Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
Television was the first artist to get a B-Sides The Point feature at KamerTunesBlog, as their brief 3-album discography didn’t warrant a multi-part series as I had done with previous artists. I also included their debut release in my 2017 Forty Year Friday series about my favorite albums of 1977. So here they are once again, since Marquee Moon is a one-of-a-kind classic that should be on any list of all-time best debut albums. As I’ve previously written, 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 they were more of an art-rock band that pointed to the New Wave movement which was only a couple of years away. See below for more detailed comments about this record.
For more information on this series, please read the opening paragraph of the first post, which featured the debut album from Led Zeppelin.
Their first album, Marquee Moon (1977), 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].
Television seems like a band that might have been too progressive for punks and too punk for classic rockers, but I think any open-minded music fan should find a lot to love here. Who else loves Marquee Moon as much as (or even more than) I do?