The legends were all there that night

I’d like to shine a light this week on a little gem of a pop culture artifact that every true rock music fan should see.  Available on DVD only since 2009, it’s considered the very first rock concert film ever made, and it’s about time more people knew about it.

As Miami Steve Van Zandt has said, “It’s the greatest rock movie you’ve never seen.”

51cR8JMSnPLIn 1964 — half a decade before the first rock festival films (“Monterey Pop” in 1968 and “Woodstock” in 1970), before “The Concert for Bangladesh” in 1972, and way before major filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme were making “The Last Waltz” (1978) and “Stop Making Sense” (1984) — there was a groundbreaking flick featuring a dozen of the hottest acts of that pre-psychedelic era, all on one stage.

It has the awkward title “The T.A.M.I. Show,” and it chronicles one remarkable concert held on October 29, 1964 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

Performing that night were the very young Rolling Stones, the irrepressible James Brown, rock’n roll pioneer Chuck Berry, California kings The Beach Boys, New York teen sensation Lesley Gore, Merseybeat stars Gerry & the Pacemakers, and Motown titans The Supremes, Smokey and the Miracles, and Marvin Gaye, among others.

Now admittedly, some people — particularly those born after, say, 1990 who are used to more modern film techniques — will probably find parts of this footage excruciatingly dated.  First of all, it was shot in black and white, and the stage sets and backdrops are

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Jan and Dean

pretty cheesy.  God knows the emcees, Jan & Dean, came across as totally hokey.  Some of the song selections might have been a little lame.  And you might find the clothes sported by the artists and the “go-go dancers” to be about as straight-laced as the “Breck girl” and pompadour hairstyles.

But hey, that was what young people were wearing in the early ’60s — surf shirts, matching tuxedos, bikinis and the like.  In almost every way, this flick is a period piece, and in that regard, it offers a broad spectrum of 1964 music and styles, from California to New York, from London to Detroit.  Viewers need to take all that into account.

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James Brown and The Famous Flames

Most important, of course, is the music.   Some, even many, of the performances captured here are eye-opening, mind-blowing, simply extraordinary.

IMG_2312Far and away the most electrifying set is by “The Godfather of Soul” James Brown and The Famous Flames.  At his prime, which might have been right around this period, there was nobody remotely like him in terms of raw energy, sexuality, tight dance moves, and the emotion he could squeeze out of each song:  “Out of Sight,” “Prisoner of Love,” “Please, Please, Please” and the stone classic “Night Train.”   He definitely left it all out there, with the all-white crowd of local teens losing its collective mind.

(Yes, it was impossible to ignore there weren’t more than a handful of black faces in the audience.  I’m not sure why that had to be the case in Santa Monica in 1964, but actually, there were precious few integrated audiences anywhere in the US back then, and wouldn’t be until near the end of the decade.)

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Marvin Gaye

The smooth, sensual Marvin Gaye gets my vote for next best act of the evening.  He had mesmerizing stage presence in his all-white tux, caressing the mike as he belted out four R&B classics:  “Stubborn Kind of Fellow,” “Pride and Joy,” “Can I Get a Witness” and “Hitch Hike.”  He was a loyal Motown team player at that time, with a golden voice, recording whatever material Berry Gordy pushed on him (most of which was pretty great), although by the 1970s, he insisted on more control, and came up with brilliant tracks like “What’s Going On” and “Mercy Mercy Me.”

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Keith and Mick

As for The Stones, it’s a total treat to see Mick Jagger and Company go through their paces as 21-year-olds, especially the now-craggy-looking Keith Richards, who appeared to be about 16 here (he was 20).  Co-founder Brian Jones was still a vibrant part of things then, and Bill Wyman was still holding down the bass lines to complement Charlie Watts’s drums.  But I have to say, they made a tactical error when they insisted on being the final act of the

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Bill Wyman and Brian Jones

night, because Brown completely upstaged them.  Remember, at that point, they hadn’t recorded “Satisfaction” or “Get Off My Cloud” or “Paint It Black” and their material was chiefly cover versions.  (Their set list:  “Around and Around,” “Off the Hook,” “Time Is On My Side,” “It’s All Over Now” and “It’s All Right.”)  Richards has said in interviews about the T.A.M.I. Show that choosing to follow Brown “was probably the biggest mistake we ever made in our careers.  But we survived,” he chuckled.

