When Steve Binder decided to direct the first ever rock concert on film I doubt he knew exactly how important it was. The very rough idea was to put on a rock concert that could be filmed in Santa Monica and then shown in movie theatres across the United States. The concert, which was oddly named the Teenage Awards Music International (T.A.M.I. show), was attended by high school students who were given free tickets by the show’s producers and was meant to showcase music that was important to the American youth.
What was not known at the time, however, was what a vital role most of these musicians would play in the history of rock ‘n’ roll—as would the concert itself. Binder had no idea that he was filming one of the last performances of The Beach Boys before Brian Wilsonʼs breakdown and retirement from touring, as well as James Brown’s first recorded performance. He also didnʼt know that he would help establish one undeniable fact: nobody follows James Brown.
The concert was actually two shows that were filmed on October 28th and 29th, 1964, and was edited into one concert that was later released to theatres. Performances included the likes of The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Lesley Gore, Jan and Dean, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Supremes, The Rolling Stones, and of course, James Brown and the Famous Flames, almost all of which later secured places in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. But there was one occurrence backstage that Keith Richards called the worst mistake of their careers; against their better judgement, The Rolling Stones were going to follow James Brown and the Famous Flames.
The idea for The Rolling Stones to close over James Brown belonged to Binder himself, who later admitted in an interview: “I didn’t even know who James Brown was.” What you have to consider is that most of the performers that were a part of the T.A.M.I. Show were not established superstars at the time. The most well known of the performers at the time was actually Lesley Gore, who at just 18 was fresh off of an impressive run of four top ten singles including ‘Itʼs My Party’, ‘You Donʼt Own Me’, ‘Sheʼs a Fool’, and ‘Judyʼs Turn to Cry’. The Rolling Stones, by comparison, only had four original compositions by the taping, three of which dropped just two weeks earlier on their second US album, 12×5, all of which were relatively forgettable.
James Brown and the Famous Flames were still enjoying the surprise smash success of their release from the previous year, Live at the Apollo, which spent 66 weeks on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart, reaching all the way up to #2. Mick Jagger was very familiar with this album and knew how dynamic Brown was on the stage, but no one had ever recorded James Brown performing on film. America had a taste of James Brown with his Apollo album, now they were hungry for more. James Brown, of course, was more than happy to oblige.
When Jagger was approached about following James Brown, he had some serious reservations. Before Brown hit the stage for his set, he repeatedly warned Steve Binder, “Nobody follows James Brown!” and, according to some accounts, Brown stormed off of the set only to return with a calmer head and agreed to allow the Stones to close the show, it was as if Brown knew that school was now in session. The Stones, readying for their entrance, positioned themselves about twenty feet off of the stage where they could watch Brown’s performance.
The Famous Flames waited on the stage as James Brown casually jogged about 10 feet before exploding into dance moves worthy of an exorcism, little half mash potato moves that catapulted Brown onto one leg that he used to shuffle across the entirety of the stage, before falling right into step with the rest of the flames for ‘Out of Sight’. Featuring multiple dance solos and incorporating a false ending that stops and starts at James Brownʼs command and right on the beat, ‘Out of Sight’ likely dropped the jaws of the awaiting Rolling Stones. Then Brown pulls it back for a soulful rendition of Russ Columboʼs ‘Prisoner of Love’ that could melt glass. The real kicker, however, was what Brown did next, lining up his first-ever ‘cape act’ for the song ‘Please, Please, Please’. For those unfamiliar with this staple of James Brownʼs performances, he repeatedly falls to his knees before a member of the Flames makes their way over to assist a completely overworked Brown, who is then draped with a cape and led off of the stage as the other musicians continue.
Right when you think the show may be over, Brown runs in place and then flings the cape to the floor (on the beat) and makes his way back to the mic. This is a routine Brown used for the next 50 years. As David Remnick of the New Yorker stated: “…in the midst of his own self-induced hysteria, his fit of longing and desire, he drops to his knees, seemingly unable to go on any longer, at the point of collapse, or worse. His backup singers, the Flames, move near, tenderly, as if to revive him, and an offstage aide, Danny Ray, comes on, draping a cape over the great manʼs shoulders. Over and over again, Brown recovers, throws off the cape, defies his near-death collapse, goes back into the song, back into the dance, this absolute abandonment to passion,” in his evaluation of Brown’s act.
But James Brown was not done yet. To close out this amazing set, Brown launched into a version of ‘Night Train’ that feels as though it is at a tempo three times as fast as the original recording. Brown and the Flames frantically thrash to the music until Brown makes his way off stage for two standing ovations. In the 2014 James Brown biopic ‘Get On Up’, which was produced by Mick Jagger, Brown walks by the Rolling Stones on his way off of the stage and says, “Welcome to America.” Only the Stones know if that actually occurred.
Amazingly, all of this footage was shelved after the film left theatres until it was released on home video in 1984 and DVD in 2010. Years later in an interview with Time Magazine, Jagger admitted: “I copied all his moves. I copied everybodyʼs moves. I used to do [Jamesʼ] slide across the stage…When you move laterally from one side of the stage to the other, twisting your foot on one leg. I could do that one. But itʼs a kind of attitude, too, not just a body move. Itʼs a kind of an attitude that he had on stage. You copy it.”
Having seen the footage many times, it always makes me laugh to watch Mick Jagger try to dance a bit like James Brown when they opened their set with ‘Around and Around’ then immediately gives up after shuffling around as though he were being electrocuted. Jagger learned some impressive moves that he eventually crafted into a solid stage presence, he also learned that nobody follows James Brown.