Two Seminal Rock Concerts Arrive on Blu-ray
The Woodstock and Monterey Pop films offer quite a flash from the past, but if you want to know how much and how fast the culture changed during the sixties, step back just a few more years and watch The T.A.M.I. Show and The Big T.N.T. Show. Filmed in 1964 and 1965, respectively, and set to be reissued December 2nd on a two-disc Blu-ray set, these seminal black-and-white concert films contain hints of what was to come; but they also find rock stars performing in suits and ties while go-go dancers gyrate behind them and teenage girls scream in the audience. The incredibly diverse music, which suggests just how big an umbrella the rock genre had become, is occasionally banal but more often memorable.
The list of stars and soon-to-be stars involved with these shows is large. The performers includes numerous artists who wound up in the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and the house band for some of The T.A.M.I. Show acts is the aggregation of L.A. studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew, which included such future luminaries as Leon Russell and Glen Campbell. Among the go-go dancers are Teri Garr and Toni Basil, and even the audiences contain future stars, such as director John Landis and singer David Cassidy, both of whom were then in seventh grade, and Frank Zappa. Phil Spector helped produce The Big T.N.T. Show.
The T.A.M.I. Show—whose acronym variously stood for Teenage Awards Music International and Teen Age Music International—includes some schlock and strangeness. Jan and Dean, who serve as announcers, come off as second-rate Smothers Brothers—except when they’re singing, when they come off as second-rate Beach Boys; and sets by Gerry and the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas offer little but British Invasion memories. There’s a rather bizarre moment when Chuck Berry’s performance of “Maybellene” suddenly segues into Gerry and the Pacemakers’ rendition of the same song.
But highlights abound. Motown is well represented with solid sets from the Miracles (with Smokey Robinson, who wasn’t yet getting separate billing), the Supremes (whose Diana Ross was also not yet top-billed), and Marvin Gaye. Lesley Gore, then a giant star, delivers a six-song set, including her early feminist anthem, “You Don’t Own Me.” And the Beach Boys—whose performances were omitted from early versions of this film—shine on four hits, including “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and “Surfer Girl.” Near the end comes an appearance by James Brown that demonstrates how he earned the title of hardest-working man in show business and that incorporates dance moves that would give Michael Jackson a run for his money. The Rolling Stones come next, with a six-song set that includes “Time Is On My Side” and “It’s All Over Now.” Keith Richards later said that following Brown on this show was the biggest mistake of the group’s career but their performance is more than respectable.
The Big T.N.T. Show features an even more diverse artist lineup than its predecessor. As with The T.A.M.I. Show, there are a few weird low points (whose idea was it to have The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s David McCallum host—not to mention conduct an orchestral version of the Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”?); but there are equally unexpected high points (would you believe Joan Baez performing “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” with Phil Spector on piano?). Other treats include a high-energy set by the Ike & Tina Turner Revue; the Ronettes’ irresistible “Be My Baby”; a hit parade from Roger Miller (“Dang Me,” “Engine Engine #9,” “King of the Road,” “England Swings”); and performances by Bo Diddley and Ray Charles. Sets from the Byrds (including their hit cover of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”) and Donovan (who opens with his version of Buffy St. Marie’s “Universal Soldier”) suggest two directions where the music world was headed.
Though The T.A.M.I. Show appeared on DVD in 2009, The Big T.N.T. Show has not previously been available on disc. This new package delivers high-definition transfers of both (but don’t expect miracles—these concerts are more than half a century old). It also includes a variety of bonus features, such as an interview with and commentary by T.A.M.I. Show director Steve Binder and newly recorded reminiscences by three Big T.N.T. Show performers: Petula Clark; the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian; and future famed rock photographer Henry Diltz, whose Modern Folk Quartet performed the movie’s theme song.
Whether or not you lived through the sixties, you’re bound to find both concerts fascinating.
Jeff Burger’s books include Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters, and Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters. His website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades' worth of music reviews and commentary.