Interestingly, it should have been The Beach Boys and The Supremes (or even Lesley Gore) vying for the headliner status, since they were the ones with the multiple #1 hits on the US charts at that point.  But there’s no doubt that Brown or The Stones were the more exciting live act and would provide the better climax to the evening’s festivities.

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One of Brian Wilson’s final live shows with The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys’ footage is special because the great Brian Wilson, their genius songwriter/producer, was still performing with them, and he’s clearly the focal point.  His falsetto lead vocal on “Surfer Girl” will knock you out.  Less than two months later, Wilson retired from live performances, replaced on tour by others (including Glen Campbell for a spell).  Dennis Wilson shows a lot of pizazz on drums, and Mike Love does his predictable little dance moves, with Al Jardine and a baby-faced Carl Wilson contributing guitar parts for their four-song set of coast-to-coast hits:  “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” “I Get Around,” “Surfer Girl” and “Dance, Dance, Dance.”

 

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Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson and Diana Ross

The Supremes, of course, were in the middle of an unprecedented string of five consecutive #1 hits, rivaling The Beatles on the charts from mid-’64 to mid-’65.  The incomparable Diana Ross, with strong backing from Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson, opened with two lesser hits — “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” and “Run, Run, Run” — before sending the crowd into a frenzy with “Baby Love” and “Where Did Our Love Go.”  I’m not sure if it’s endearing or just weird when a dozen teen dancers come roaring onto the stage to shake and shimmy behind the famous trio.

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Smokey Robinson (right) and The Miracles

Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Motown’s original #1 hit group, didn’t disappoint, serving up a smart set of three tunes, opening with their latest single “That’s What Love is Made Of,” followed by two of their biggest hits thus far — “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” and “Mickey’s Monkey.”  Robinson, who wrote so many of the songs recorded by numerous Motown groups, performed passionately on lead vocals as The Miracles crooned and danced in unison beside him.

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Lesley Gore

I’m not sure why Lesley Gore was allowed to sing six numbers, more than anyone else, except to say she had a dynamite voice (no lip-synching here), and a couple of the tunes were shortened and squeezed into a mini-medley.  She represented the New York girl-group sound of the early ’60s, which may have been on its way out within a year or two, but you wouldn’t know it from this great performance.  Her songs:  “Maybe I Know,” the ahead-of-its-time “You Don’t Own Me,” “You Didn’t Look Around,” “Hey Now” and her back-to-back 1962 classics, “It’s My Party” and “Judy’s Turn to Cry.”

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Chuck Berry, and The T.A.M.I. Dancers

Fittingly, the producers chose to open the proceedings with original rock and roller Chuck Berry, but I found it very strange that they made him share the stage with England’s pop group Gerry and The Pacemakers.  Berry kicked things off with a solid “Johnny B. Goode” and then segued into his first hit, 1955’s “Maybellene”… but suddenly in mid-song, the camera swung over to The Pacemakers doing the same song!  Their hit ballad “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” the_tami_show_320was next, and “It’s Gonna Be Alright” … but then it was back to Berry doing “Sweet Little Sixteen”… then another Pacemakers song “How Do You Do It?” before Berry had one final shot with “Nadine (Is That You?).”  The Pacemakers got to close out this bizarre interplay with their hit “I Like It.”  There has been no explanation I could find in my research to justify this back-and-forth nonsense.

Also part of the show were lesser acts like Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas (“Bad to Me,” “Little Children”), Jan and Dean (“The Little Old Lady From Pasadena”), and The Barbarians (“Hey Little Bird”).  Suffice to say they were the filler between the quality acts.

