The T.A.M.I. Show — “T.A.M.I.” being an acronym for Teenage Awards Music International or Teen Age Music International — was a feature film that played in movie theaters as 1964 gave way to 1965. It was similar to popular music television shows like Bandstand or Hullaballoo, but with two notable differences: it was feature-film length and, most importantly, all the performances were live with no lip syncing.
As a teenager in the pre-YouTube era with little access to concerts, seeing these acts perform live was a rare find and, when found, a revelation. The T.A.M.I. Show was designed to appeal to all music lovers, spanning the gamut from the Byrds, to Chuck Berry, to Ike and Tina Turner, to Gerry and the Pacemakers — a not-to-be-missed film experience for any teenage music lover.
This was followed in early 1966 with a similar feature film, The Big T.N.T. Show — “T.N.T.” being an acronym for, well, nothing really. Thanks to the folks at Shout Factory!, these stunning — and occasionally odd — performances can be enjoyed again and again with this DVD collector’s edition of both films.
Combined, these two flicks offer nearly three-and-a-half hours of live performances from some of the biggest stars of the mid-1960s. Granted, there’s nary a Beatle to be found here, but given the variety of artists, the occasional bits of weirdness, and the quality of the performances in these movies, you really don’t miss them very much.
The T.A.M.I. Show — after a cool opening montage of all the artists set to Jan & Dean’s “(Here They Come) From All Over the World” — starts with an unusual battle of the bands pairing between Chuck Berry and Gerry and the Pacemakers. The teenage audience is loud and excited, and they never let up. The addition of around 700 go-go dancers — that’s what it seems like, anyway — add to the charm and enthusiasm of the festivities.
As mentioned earlier, these are all live performances, and everybody comes out looking and sounding good. The Motown folks show that Berry Gordy had everything lined up perfectly when it came to talent and presentation, and the British invaders, admittedly a little low key compared to some of the more upbeat acts, do a fine job as well.
One of the most surprising moments to me was how terrific Lesley Gore sounds. I don’t know why this caught me off guard (because she obviously had an outstanding voice), but hearing how good she sounded live knocked my socks off.
The highlight — and I do mean highlight! — of the whole show is James Brown and the Famous Flames. They do a four-song set, and you get all the bits James Brown was known for: super soul music, a tight band, dance moves that are impossible to recreate, and even the whole, “Lead me off the stage, I can’t go on, no wait, get this cape off me, I’ve got to keep going” routine. Not to be missed.
After all that, you can’t help but feel awful for the Rolling Stones for having to follow him as the closing act. They do all right, but nobody could have or should have followed Brown back then.
The Big T.N.T. Show is certainly entertaining, but it’s also very odd. It begins with David McCallum — at the time a huge star thanks to The Man from U.N.C.L.E. — running from the back of the auditorium through the audience and up on the stage, where he conducts the house orchestra through an instrumental performance of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” (Perhaps an homage to his classical music projects at the time.) This is followed by Ray Charles performing “What’d I Say,” and then suddenly Petula Clark is walking through the crowd singing “Downtown.” It just keeps going from there.
Folk rock had made its mark in the charts since T.A.M.I. was filmed, so you get plenty of Joan Baez, the Lovin’ Spoonful, Donovan, and the Byrds. They all put in good performances, but there is the occasional, “What the….?” moment, such as when Joan Baez performs “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” Her voice is good, but it wasn’t made for that song, or maybe vice versa.
The R&B and soul acts really shine in this one. Ray Charles does “Georgia On My Mind,” and it nearly brings tears to your eyes. Bo Diddley and the Ronettes each have a brief set that allows you to appreciate their music and their stage presences and really makes you wish you could see more from each of them.
The filmmakers learned from the show closing mistake of T.A.M.I. and chose to end T.N.T. with an R&B act. This time it’s Ike and Tina Turner. The band is cookin’, the Ikettes look great and sound even better. Ms. Turner is spectacular as always.
Then, David McCallum comes back one more time to lead the orchestra and the show is over, leaving you scratching your head about some of the stuff you saw and heard — but a better person for it, whether you realize it or not.
This new release from Shout Factory! is notable because, even though T.A.M.I. was released on DVD a few years ago, this is the first time T.N.T. has been released in its complete form on home video. This new set includes a booklet with two great essays by Don Waller. The movies look and sound as good as you might expect 50-year-old black-and-white concert films to look, which is pretty good.
There was a certain kind of innocence in popular music from 1964 through 1966, the likes of which haven’t ever really been recaptured or repeated. These two films provide an exceptional opportunity for anybody who loves the music from that era to relive this magical period time and time again.
Of course, the “innocence” is rosy in hindsight; life wasn’t great for everybody, and as the decade trudged along, it became more obvious. If you watch these concerts and imagine being a teenager at one of these shows, however, you can see why — even if it was just for an hour or two — it might have been easy to get wrapped up in the excitement and forget about what was happening in the real world.
Get your copy of The T.A.M.I. Show/The Big T.N.T. Show (Collector’s Edition) from Shout! Factory.