Tuesday, February 8, 1977

Television released Marquee Moon

First posted 2/8/2012; updated 2/2/2020.

Marquee Moon

Television


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Released: February 8, 1977


Peak: -- US, 28 UK, -- CN, -- AU


Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US and UK)


Genre: punk rock


Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.)

  1. See No Evil [3:56]
  2. Venus [3:48]
  3. Friction [4:43]
  4. Marquee Moon [9:58] (4/1/77, #30 UK)
  5. Elevation [5:08]
  6. Guiding Light [5:36] (Tom Verlaine/Richard Lloyd)
  7. Prove It [5:04] (7/22/77, #25 UK)
  8. Torn Curtain [7:00]

All songs written by Tom Verlaine unless noted otherwise.


Total Running Time: 45:54


The Players:

  • Tom Verlaine (vocals, guitar, keyboards)
  • Richard Lloyd (guitar)
  • Fred Smith (bass)
  • Billy Ficca (drums)

Rating:

4.743 out of 5.00 (average of 19 ratings)


Quotable: “A trailblazing album — it's impossible to imagine post-punk soundscapes without it.” – Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide


Awards:

About the Album:

Marquee Moon is “a trailblazing album,” AMG a “classic bit of punk rock.” AZ It “paved the way for every ambitious rock record to follow in the next 40 years.” OB It is “a sinuous, entrancing and gorgeous debut” ZG and “a revolutionary album, but it’s a subtle, understated revolution.” AMG

While “it’s impossible to imagine post-punk soundscapes without it,” AMG Television “never officially considered themselves a part of punk.” OB “Their predecessors…had fused blues structures with avant-garde flourishes” AMG and their “peers turned up the distortion, revved up the tempo, and stripped their songs down to tight three-chord anthems.” AZ However, Television’s sound is built on “an incongruous, soaring amalgam of genres.” RS “They were the King Crimson to hard rock’s Led Zeppelin, Funkadelic to soul’s Otis Redding.” OB

“Mercurial frontman” PF Tom Verlaine, who “took his surname from a renowned French poet,” OB had a “love of raw garage rock and challenging free jazz.” PF As such, “Marquee Moon is comprised…of tense garage rockers that spiral into heady intellectual territory.” AMG It is as “exhilarating in its ambitions as the Ramones’ debut was in its simplicity.” RS Television “completely strip away any sense of swing or groove” AMG and smartly “avoid the cursory punk snarl” TM by employing “a radical rethinking of rock guitar.” TM

Verlaine and lead guitarist Richard Lloyd didn’t “bludgeon listeners” TM with their guitar interplay, but used the two guitars to, as Lloyd said, “play rhythm and melody back and forth.” TM “Verlaine would establish a rhythmic phrase, against which Lloyd would splatter defiant, often deliriously dissonant, melodies.” TM

Background

In the early ‘70s, Verlaine and bassist Richard Hell became friends in New York and formed the band Neon Boys with drummer Billy Ficca. They reformed as Television in late 1973 with guitarist Richard Lloyd. Verlaine reportedly thought Hell upstaged him with his frenzied stage presence and sometimes refused to play his songs. Hell eventually left the group, replaced by Fred Smith, previously with Blondie.

Robert Christgau of the Voice declared Television the “most interesting of New York’s underground rock bands.” BW-119 They trekked across what Rolling Stone’s Ken Tucker called “the same cluttered, hostile terrain as bands like the Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls.” OB They were one of the first bands to play CBGB’s in 1974, ahead of other club luminaries such as Blondie, the Ramones, Patti Smith, and the Talking Heads. Note: as famed as the club became, not everyone was a fan. NME’s Charles Shaar Murray called it “a toilet. An impossibly scuzzy little club buried somewhere in the sections of the Village that the cab-drivers don’t like to drive through.” BW-117

Television “distinguished themselves as the math nerds of punk,” OB gaining the attention of Brian Eno, who’d recently bolted from Roxy Music for a solo career. They recorded a demo with him, but weren’t satisfied with the sound. They ended up watching their peers land record deals, while Television didn’t release their first full-length LP until 1977.

Production

The album was recorded over three weeks in November 1976 at A & R Studios, where legends such as John Coltrane, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Velvet Underground had recorded. BW-156 It was produced by Andy Johns, who’d worked with Led Zeppelin, Mott the Hoople, and the Rolling Stones. Television wanted to work with him because he kept arrangements minimal and “the result would approximate their live sound.” BW-157

The band initially found themselves at odds with Johns. Lloyd said, “he was used to being with people who are also rock ‘n roll…You know: you’ve got a 2 o’clock start, and the engineer shows up at 4:30, and the guitarist shows up at 5 and the singer rolls in at midnight. But Television were not like that. We were punctual. And serious.” OB Meanwhile, Johns said, “My first impression was that they couldn’t play and couldn’t sing and the music was very bizarre.” BW-157

“Once they got on the same page, Johns and Television created a literal master’s class in the kind of crisp yet sharp production that enhanced the angularity of their rhythms without losing their sense of melody and pop appeal.” OB

The album was “twice the length of your conventional punk album, the final running time coming in at 46 minutes (and more than 10 of those minutes are reserved for the title track alone).” OB

