Pop idols had been lip-synching their hits on American Bandstand since 1957, but on Sept. 16, 1964, live rock-and nothing but live rock-finally came to prime-time TV. Shindig!, produced by Oxford-bred intellectual Jack Good, cannily balanced the rawest rhythms in rock (like the shrieking Little Richard) with the squeakiest of clean teens (Bobby Sherman got his start as a Shindig! regular).
Despite its suicide slot opposite CBS’ top-rated Beverly Hillbillies, the ABC show was an instant hit. ”At the peak of Beatlemania,” recalls host Jimmy / O’Neill, 54, who got the job when Frank Sinatra Jr., among others, spurned it, ”we had no trouble getting those guys for 350 bucks a Beatle.” The Stones came of age as the Fab Four’s dark shadow by snarling ”Satisfaction” for the first time on air.
Shindig! was the missing link between the Golden Age of Television and the day MTV hit pay dirt. ”We took the huge choreographed-production look of The Jackie Gleason Show and turned it into rock & roll,” says O’Neill. The show’s true stars were the anonymous Shindig Dancers (hoofer Teri Garr and assistant choreographer Toni Basil frugged there before fame). Good felt American girls would identify with the beauties better if they had flaws, so he made one dancer don fake braces, and another horn-rimmed glasses.
Two decades later, MTV was slow to air the work of black musicians, but Shindig! dug the roots of rock from the start. Good, who dissed the Beach Boys as ”eunuchs in the Sistine Chapel,” booked blacks so consistently that ABC execs ordered him to cool it, says O’Neill. ”Would you be kind enough to send a memo on that?” Good replied. They wouldn’t. He quit after the first season. ABC proceeded to murder Shindig! in 1965 by booking Zsa Zsa Gabor, Hedy Lamarr, and Boris Karloff as guest hosts.
Shindig! had something the buzziest MTV clips lack: spontaneity. Fans could watch McCartney mouthing lyrics when Lennon held the mike, and Lennon making faces during McCartney’s solos. (Shindig! highlights are available on Rhino Home Video.) Before the show, O’Neill says, Lennon once stomped off the set when an exec demanded he play no new tunes, shouting, ”I don’t have to put up with this s – - for $350!” But he did. In 1964, it didn’t pay not to dig Shindig!