If you look closely, you can see that the house band backing the vocalists was none other than The Wrecking Crew, L.A.’s loose assemblage of excellent session musicians who appeared anonymously on hundreds of hit records through the ’60s and ’70s.  Glen Campbell on guitar and Leon Russell on piano are among those doing their magic in the shadows.  And the dancers, choreographed by the award-winning Toni Basil, included a few future stars including actress Teri Garr.

So what does “T.A.M.I.” stand for, anyway?  It’s an acronym for the strangely named non-profit organization Teenage Awards Music International  (how’s that for garbled syntax?).  The plan was for the organization to produce a series of yearly concerts and award ceremonies for TV broadcast, and possible feature film release, with proceeds earmarked for music scholarships and other programs benefiting teenage music education.  But none of these things — except the initial 1964 concert and subsequent movie — ever materialized.  All that remains is this historical DVD with the curious title.

When the producers went looking for the acts they wanted, they naturally started with The Beatles, but they were unavailable, so manager Brian Epstein agreed to send two other acts under his purview (Gerry and The Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas).  The Stones were young and hungry and jumped at the chance.  Motown was happy to provide three major acts, and The Beach Boys were eager to be part of the California-based event.  Getting Chuck Berry brought in the early rock influence, while Lesley Gore represented the “girl group” sound.  It was a perfect storm of everything on the pop music scene at the time.

Perhaps most remarkable about the filming of this extravaganza was the use of four then-new “Electronovision” cameras that allowed for live editing on the spot, and audio that was mixed down live in the room from four-track to “glorious mono” (the preferred format of the day).  There is no unused footage, no alternate takes, and no multitrack audio to be remixed, so what you see is what actually happened, absolutely live.  With that in mind, the result is a truly astounding, high-quality concert film.

IMG_2326The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, by the way, has its own legendary status.  Opened in 1958 as a combination concert hall/convention center, it hosted the Academy Awards for several years, and was the scene of dozens of rock concerts from the mid-’60s to the mid-’80s.  Beginning with The Doors in 1967, many top artists were drawn to the venue’s great acoustics, including Creedence, BS&T, Pink Floyd, The Kinks, Van Morrison, Procol Harum, Traffic, David Bowie, Genesis, Lou Reed, Journey, Rush, Jethro Tull and The Clash.  Upstaged by newer Los Angeles venues in the ’90s, the facility is now mostly dormant, used only occasionally for film and commercial shoots.

Do yourself a favor and take this trip down proverbial memory lane.  You won’t be disappointed!

 

 

 

 

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The old songs never end

I just love doing these occasional posts about lost classics.

Radio has always failed us.   When it comes to keeping alive so many of the truly great songs of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s that appeared on albums but never got the appropriate amount of appreciation, it was always up to us.

Some of these spectacular tracks appeared on well-known albums, and they were merely underexposed against their more popular brothers.  But so many great tunes showed up on otherwise forgettable albums, and they were therefore in danger of being lost to the proverbial dustbin of history.

Until now.

One of my jobs here at Hack’s Back Pages is to shine a light on some of these amazing songs that escaped the attention of even the most ardent music fans of that period.

This week, I offer another dozen really strong recordings you should (and can) check out, via the Spotify list at the bottom of this entry.

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220px-Saynomore“Old Judge Jones,” Les Dudek, 1977

Dudek is unknown to all but the most dedicated rock enthusiasts.  Neither the singles nor the albums released under his name have made a ripple in the Top 40 waters, but he has been present for some of the great tracks of the 1970s with The Allman Brothers Band, Steve Miller Band, Boz Scaggs, Maria Muldaur and more.  Most notably, he’s the guy playing the harmonic lead guitar behind Dickey Betts on the 1973 huge hit “Ramblin’ Man.”  Although his solo career went nowhere, his underrated 1977 LP “Say No More” included the infectious “Old Judge Jones,” which got some FM airplay at the time but deserves far wider exposure.

