Television: Marquee Moon Front Cover

Television: Marquee Moon

Marquee Moon is the first album recorded by the New York band Television led by guitarists Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd in 1976 through Elektra Records. Although the album was released on February 8, 1977, the band entered the studio and recorded all the songs during September 1976, 37 years ago now.

Television Live at CBGB NYC in 1977

Once Television became one of the most known bands, and with the best reputation of the New York music scene, it was time to record an album. However they decided not to say yes to anyone until they were happy with the result, thereby they rejected offers from several record labels, among which it was Island Records, for whom Brian Eno recorded a few demos already in December 1974, specifically demos of Prove It, Friction, Venus, and Marquee Moon. But as we say, they rejected the offer since they were not at all happy with the sound that Brian Eno obtained; Tom Verlaine said “He recorded us very cold and brittle, no resonance. We’re oriented towards really strong guitar music … sort of expressionistic.” Tom Verlaine and the rest of the band were very sure about it, or at least in their heads, because it was not very understandable that about expressionism.

When Richard Hell, founder and bassist for the first period, left the band (something that for Verlaine seemed did not matter much since at the beginning Hell “looked like the real thing”, but as the band evolved, Richard’s skills did not reach the level of compositions and jam live), and Fred Smith replaced him, the band signed eventually with Elektra Records, to whom Verlaine (and his character), again, made them clear that they did not want any famous producer. They wanted Andy Johns, who although was famous, Richard Lloyd took care to qualify that “Andy has produced some of the great guitar sounds in rock”.

Indeed, Andy Johns, was the engineer of key albums of Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin IV), and The Rolling Stones (Exile on Main Street), among many others, so he took care of recording and production, the latter along with Tom Verlaine. On the other hand, the Elektra Records did not say anything about the budget of the band to record the album, good intuition or risk? In any case they got it right.

The result was labelled by some as post-punk, art-punk by some others, or new wave, or progressive rock, just punk by some others,… anyway, each one can have fun putting the label that want; and why not mix them all together, after all there is some reason in each one of them, but basically it could be appointed as a rock album.

As a curiosity, Billy Ficca (drummer) thought that the first recording of Marquee Moon, registered in one take and which Verlaine refused to re-record saying “forget it” when Andy Johns suggested it, it was just a rehearsal.

Obviously it is inevitable to talk about Television without mentioning their guitars, overwhelming technique and originality. Both guitarists, Tom Verlaine (whose real name is Thomas Miller) and Richard Lloyd, had an extraordinary ability, both in composition and execution, a unique way to play, they understood and blended each other perfectly. Who knows what wonders they could have left us when they were “on top”, if it was not because as so many other bands, ego problems (one of the epidemics of rock and roll and music in general) from both guitarists broke the union, and everyone thought “what a couple of …”.

Tom Verlaine at the Studio during the Marquee Moon RecordingAs for the lyrics, Tom Verlaine had a strong poetry’s influence, especially French poetry, always using a pastoral style, in an urban area (Manhattan), and many other times a maritime imagery (See No Evil, Elevation, Guiding Light, Prove It). Verlaine used to compare the songs to “A little moment of discovery or releasing something or being in a certain time or place and having a certain understanding of something.” In short, he liked puns and double meanings. Again in the words of Verlaine, “You don’t have to say what you mean to get across.”

Despite the fact that the band was formed when the punk movement was emerging and many people classified them within the punk movement, Television after all remained quite apart or at least musically (just need to listen to punk bands from those years and to listen to Television). Sophisticated guitars, with long and dual solos, songs reaching up to 10 minutes long, poetic lyrics…

This is what Tom Verlaine said: “I’ve always thought that we were a pop band. You know, I always thought Marquee Moon was a bunch of cool singles. And then I’d realise, Christ, this song is ten minutes long; with two guitar solos.”

Marquee Moon was one of the most important works of the New York City musical scene on a worldwide scale. Despite the rave reviews received the album was not a commercial success, especially in his own country, although it was sold better in the UK. It had great influence in many other emerging bands in the punk scene. The CBGB of New York, of course, the heart, (they supposedly were the first to perform there), where used to play the Ramones, Talking Heads, Patti Smith (ex-girlfriend of Tom Verlaine), or Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers.

Marquee Moon is a transcendental and highly influential album, one of the best albums in musical history, comparable for instance to the also debut album by The Velvet Underground. Not even they were able to exceed themselves in their later works. I will not mention artists and bands that have subsequently been directly influenced by Marquee Moon because it would fill a few pages.

In 2003 Marquee Moon was reissued again, differences between the original LP? Five bonus tracks, their first single “Little Johnny Jewel“, published two years previously in 1975, alternative versions of See No Evil, Friction, and Marquee Moon, and an instrumental Untitled extracted from the recording sessions for their second album Adventure (1978).

Recorded at A & R Studios, New York City, September 1976. Produced by Andy Johns and Tom Verlaine, Elektra Records.

Personnel:

Tom Verlaine: Lead vocals, guitar (solo on Venus, Friction, Marquee Moon, Prove it, and Torn Curtain), keyboards.

Richard Lloyd: Guitar (solo on See No Evil, Marquee Moon, Elevation, and Guiding Light), vocals.

Fred Smith: Bass, vocals.

Billy Ficca: Drums.

Track Listing:

  1. “See No Evil” 3:53
  2. “Venus” 3:51
  3. “Friction” 4:44
  4. “Marquee Moon” 10:40
  1. “Elevation” 5:07
  2. “Guiding Light” 5:35
  3. “Prove It” 5:02
  4. “Torn Curtain” 6:56
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