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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I think I love you on the highway to hell

Well, this ought to be interesting.

Since January 2016, I have been compelled to write no less than 15 blog tributes about rock music heroes who have passed away in that time span.

Glenn Frey, David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, George Michael, Chuck Berry, Gregg Allman, Tom Petty, Fats Domino, and others — you know the long, sorry list.

But this week, two of the most disparate popular music figures you could possibly imagine died within a few days of each other, giving me the opportunity to somehow tie them together in one unusual blog obituary.

MALCOLM YOUNGOne:  Malcolm Young — co-founder, rhythm guitarist and chief songwriter of hard rock titans AC/DC — died at age 64 after a three-year battle with early-onset dementia.  He was a dedicated professional, a commanding instrumentalist and a tireless performer whose name appears on 90 percent of AC/DC’s formidable catalog, which happens to rank among the best selling in rock music history.

443ff80fbda1b7b04406bbc4bc285e42Two:  Teen idol David Cassidy — lead singer and nationwide heartthrob of the 1970s TV show “The Partridge Family” and a recording/touring sensation in his own right — died at age 67, following complications from liver and kidney failure as well as dementia.

The musical output of these two stars couldn’t be more different.  AC/DC plays pounding, bone-jarring hard rock featuring larynx-shredding vocals and anthemic riffs.  Cassidy’s catalog swings between bubblegum pop and covers of ’60s “adult contemporary” fare.  I’m hard pressed to come up with a more radically abrupt songlist segue than going from “Hells Bells” to “I Think I Love You.”

Still, Young and Cassidy had a few things in common.   They have both sold many, many millions of records over the years, and both enjoyed vast legions of frenzied fans who would very likely have been happy to sell their grandmothers in order to get front row seats and back stage passes to their concerts.

Michaud-ACDCAC/DC, in fact, have sold more than 150 million albums, ranking them in the top three most commercially successful acts of all time.  This astounds me, simply because, while hard rock has a fiercely loyal following around the globe, a greater majority of the public are decidedly not enamored with AC/DC or other bands of their ilk.

Unknown-10David Cassidy, meanwhile, had a shorter period of peak popularity (at least in the U.S.), but in 1971, his fan club had a bigger membership than The Beatles and Elvis Presley combined!  In the pantheon of teen idols, from Fabian and Donny Osmond to Leif Garrett and Bobby Sherman, Cassidy arguable tops them all.

Personally speaking, these two artists had one other thing in common:  I didn’t like their music.  I never did, and probably never will.

ac-dcWhen you look at it retrospectively, readers shouldn’t find this surprising.  In both cases, I wasn’t part of their target market demographic.  In 1970, when “The Partridge Family” debuted on TV and on the Top 40, I was 15, and already past the point where I might have been willing to listen to bubblegum teen-idol stuff.  In 1979, when AC/DC exploded on American rock fans’ collective consciousness, I was 24, and pretty much past the period when I was receptive to the monolithic, ear-splitting sound of two-chord hard rock with shrieking vocals.

But just because I didn’t care for their songs doesn’t mean I can’t show respect for their considerable accomplishments.

patridge-family-2af18060-9f80-4116-b4f3-ca3916fa2fc2Cassidy was the son of Hollywood actor Jack Cassidy, who helped pave the way for his son to pursue an interest in acting.  He debuted in a forgettable Broadway play called “The Fig Leaves are Falling,” which was by all accounts a flop, but producers took note of the 17-year-old Cassidy and invited him to Los Angeles for some screen tests.  Those led to parts on such late ’60s TV dramas as “Bonanza,” “Adam-12” and “Ironside,” and those, in turn, caught the attention of the producers of a new program based on the real-life family musical group The Cowsills.  Noted actress Shirley Jones, who happened to be David’s stepmother, had been cast as the matriarch Shirley Partridge, and eventually Cassidy won the part of Keith Partridge.

His undeniably pretty face and easy-going manner made him extremely attractive to young girls everywhere, but as it turned out, he could actually sing, too.  So, while the rest of the Partridge Family lip-synched their way through the performing segments and were replaced by session musicians on recordings, Cassidy was providing the lead vocals, and he was responsible for the success of The Partridge Family’s first three singles and first three albums, which rocketed to the Top Five of the U.S. charts.

