KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Forty Year Friday – TELEVISION “MARQUEE MOON”

Artist: TELEVISION
Album: MARQUEE MOON

[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]

Back in November 2011, after revisiting & writing about the complete discographies of six artists (Van Morrison, Talking Heads, The Band, Roxy Music, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell), I wrote my first “B-Sides The Point” post on the band Television. The quartet of singer/guitarist/keyboardist/songwriter Tom Verlaine, guitarist Richard Lloyd, bassist Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca are generally considered part of the late-‘70s CBGB’s punk scene but, as I wrote in that post, “they were more of an art-rock band that pointed to the New Wave movement which was only a couple of years away.” I made comparisons to earlier artists like The Velvet Underground and The Modern Lovers, contemporaries like Talking Heads, Devo and Tubeway Army (“especially in Verlaine’s nasal, Gary Numan-esque vocal delivery”) and their influence on Violent Femmes. Of course, those comparisons are only points of reference for anyone unfamiliar with this unique band. They began their brief recording career with a classic of that era & one of the best records of 1977, Marquee Moon, an album that deserves its own Forty Year Friday spotlight. Here’s what I had to say about it nearly 6 years ago and, after playing it again for the first time since then, I stand by every word. I hope you agree with this appraisal.

Marquee Moon is one of those rare records that doesn’t include a weak track or even a single wasted note, and should be up there on the list of best debut albums. I should note that Verlaine’s vocals are an acquired taste, so not everyone would love this band, but once you embrace that voice there’s so much to love about this band. The tom tom-driven groove on “See No Evil” owes a debt to Moe Tucker (of The Velvet Underground). The song itself has a youthful energy, a sparse arrangement, and a memorable stop-start chorus. The tempo slows down for “Venus” (not the Shocking Blue/Bananarama song, nor the one Frankie Avalon crooned in the ‘50s), a love song about the strange feelings you get when you meet someone and fall in love (“…like some kind of new drug, my senses are sharp and my hands are like gloves…”). I love the little guitar figure that plays behind the vocals. “Friction” has a great melodic yet angular guitar hook over a loping rhythm, and some great soaring guitar work. If Lou Reed sang in a higher register, this would’ve fit in during his “Rock ‘N’ Roll Animal” era.

The epic, 10+ minutes of “Marquee Moon” really separates them from their punk rock contemporaries. I love the offbeat groove that opens the song, with a hint of reggae influence (although it’s a little more metronomic). It’s got a great climbing guitar pattern at the end of each verse. There’s an extended instrumental section that begins at around 4:30, and I especially enjoyed how Ficca’s drum pattern shifts throughout while keeping a steady rhythm. Things slow down for a minute before returning to the original groove, with the first verse repeated. This song takes the listener on quite a ride. “Elevation” reminds me of a slightly slowed-down version of “The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em)” by The Greg Kihn Band, which wouldn’t be released until 1981. It features a tasty Lloyd guitar solo, great syncopation during the chorus, and some nice hi-hat work by Ficca. “Guiding Light” is a pretty ballad with a lilting melody (especially at “All this night running loud”), and a sweet-sounding guitar solo that complements the melody of the song (a la Bob Seger’s “Mainstreet”).

I really love the stop-start rhythm, with stinging lead guitar, in the chorus of “Prove It” (“Prove it…Just The Facts…The Confidential”). Verlaine plays a Neil Young-esque guitar solo, and also sings some very abstract lyrics (“…the smell of water would resume…”; “…you lose your sense of human…”; “…the world is just a feeling you undertook…”). Who cares what it’s about when the music is so good? Album closer “Torn Curtain” begins with a Ficca drum roll on tuned tom toms (climbing & falling, like a tympani). It’s slow and moody, like one of Richard Thompson’s darker songs (with a solo to match that brilliant guitarist). The main hook appears in the chorus vocals on “Tears…Tears…Rolling back the years” (and later, “Years, flowing by like tears”). It’s a powerful end to a phenomenal album. [Note: The 2003 Rhino reissue includes both parts of their earlier single, “Little Johnny Jewel.” It has some cool, dissonant guitar playing, perhaps influenced by Frank Zappa or Captain Beefheart, and I love the two 3-note descending guitar figures during the verses. It’s nice to have this addendum, but it isn’t essential to enjoying the original album].

