Seismic Event …. 74 million Americans may have felt the earth shifting, Sunday evening, February 9, 1964. The 74 million, 34% of the USA’s population, sat in front of their televisions watching the Beatles make their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The impact left by the Beatles that evening was definitive and sustaining.
The 5 songs performed by the Beatles on the show did not imply radical changes in pop-rock subject matter. “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You,” and “I Saw Her Standing There”” were innocuous, as was “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” then the number one song in the country. But there was a change in tone. The Beatles signaled they were not only ushering in a return of the raw energy long missing from rock and roll, but also producing a new boldness and wider creativity for the musical genre. The boldness was apparent, even as John Lennon sang about holding hands.
For rock and roll music and the culture at large, the Beatles made it clear. There was no turning back.
The watered-down rock and roll that preceded the Beatles through the early ’60’s didn’t go away overnight. There was still enough teen music on the airwaves that was mild and non-threatening, nothing for the parents to fret over, but it wouldn’t be heard as often or as joyfully as what the Beatles were placing front and center.
Opportunities were created for the established pop acts, some innovative, some uninspired, to share bills with the fiery and confident new artists following in the Beatles’ footsteps. After all, the Beatles’ success brought renewed attention to the expansive field of pop music. Additional exposure was guaranteed. Promoters worked to take advantage of the vast new openings. They and young music fans in America looked beyond The Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace for showcases that presented the increasingly popular acts. More pop music shows were created for television. Presentations with a handful of pop artists would be staged more often. And in October ’64, at the Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, California, there was the greatest of all such forums in the pre-pop festival era: The Teenage Awards Music International Show.
Better known as The T.A.M.I. Show, its line-up was extraordinary. It offered a wide array of performers, some who would matter for a year or so, and others whose work would figure strongly into the next century. Chuck Berry. Gerry and the Pacemakers. Lesley Gore. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. The Supremes. Marvin Gaye. The Barbarians. Jan and Dean. Closing out were the boldest acts: James Brown and finally, the Rolling Stones.
The performances were filmed with 2200 prints created for its national theatrical run. The film did well but 43 years passed before it was officially available on home video. Now The T.A.M.I. Show is on DVD , giving pop-rock and soul fans of all ages an opportunity to see and hear their longtime favorites, all the while providing a sense of the direction popular music was taking in the mid ’60s.
On With The Show… Hosts Jan and Dean introduced Chuck Berry, with Jan proclaiming him as “the guy who started it all back in 1958.” Jan’s declaration is a puzzler, even to casual rock and roll history buffs, as Berry’s first hit record, “Maybelline,” was released in ’55. By ’58, he had already scored seven Top 40 hits. In ’64 he remained an important act, his influence evident as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other emerging artists recorded his songs.
Berry lets it rock before the children of Santa Monica. Long, lean, dapper, and in fine form, Chuck Berry is the Brown-Eyed Handsome Man. He opens with a lively, but shortened “Johnny B. Goode,” and quickly follows with”Maybelline.” Berry relishes the story in his song as he sings and plays at full tilt; but then has to apply the brakes as Gerry and the Pacemakers, all the way from Liverpool, take over the song.
Producing more cheese than Wisconsin does annually, Gerry Marsden preens impishly as he sings about chasing Maybelline up the hill.
Back and forth it went between Chuck Berry and Gerry and the Pacemakers. Berry’s rocking hard on “Nadine (Is It You),” a hit for him that year, but it’s another abbreviated performance as again he gives way to the Liverpudlians. The sharing of the stage, as insulting as it was to Berry, was likely considered a way to offer the old and the new in rock music quickly at the show’s beginning. But it was more farcical than anything else. Chuck Berry, neither an old or new act, was fresh and at the top of his game. His creativity and influence remained strong nearly 10 years after his first hit record. He didn’t simply create hit songs, he created a sound and a sensibility. Bob Seger observed as much when he sang “All Chuck’s children are out there playing his licks.” Chuck Berry would remain a guiding light in rock music for decades to come.
On the other hand, Gerry and the Pacemakers, then quite successful on the charts and managed by Brian Epstein, may have been part of rock and roll’s “British Invasion,” but it was more about association and geography than talent. As with another of their ilk, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, they would be has-beens in less than two years, especially in America.
Kramer was possibly the recipient of the best breaks ever in starting a rock and roll career. John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote songs for him. The Beatles had just broken big in England and appeared to be doing all things possible to make their friend successful too. Lennon reportedly suggested adding the “J” to give his stage name (he was born Billy Ashton) a rougher edge. Beatles producer George Martin worked with Kramer, helping him snag hits with covers of the Beatles’ “Do You Want To Know A Secret” and “I Call Your Name.” Granted, the songs Lennon-McCartney wrote specifically for Kramer were not among their best but they climbed the charts in both the U.K. and America. However, at The T.A.M. I. Show, Kramer’s performance was flat. He and the Dakotas limped through the 4 songs in their set. If they had put as much energy into the music as Kramer did smiling and waving, (after all, he wasn’t competing to be Miss America.) they would have left a better impression.
Standing Her Ground …. It wasn’t that each act had to be hard-edged or innovative to succeed in the rock and roll of that era. In fact one of the more impressive performances in The T.A.M.I. Show was by Lesley Gore, the seemingly prim and proper vocalist best known for the way Johnny and Judy conspired against her. Gore creates quite a presence with her “You Don’t Own Me,” a song feminists would come to embrace. She informs her bossy boyfriend he can’t tell her what to do or what to say. It’s a dark and dramatic song, with a melody that makes one think she could start belting out “I Put A Spell On You.” What about that? Screamin’ Lesley Gore.
