They were the first band to call the infamous CBGB in Lower Manhattan home and ignited the New York punk scene, but it took about three years for Television to release an album.
Several CBGB peers beat them to the punch. Patti Smith dropped Horses in 1975, while Blondie and the Ramones had their self-titled debuts hit shelves a year later.
But Television’s 1977 debut, Marquee Moon, just might be the most timeless of the bunch. Despite its long road to completion, Marquee Moon remains rock solid to this day, a collection of eight confounding, challenging and inspiring songs that are punk at their core but meander into jammy psychedelia and the rattle and fuzz of late-‘60s garage.
There’s a lot going on here, and nowhere is that more apparent than with the album’s title track and crown jewel.
Written by frontman Tom Verlaine and produced by Andy Johns (the late brother of Glyn Johns, who produced albums from the likes of Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones and the Who), “Marquee Moon” clocks in at a whopping 10:39 (and regularly extended far beyond that when played live).
The first 20 droning seconds are akin to a religious experience, something that could be looped to infinity and hypnotize a sweaty punk congregation. Verlaine lays down an understated repetitive rhythm track—four strums of a B minor, four of a D5, over and over and over.
Guitarist Richard Lloyd cuts in with a double-stop guitar flourish that tightly zigs where Verlaine zags. Fred Smith then adds an efficient but rumbling bass line for a few bars just before Billy Ficca joins the party with a kinetic drum fill.
Keep in mind, this is all in the first minute of a 10-plus song, and that sequence occurs two more times throughout its epic length.
And each time, Verlaine and Lloyd build and build towards a chorus that hits you like a crashing wave and recedes into a ripping solo. (Unusually, especially for the burgeoning post-punk scene, the solos were actually credited in the Marquee Moon liner notes.)
Lloyd’s solo after the second chorus is a beautiful masterclass in staying in step with the melody while still adding enough swaggering embellishments to cut its own path through the song.
Verlaine’s turn comes after the third chorus in a much longer, meandering solo that recalls Jerry Garcia’s improvised leads. The Jazzmaster devotee takes his time in ratcheting up the tension with a run based on the jazzy mixolydian scale as his bandmates get progressively louder and more frantic.
Everything comes to a head at the 8:42 mark, when guitar, bass and drums collide, leaving behind shimmering piano and guitar twinkling briefly before the guys jump back into one final verse to close things out.
Couple the ebbs and flows of this near 11-minute wall of cascading sound with Verlaine’s twangy voice and dark lyrics about urban life and “Marquee Moon” takes on a near-Homeric breadth.
It is probably the best representation of what set Television apart from their three-chord Bowery counterparts. Both Verlaine and Lloyd were adventurous as guitarists on the burgeoning Big Apple punk landscape, from the interlocking guitar chords on the intro to the snaking solos.
The fact that they nailed all of them—from gloriously messy to perfectly precise—makes this lengthy opus a scene-defining single.
One-Track Tone Tip
If you have a pedal board that looks like the console of the Millennium Falcon or insist on implementing copious after-effects to your recordings, “Marquee Moon” is a great example of how you can get bold sound with just a guitar and amp.
As Lloyd commented on his personal website, neither he nor Verlaine employed effects on the album. Verlaine and Lloyd's guitars were recorded and multi-tracked to left and right channels, and the final recordings were left uncompressed, effect-free.
“When Andy Johns began recording us, I suggested that I could double my parts. I got this idea from both the Phil Spector productions and also from the Beatles,” Lloyd wrote. “I thought that this doubling of certain of my rhythm parts and of my lead solos would lend some additional credibility and phenomena to the record. Andy was quite surprised that I had this skill, and Tom enjoyed the subtle chorusing, which was much more pleasant than any kind of chorus effect. We used no effects whatsoever on Marquee Moon—just guitars into amplifiers.”
As for gear, Verlaine primarily used a 1958 Jazzmaster with a sunburst finish, anodized aluminum pickguard and two single-coil soapbar pickups, while Lloyd largely played a ’61 Stratocaster with jumbo frets, both typically through Fender Super Reverbs.
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