 

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24 comments on “Forty Year Friday – TELEVISION “MARQUEE MOON”

  1. kevin
    April 28, 2017

    Seminal guitar album. What a treat to listen to Verlaine and Lloyd play off one another with their inventive melodies and counter-melodies. I could listen to the title track for hours on end.

    Liked by 2 people

    • 1537
      April 28, 2017

      Hear hear!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I feel the same way about this album (and that song), Kevin. Of course that’s not surprising considering our track record of music in common.

      Like

      • kevin
        April 29, 2017

        Btw, interesting that you made that Bob Seger comparison. I listened to “Mainstreet” just last week for the first time in ages. One of the sweetest guitar licks ever. It’s one of those riffs that makes you (me) feel something, immediately.

        Like

      • I couldn’t agree more regarding the sweet guitar lick in “Mainstreet.” Such a classic, but for some reason not a staple of classic rock radio. I guess they’ve boiled Seger’s career down to a handful of songs, and this one didn’t make the cut. That’s been the problem with commercial radio for so long with most artists.

        Like

  2. wardo
    April 28, 2017

    This is one of those albums that I bring up when asked “what’s the album you love that most people haven’t even heard”. I think I may have first come across it 30 years ago — back when 1977 was a lifetime away. Good one Rich!

    P.S. http://everybodysdummy.blogspot.com/2011/08/television-1-marquee-moon.html

    Like

    • It’s ironic that when you first heard this album it was only about a decade old but was already gaining in stature, and now it’s a stone-cold classic even beyond music critics. At this point I’m surprised when I find out someone hasn’t heard Marquee Moon, or even heard OF Television. Thanks for sharing your review here. I hope some of my readers will click through to read your appraisal. I’m glad we’re in complete agreement on this one. Thanks, Wardo.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I remember your excellent review of this album, Ovidiu. Thanks for sharing the link here so others can find it. If we point just one listener in the direction of Marquee Moon then our work here is complete. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Alyson
    April 29, 2017

    Well – no long wordy post from me this week as Television were just not on my radar in 1977 although it is obvious from reading reviews such as yours over the years that they were a band of great quality and talent. After reading this I will make a point of giving them some long overdue attention. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Like

    • Hi Alyson. I’m not surprised that this wasn’t a hit with you. I’m not sure whose radar it was on at the time other than people in the US who listened to punk & underground music. I’m not the only one who now considers this a near-perfect record so I hope it lives up to the hype whenever you check it out.

      I see I’ve missed a few of your recent posts, which I was able to scan through but I hope to read them in more detail soon. As Booker T. & The MG’s said, time is tight…but I’m making an effort to stay connected with my favorite blogs while maintaining my own.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        April 29, 2017

        I obviously know how highly regarded Television were but missed out there for some reason.

        Time is indeed tight so no problem about visiting my place – a tricky balance. For info I did include the Newhart theme for Vermont though! Fitted in well.

        Like

      • I’m glad my Vermont suggestion at least received honorable mention. Looking forward to reading that post (and others) when time permits.

        Like

  4. stephen1001
    April 29, 2017

    “Who cares what it’s about when the music is so good?” – though I admire a well written lyric, I find I often have that outlook. And the music is very good here!

    Like

    • I feel the same way about lyrics, Geoff. The best lyricists have a way of making the words stand out, but more often than not it’s the music that hooks me. I”m more likely to listen to great music with mediocre lyrics than the other way around.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. keepsmealive
    April 29, 2017

    I love every second of this thing. Yes yes YES!

    I even wrote about it, if you don’t mind a wee bit of shameless self-promotion…

    https://keepsmealive.wordpress.com/2016/10/21/television-marquee-moon/

    Like

    • Glad we agree on this one, Aaron. I can’t believe I missed your post on Marquee Moon. You nailed it in a lot fewer words than I could. Well done, sir. And no worries about the self-promotion. Always happy to share the opinions of my favorite bloggers with my readers. And you weren’t the first to do so here. This is quite a popular album within our blogging community.

      Like

      • keepsmealive
        April 30, 2017

        Thanks Rich! It’s actually difficult to write about this album using more than superlatives, but you nailed it big-time. It’s just one of those records folks need to HEAR and then they’ll KNOW, you know? 🙂

        Like

      • You know & I know that they’ll know, you know? Hehe.

        Like

      • keepsmealive
        May 4, 2017

        I know!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: An Epic Record. | your tuesday afternoon alternative

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