David Cassidy Concert - LondonNaturally, he soon went solo, reaching the Top Ten in six countries with his cover of the ’60s pop anthem “Cherish” and the same-named LP.  His concert appearances with a backup band of seasoned pros were packed with tweens and teens, and he quickly matured into a polished performer and crowd pleaser.

“He has an instinctive command of audiences,” said his manager, Ruth Arons, in 1972.  “The way he leaps out and bounces around on the stage, his little yellings of ‘I love you’ – it’s exciting, and theatrically effective.  He projects a joyful, affirmative sexual appeal.  He is not, as some critics say, a hoax that’s being foisted on the public – a figment of someone’s imaginings, a put-on. He’s not a make believe performer.”

david-cassidy-ups-and-downs-2But he soon tired of his teen idol status and hoped to be taken more seriously by the hip rock culture, even granting an in-depth, revealing and controversial (for its time) interview that put him and his naked body on the cover of Rolling Stone.  But it didn’t work.  The fact that he simply couldn’t shake his original image frustrated him greatly, and it helped exacerbate an ever-increasing abuse of booze and drugs, which haunted him for most of the rest of his life.  He resurfaced periodically to ravenous crowds in various comebacks and nostalgia tours in the ’80s and ’90s, but by 2010 things spiraled out of control for him as he was charged with multiple DUIs and his health deteriorated.

1200x630bb-3Conversely, AC/DC, Australia’s most popular export, had no such immediate adulation here in the U.S.  They were at first shunned by their American label, even as they built enthusiastic support at home and in Europe.  It wasn’t until the band’s fifth LP, 1979’s “Highway to Hell,” that they caught on in the U.S., and their fame exploded like a California wildfire.  With Bon Scott caterwauling away on vocals, Angus Young contributing fiery lead guitar solos and brother Malcolm providing the steady rhythm guitar, AC/DC vaulted into the Top 20 album charts.

At precisely the worst possible time, Scott then died of alcohol poisoning, and the group almost called it quits, but they regrouped, added vocalist Brian Johnson, and continued their mercurial rise by releasing “Back in Black,” a quasi-tribute to Scott and a 41kj36cVMFL._SL500_juggernaut hard-rock manifesto that went on to sell an incredible 50 million copies worldwide (22 million copies in the U.S.), making it the second-highest-selling album of all time (after Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”).  Two more Top Five LPs quickly followed — “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” (a reissue of the Australian 1976 album with Scott) and 1981’s “For Those About to Rock” — and AC/DC found themselves among the hottest concert draws in the world, including the U.S.

The band plugged away throughout the ’80s as leaders of an ever-growing hard-rock/heavy-metal genre that included rivals like Ozzy Osbourne, Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.  My 31-year-old son-in-law, a producer/songwriter, described AC/DC this way:  “They were good-mood, fun, almost cartoonish hard rock.  It was kind of indulgent and gimmicky, the riffs, the song titles, but it was smart business because it was a brand that worked.  Many of their best songs are the ones everyone wants to turn up to 11 and sing at the top of their lungs.”

Malcolm Young, though, had also developed an alcohol problem, so he wisely checked younghimself into a rehab program and cleaned up his act, returning to the band’s lineup after just an eight-week absence.  To his credit, Young maintained sobriety for the rest of his life, and he remained the reliable linchpin on stage for several tours in the 1990s and 2000s, and as the band’s most consistent songwriter.

Sadly, early-onset dementia was one more thing Cassidy and Young had in common.  In Cassidy’s case, he confessed he had a feeling he’d be afflicted with it, as it had stricken both his grandfather and his mother.  Because of an inability to remember words and/or chords, both men were finally forced to retire from public appearances several years before their deaths last week.

No word has emerged yet from the AC/DC camp as to whether the band intends to soldier on without their co-founder, but the odds are good they will.  Indeed, they’ve been touring and recording for nearly a decade with Young on the sidelines, and have even recently replaced longtime vocalist Johnson with ex-Guns ‘n Roses frontman Axl Rose on stage and in the studio.

As for Cassidy’s legacy, well, he is remembered fondly by women who were of an impressionable age at the time he was in the eye of the media storm.  And, as his ex-manager put it, “No matter what happened later, he still did something special that few artists have achieved.”