IBM punch-card ballots. To top it off, the whole effort was to benefit underserved teens around the world, as Sargent and Bluth planned to use the proceeds to create music scholarships. The concert happened, a television broadcast happened and a limited theater run happened, only to see the idea that presaged MTV, the Viewers Choice Awards and entities like MusiCares fall off the face of the earth.
The T.A.M.I. idea may have ended up as nothing more than an interesting footnote, but the footage captured during the show has taken on legendary status over the years thanks to the circulation of bootleg copies, sought out mostly for the segment featuring James Brown and the Flames. Brown was not the headliner—the Stones were—but his performance in the penultimate slot was the show's highpoint as he moaned, sweated, danced and fell dramatically to his knees during "Out of Sight," "Prisoner of Love," "Please, Please, Please" and "Night Train." Brown was thirty-one years old at the time but still a teen idol, and he fed off the crowd's hunger for something primal, raising the energy level in the auditorium until the kids went absolutely bonkers. The acclaim surrounding this particular performance has endured over the decades; sixteen years later, Sting name-checked it in the Police song "When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around" ("Turn on my VCR/Same one I've had for years/James Brown on the T.A.M.I. Show/Same tape I've had for years").
While Brown's contribution is the most precious gem on this DVD, there are other worthy moments. A five-song set from the Rolling Stones features rare footage of the late Brian Jones, who is revealed in a brief close-up to be blissfully under the influence; the Beach Boys, whose footage went missing from the theatrical release, perform their hits "Surfer Girl," and "Surfin' U.S.A." but the highlight of their set is a raunchy run-through of "I Get Around." Most of the rest of the film has not aged well; emcees Jan and Dean are momentarily cute with their skateboarding and clean-cut shtick, but performances from the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas are pretty tame and the lengthy set from Lesley Gore is downright soporific. Chuck Berry also appears, as do garage rock oddballs the Barbarians, a long-gone outfit known as much for their hook-handed drummer Moulty as for their music. It's difficult to pick them out, but the back-up band used for the vocal groups throughout included Glen Campbell on guitar and Leon Russell on keyboards and one of the show's ubiquitous go-go dancers was future actress Teri Garr.
Music scholars will find an endless amount of backstory and minutiae to uncover in the T.A.M.I. Show Collector's Edition running time; for more casual music fans, it's a recommended ticket to a one-in-a-lifetime show.