Roger_daltrey_solo_cover“Giving It All Away,” Roger Daltrey, 1973

The Who’s titanic lead vocalist could very possibly have had a strong solo career outside The Who, but he seemed to prefer working with Pete Townshend and his enigmatic rock operas and street anthems.  Still, he dabbled in solo recordings through the years, beginning with “Daltrey,” recorded in early 1973 during a lull in The Who’s touring schedule, prior to the release of “Quadrophenia.”  Daltrey had met struggling singer-songwriter Leo Sayer, who provided a batch of songs co-written with David Courtney, the best of which was the dramatic “Giving It All Away.”  Daltrey’s powerful voice helped push the song to #5 in England, although it stiffed at #83 in the US.  Still, if you were to put this tune on a playlist of Who tracks, it would fit in beautifully.

john-stewart-bombs-away-dream-babies“Midnight Wind,” John Stewart, 1979

Stewart was a California-born singer-songwriter who joined the folk group The Kingston Trio in 1961, then wrote the well-known “Daydream Believer,” a huge hit for The Monkees (#1) in 1967 and Anne Murray (#12) in 1979.  Meanwhile, Stewart pursued a solo career bouncing around between multiple labels until he scored a hit in 1979 with the LP “Bombs Away Dream Babies.”  The single “Gold” (“People out there turning music into gold”) went to #5, which utilized the vocals and guitar of Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, but even more impressive was his song “Midnight Wind,” which also featured Buckingham and Nicks and reached a respectable #28 here.

220px-LeonRussellAlbum“Roll Away the Stone,” Leon Russell, 1970

Leon Russell was a huge figure in ’60s rock, having played keyboards and handled arrangements on dozens of Top 40 hits as a member of the famed “Wrecking Crew” gang of L.A. session musicians.  When he went out on his own, the masses didn’t exactly embrace him, but his work was widely admired by others, including Joe Cocker (“Delta Lady”), Rita Coolidge (“Superstar”), The Carpenters (“A Song for You”), George Benson (“This Masquerade”) and others, who turned his songs into mainstream hits.  Elton John so worshipped Russell that he teamed up with him in 2010 on the #3 collaborative LP “The Union,” which demonstrates Russell’s considerable skills.  His unmistakable vocal delivery on tracks like his early classic “Roll Away the Stone” made him an FM favorite.

1973-wake-of-the-flood“Eyes of the World,” Grateful Dead, 1973

The Dead had their legendary “Deadheads” following, who guaranteed packed venues wherever they played in the 1970s and 1980s.  Their albums, though full of great material, were never big sellers (except the #6 hit LP “In the Dark” with its #9 hit “Shades of Gray” in 1987).  Back in 1973, the group’s otherwise unremarkable LP “Wake of the Flood” included the bonafide gem “Eyes of the World,” which The Dead continued to play in concert for many years afterwards.  Jerry “Captain Trips” Garcia’s vocals and guitar are at their best on this marvelous song.

Bonnie_Raitt_-_Nine_Lives“Who But a Fool (Thief Into Paradise),” Bonnie Raitt, 1986

In the mid-1980s, Columbia Records chose to “clean house” of older artists whose work wasn’t selling as it once had, and Raitt, a reliable blues talent for a decade, was caught up in that purge.  She had just completed an album, but it sat on the shelves for nearly three years before Columbia belatedly released it, retitled “Nine Lives.”  It didn’t sell either, and she ended up changing to Capitol, where she won multiple Grammys for her “Nick of Time” LP in 1989.  On “Nine Lives,” though, there’s a hidden beauty called “Who But a Fool (Thief into Paradise)” that mustn’t be allowed to escape attention any longer.