Don’t Forget the Motor City …. Also gracing the Santa Monica stage were three of the hottest Motown acts, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Supremes, and Marvin Gaye. They did Detroit proud, especially Gaye, despite the limitations a performer faces when doing a medley. In less than seven minutes, he squeezed in parts of four songs. Still he made it all work, combining the coolness of Nat “King” Cole with a sizzling burst of energy and grit. What a commanding and dynamic figure he was.
The Beach and Beyond …. Such a concert event in Southern California wouldn’t be complete without the Beach Boys. They gave an exciting performance, delivering four songs, mostly about fun and sun. The harmonies were tight and their playing, particularly that of drummer Dennis Wilson, was energetic. Their appearance particularly intrigues given how the group would change course within the next two years, sometimes radically so. Their music would become more adventurous as the subject matters of their songs moved beyond dancing, surfing and getting around. The ’60s were not half over yet. More changes for The Beach Boys, and the rest of us, were in store.
Out of Sight; Hard to Follow … The promoters of The T. A. M. I. Show gave priority to the British Invasion acts. All three, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, and the Rolling Stones were each given $25,000.00 to appear. Just one year before the October ’64 concert, few Americans knew of those three acts. Now James Brown was a different matter. Tens of thousands of Americans, especially in the black communities, knew a lot about him. Brown had been making hit records since 1956. His records had crossed over from the R&B charts to the Hot 100. “Star Time” and James Brown were synonymous. Still the show’s promoters paid him only $15,000.00. That may have bothered Brown, but not nearly as much as being told that not he, but the Rolling Stones, would close the show.
The Rolling Stones had already collected a few hit records in America. They were on the way up. Like the Beatles, they were genuine. That may have impressed James Brown but it did not placate him. “Tell those crazy mother- – – – – – – they gonna wish they never left London,” Brown said, according to Rolling Stones biographer Stephen Davis in his book, Old Gods Almost Dead.
The Rolling Stones were also unhappy with the running order. James Brown was a hard act to follow. Davis wrote that “the Stones trembled in the dressing room, while the other acts, watching a video feed, cheered Brown on.” His fellow artists as well as the Santa Monica audience had reason to cheer. Brown made the most of his big chance.
In his autobiography Brown wrote that some members of his band were apprehensive about appearing before the mostly white audience. Their concerns were quickly put to rest.
When the young people of Santa Monica saw James Brown and His Famous Flames, they saw a tougher approach to R&B. Brown and his band were raw, earthy and defiant. Theirs was exciting music, not nearly as polished as that of the Motown acts, but far more captivating. Brown’s performance was other-worldly. Even after repeated viewings of the concert film, it’s nearly impossible not to fix one’s eyes upon Brown. His movements, his raspy voice and his punchy, vigorous music that his band played were more than elements of a marvelous set, they made for a staggering event. Brown’s work offered a view into the worlds that white audiences, like those in Santa Monica, had not ventured. With hard-charging versions of “Out Of Sight,” “Prisoner of Love” and “Please, Please, Please,” Brown had the crowd in a frenzy. He closed his set with “Night Train,” the crowd cheering wildly and chanting with him.
In his autobiography, Brown recalled the energy he put into his set, “I don’t think I ever danced so hard in my life, and I don’t think they had ever seen a man move that fast….It was one of those performances when you don’t even know how you’re doing it. At one point during the encores, I sat down underneath a monitor and just kind of hung my head, then looked up and smiled. For a second I didn’t know where I was.”
The Joint Was A-Rockin’ … Mick Jagger and the other Rolling Stones knew exactly where they were some 10 minutes after Brown’s set. As they took the stage, there was a look of concern on Jagger’s face. Brown thought Jagger didn’t want to take the stage at all. This wasn’t the lively, cocksure Mick Jagger rock fans already knew so well. But Jagger got over it quickly enough, in perhaps 30 seconds. The band launched into Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around,” compelling some positive reinforcement. Oh, we can do this, they must have thought. The stage really did belong to them.
It’s hard to go wrong with the catchy and pronounced riffs that open “Around amd Around,” especially when the Stones rocked just as good as the joint Berry wrote about. The rockin’ continued with “Off the Hook,” “Time Is On My Side,” “It’s All Over Now,” and “I’m All Right.” Then all of the show’s performers joined the Rolling Stones on stage for the contrived closing number, “Get Together.” It was just a ditty for all the acts to dance to as the amazing series of performances came to an end. In the film’s last few seconds with the camera pulling away, there’s James Brown, dancing and smiling. We know he felt good.
Well Done, My Friend … Brown’s irritation over not being the headliner passed. After the Stones’ performance, he walked up to them, shook their hands and offered his congratulations. Years later Brown said, “Mick became a good friend of mine. I like Mick, Keith Richards and all the guys. I don’t think of them as competition; I think of them as brothers. Brown also knew Jagger as one he influenced over the years. Stephen Davis in Old Gods Almost Dead agreed, writing that after The T.A.M.I. Show, Jagger decided to become James Brown.
They Kept On A-Rockin’ … The Beatles revealed a new direction in music earlier that year. Performances at The T.A.M.I. Show added an exclamation point to the Beatles’ statement. While several of the show’s acts would soon fade from the scene, others would top the pop music charts for years to come. Most especially James Brown, the Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye, and the Beach Boys would create influential and ground-breaking work. No doubt, many of “Chuck’s children” were listening.