They were originally formed in 1960, and took their long lasting name from the Tam o'shanter style of hat that the group choose to wear on stage. By 1962, they had a hitsingle on Arlen Records. "Untie Me", a Joe South composition, became a Top 20 U.S.R&B success. Follow-up releases largely failed until 1964, when "What Kind Of Fool (Do You Think I Am)", reached the Top 10 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The song spent 3 weeks at number one on the Cashbox R&B charts.
"Hey Girl Don't Bother Me" was also a modest U.S. hit the same year. The Tams had only one further major U.S. hit (in 1968) when "Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy", peaked on the Billboard R&B chart at #26, and subsequently made the UKTop 40 in 1970.
Their 1965 recording "I've Been Hurt" was their biggest regional hit (based on sales and airplay) prior to 1980. To show the importance of regional sales and airplay, fellow beach musicstarsMaurice Williams & the Zodiacs have an RIAAGold Record for Williams' song "May I", that never made the Billboard Hot 100. Many radio stations and DJs consider "I've Been Hurt" to be the biggest selling and most played Tams song, even though it was primarily popular in the southeast (and not recognized as a national hit by Billboard).
However, the group stunned many (including themselves), by flying to the Number one slot in the UK Singles Chart in September 1971, with the re-issue of "Hey Girl Don't Bother Me", thanks to its initial support from the then thriving UK northern soul scene.
They were destined to not chart again until sixteen years later, when a further UK Top 40 entry came about because of the band's association with a dance craze known as the Carolina shag, which featured heavily in the subsequent 1989 film, Shag. It secured a further lifeline to the group, giving The Tams a #21 UK hit with their song, "There Ain't Nothing Like Shaggin'". However, the track was subject to an airplay ban by the BBC because the word "shag" means "to have sexual intercourse" in colloquial British English.
Still quite popular in the Southeastern United States, they continue to record new music and perform at well-attended concerts. In 1999, they were featured performers with Jimmy Buffett on his CD, Beach House on the Moon, and also toured with him around the country.