surrealisticpillow“She Has Funny Cars,” Jefferson Airplane, 1967

In 1965, singer-songwriters Marty Balin and Paul Kantner worked their way through a few preliminary lineups for their band, The Jefferson Airplane, before settling on guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, bassist Jack Casady, drummer Spencer Dryden and singer Signe Anderson.  They cut one record before Anderson left to raise a family, and her replacement was the fiery Grace Slick, who brought two killer songs with her — “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.”  While those two tracks still get major airplay on classic rock radio, the rest of the “Surrealistic Pillow” album is overlooked these days, which is a shame.  In particular, “She Has Funny Cars,” the leadoff song, has the crucial elements of the Airplane’s trademark sound:  Kaukonen’s guitar work and the Balin-Slick vocal interplay.

Emitt_Rhodes_1970_cover“With My Face on the Floor,” Emitt Rhodes, 1970

This multi-talented instrumentalist got screwed by the record industry, plain and simple.  He’d been part of a failed ’60s band called Merry-Go-Round, but he was still tied to A&M Records when he took matters into his own hands and recorded a batch of songs at home on his own equipment (way before that kind of thing was common).  The demos were so good that ABC/Dunhill leaped on them, and the debut LP ended up at #29.  But still, most people remained unfamiliar with his work, which is tragic.  Check out the opening track, “With My Face on the Floor,” plus others like “Live Till You Die,” “Somebody Made for Me,” “Lullaby” and “Fresh as a Daisy.”  They sound like a cross between Paul McCartney and Eric Carmen.

R-1424836-1319782297-1.jpeg“Hurt,” Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, 1978

The late great Tom Petty and his band were still struggling early in their career, trying to move beyond the minor success of “Breakdown” on their debut LP the year before.  It wouldn’t be until the “Damn the Torpedos” album and its hit single “Refugee” that they would break into the big time in 1979.  But meanwhile, their second album, the criminally underrated “You’re Gonna Get It!”, slipped by in 1978, despite being chock full of great songs like “I Need to Know'” and “Listen to Her Heart.”  In my opinion, the most underrated track was “Hurt,” which deserves a place on any Petty setlist that’s being composed in the wake of his death in 2017.

Jethro_Tull_Songs_from_the_Wood“Velvet Green,” Jethro Tull, 1977

Although Tull was known as a band with progressive rock complexities and hard rock leanings, they always had an acoustic side as well, thanks to leader Ian Anderson’s fondness for delicate melodies.  The 1977 LP “Songs From the Wood” signaled a definitive left turn in that direction, with songs full of Elizabethan motifs and keyboard arrangements.  “The Whistler” and the title song featured prominent flute passages, as did perhaps the album’s best track, “Velvet Green,” which offered erotic and pastoral lyrical phrases to complement the gentler music.

KinksWordofMouth“Living on a Thin Line,” The Kinks, 1984

Singer/frontman Ray Davies wrote virtually all of the songs in The Kinks’ lengthy catalog (1964-1995), from the early raucous “You Really Got Me” to the prissy Brit number “Sunny Afternoon” to the transgender huge hit “Lola.”  But brother/guitarist Dave Davies wrote a handful, and “Living on a Thin Line,” his contribution to their 1984 LP “Word of Mouth,” is not only his best, but one of  The Kinks’ best tracks as well.  It has a wonderful groove, which saw a resurgence in 2001 when it was used to great effect in the celebrated “University” episode of “The Sopranos.”

“Skateaway,” Dire Straits, 1980  Sleeve_of_Making_Movies.svg

The huge impact of Dire Straits’ 1978 classic “Sultans of Spring” seemed to color everything they did afterwards, at least for a while.  But guitarist/songwriter Mark Knopfler had grander plans, and when he came up with the outstanding material that comprised 1980’s “Making Movies,” he was off and running, mostly due to the gorgeous “Romeo and Juliet” and the cinematic “Tunnel of Love.”  Often forgotten is “Skateaway,” a fabulous pastiche about an alluring rollerblading girl who clearly mesmerizes the songwriter, to a point where we’re all a bit entranced by her.