Marquee Moon (1977): on vinyl, start-to-finish
In the land of the sordid hipsters of America, a new sound was produced in a small bar in East Village, Manhattan.
Television was a group started in New York City, a central pillar in early punk scene hosted by Hilly Kristal in his bar, CBGB.
Originally intended for country, bluegrass and blues, the artists jamming at the music club deviated from the original vision of Kristal.
Edgy, artistic bands like Blondie, the Ramones and the Talking Heads started playing what would later be coined as punk-rock. Punk-rock was defined by speed and minimalism within the music, fused with nihilistic themes and unconventional melodies.
One album in particular seems to capture a moment of history and brings the sounds and energy of the CBGB scene into a well-produced record.
In 1976, Television sought to record its first album. Note that a general understanding of punk-rock had already been established at the time. Patti Smith’s Horses was released in 1975, formulating the aggression of hard-rock with the spirit of Bob Dylan’s poetic songwriting. Then, the Ramones had put out its second album with their 2-minute headbangers. Introspective and thoughtful, Blondie had finished its debut album prior to Television’s debut album. The culture of punk-rock had been fully formed, dominated by power chords, eccentric lyrics and melodramatic delivery.
Slightly diverging from the brief punk tradition before them, the band Television borrowed a page from the avant-garde, art-rock strains of the Velvet Underground.
When combining the two ideals, Marquee Moon resulted in 1977, ushering in a new era of punks and indie rockers. The album is both artistically and culturally innovative. British music critic Tony Fletcher calls the album, “a new dawn in rock music.” Undoubtedly, Marquee Moon is a glimpse into the times, of punk subculture, waiting to be found by adolescent record-shop goers, suffering from teen-angst, years after its ’77 release.
As if it were a vinyl, imagine a needle is sprung into the grooves of Marquee Moon by Television and slowly unraveled in the room before you.
1. “See No Evil”
The album opens with this track, which features multiple innovations for the introduction.
In a general sense, the concept of modern art is meant to exhibit experimentation. It holds notions like tradition at a distance and intends to challenge old ways of thinking. Television does exactly that in the vocals of, “See No Evil.”
With his songwriting, Tom Verlaine unveils an interesting strategy only a handful of vocalists could pull off during the 70s-punk scene.
For one, Verlaine’s vocal track delivers an explosion of whiny angst like paint spattered on a canvas. Truly, he makes a modern-art painting with his word.
For two, Verlaine briefly reads French poetry, an act reminiscent of singer David Byrne of the Talking Heads.
Among the musical elements include winding, repetitive guitar licks and a catchy guitar solo in the middle of the track.
Full of emotion, the second track is called “Venus.”
The outward guitars give the song lyrical depth. Smack-dab in the middle of the song an experimental, very indie-rock guitar solo ensues.
Several guitars on top of each other create a single melody which creates an unconventional aesthetic in “Venus.”
Perhaps the punkiest track on the album, “Friction,” written by Thomas Miller provides blatant aggression underneath a layer of submissive passivity.
There is a double-guitar dynamic at play, leading the mind down two different avenues at the same time. Guitar solos weave in-and-out throughout the duration of the track, giving the song some substance.
In the lyrics, the songwriter again appeals to sentiments of not being understood. Teenagers across the world can relate to Verlaine when he utters verses like,
“Well, I don’t wanna grow up,
There’s too much contradiction.”
Verlaine goes on and contradicts himself, cleverly playing into the song’s idea of friction. In addition, this sense of embracing feelings of angst comes into mind. The approach allows the singer to be the voice of punk subculture when he continues the verse,
“And too much friction (Friction!)
But I dig friction (Friction!)
You know I’m crazy ’bout fiction (Friction!)”
4. Marquee Moon
The 10-minute composition “Marquee Moon” is deservingly the signature song of the album, granted in its title.
In this masterpiece, Verlaine writes a poem where he speaks about an event that doubled the darkness in his life. He creates these poetic images with his metaphors like the lightning striking itself and the sound of the rain bringing back the memory of the event.
Ooh, how the darkness doubled
Lightning struck itself
I was listening
Listening to the rain
I was hearing
Hearing something else”
Verlaine creates images of the loneliness of urban life. He once told a reporter from Rolling Stone that this song is “ten minutes of urban paranoia.”
Musically, the band uses the instrumental “Marquee Moon” by the Kronos Quartet as a general reference, meanwhile improvising several guitar solos.
Sonically, this track sums up the album in one improvised take. Deep, insightful poetry fused with well-produced guitars and drums. It tells a tale with each and every note, keeping in line with the record’s mantra.
This song was recorded at A&R Recording in New York City as is most of the album. It was written by Tom Verlaine and features guitar-playing by Richard Lloyd.
The punky drum track was recorded by the group’s drummer Billy Ficca.
Verlaine writes in the chorus, “elevation don’t go to my head.” It’s a quirky use of innuendo delivered with a defiant attitude. Again, two lead guitars on top of each other keep the audience interested in what Verlaine has to say.
A love song, “Guiding Light” gives a human aspect to the album revealing the group’s reputation as true romantics, rather than de-evolved robots.
Do we part like the seas?
The roaring shells,
The drifting of the leaves.”
The raw, sensory imagery gives this song poetic appeal, following what groups like the Patti Smith Group were doing in the CBGB scene.
Slightly more upbeat, this tune sounds influenced from Jamaica, a little island of innovation, where tons of reggae records were being produced at the time. Many punks, especially in the U.K., were inspired by reggae songs partially because of their spiritual and political appeal. Since punk is so heavy, reggae served as the counterweight to the aggression of punk music.
Within the framework of future influences, Tom Verlaine’s performance on vocals very ostensibly would influence indie-rock bands later to come in the 1980s like the Pixies.
A bit more frantic, this track leaves the listener feeling quite melancholy, as the writer’s image of tears hails throughout the chorus.
It is about 7 minutes long, and a guitar-solo wails toward the denouement of the album, as the power ballad comes to a close.
The song fades out as the listeners step away from the turntable, ready to return to their mundane lives after satisfying teenage feelings of anguish after about 47 minutes of Television’s punkadelic, artistic masterpiece.