Reception

Verlaine supplied “an excellent set of songs that conveyed a fractured urban mythology unlike any of his contemporaries.” AMG The lyrics were “fueled by puns and double-entendres, filled with riddles and word games, inside jokes.” BW-161 The songs “were thought-provoking, memorable, danceable” AZ and “sounded as if they might have come from a Mike Hammer pulp detective novel.” RS Peter Laughner said Verlaine’s “singing voice has this marvelous quality of slurring all dictions into what becomes distortions of actual lines.” BW-161

The rest of the group “flesh out Verlaine’s poetry into sweeping sonic epics.” AMG via “long, interweaving instrumental sections.” AMG “There is simply not a bad song on the entire record.” AMG

Clinton Heylin, author of Babylon’s Burning: From Punk to Garage, says this is one of American punk’s four “most enduring landmarks;” BW-9 the others being Patti Smith’s Horses, Pere Ubu’s The Modern Dance, and Richard Hell and the Voidoid’s Blank Generation. BW-9 New Musical Express’s Nick Kent called it “a 24-carat inspired work of pure genius, a record finely in tune and sublimely arranged with a whole new slant on dynamics.” PF However, not everyone was a fan. Critic Lester Bangs said, they “reminded me so much of the Grateful Dead, just boring solos, y’know.” PF

“See No Evil”

“One of the great starts to a rock ‘n’ roll album ever.” BW-163 “Like most Television songs this one starts with an extended introduction, a sense of anticipation, hesitation, building tension.” BW-164 “The music is repetitive, churning, the sounds of machinery.” BW-164 “The territory we’re in is nervous, angular.” BW-165 The song is about “a desire to exit, a fantasy of escaping to the hills.” BW-165

“Venus”

“If the opening track suggested urban out-of-doors, on ‘Venus’ the landscape is explicity defined as New York’s.” BW-169 The song dates back to even before the Neon Boys. Its “opening structure lends to storytelling, stage-setting: here the streets are bright, the nocturnal atmosphere established by contrast, as if you need to escape the more brightly lit parts of town and find some darker quarter downtown in which to take solace.” BW-170 Solace, however, is elusive considering the song’s central refrain: “I fell into the arms of Venus de Milo,” a reference to the famous statue which has no arms at all. BW-174

“Friction”

As its title would suggest, the third song offers “counterpoint and conflict.” BW-174 “Like the music’s evocation of train crossings and warning bells, the lyrics tell us we’re in dangerous territory.” BW-176 In one example of wordplay, Verlaine sings “you complain of my DICK…shun.,” illustrating that “words (diction) are no substitute for nagging sexual desires unevenly fulfilled.” BW-176

“Marquee Moon”

The title cut, “featuring an exploratory Verlaine guitar solo,” PF clocks in around ten minutes, “miles away from the Ramones’ minimalist rock antics or Blondie’s ironic pop moves.” PF It has been “routinely praised…as one of the great guitar songs of all time.” BW-177 “For precedents, we’d have to go back to the expansive West Coast psychedelia of the Paul Butterfield Band’s “East-West” or even the Grateful Dead’s twin epics ‘Dark Star’ and “The Other One.’” PF

“Elevation”

Critic Nick Kent called the song “beautiful, proudly contagious with a chorus that lodges itself in your subconscious like a bullet in the skull.” BW-183 There’s a rumour that Verlaine substitutes the word “television” for the word “elevation” in the refrain, making for an interesting meditation on the line “elevation (Television) don’t go to my head.” BW-183

The song also has an interesting story regarding its recording. Lloyd said, “We wanted to rent a rotating speaker to get the sound…but the rental people wanted way too much. So Andy came up with an idea. He took a microphone, and while I did the guitar solo to ‘Elevation,’ he stood in front of me in the studio, swinging this microphone around his head like a lasso. He nearly took my fucking nose off. I was backing up while I was playing.” OB

“Guiding Light”

This is a “quietly soulful tune that glimmers through the darkness like a distant lighthouse.” BW-186 Everything on ‘Guiding Light’ – the slower tempo, the delicate guitar work and drums, lights bells that chim in the background, the piano part dangling above the chorus – suggests and earnest attempt to escape the urban out-of-doors and retreat.” BW-186

“Prove it”

This is a “faithful fan favorite since the band first performed it in 1974.” BW-187 This is “one of the clearest examples of how intensely this band can focus together, put each part into a perfectly moving whole.” BW-187-8 The song’s “opening over a vaguely Latin rhythm…references the Brill Building’s golden era, the sound Leiber and Stoller brought to the Drifters and, later, the Shangri-La’s, or that Phil Spector created for the Crystals or the Ronettes.” BW-188 However, the song “can’t be reduced to Brill Building nostalgia or pastiche…we’re on much more tormented ground.” BW-189

“Torn Curtain”

This “is the one song fans of this album divide over. It drags. It’s melodramatic. It certainly could have been sacrificed to make room for other, more popular songs from Television’s live set.” BW-192 Nonetheless, “there’s something thematically appropriate about finishing the album with a funeral dirge.” BW-192

The title references “an apocalyptic miracle in the wake of Jesus’ crucifixion” in which, as Matthew 27:51 says, “At the moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split.” BW-192 However, it can also be viewed as a reference to live theater and the notion that a torn curtain would let the audience see behind the scenes. BW-193


Notes:

A 2003 reissue added alternate versions of “See No Evil,” “Friction,” and “Marquee Moon” as well as an untitled instrumental and the single “Little Johnny Jewel (Parts 1 & 2).”

Review Sources:

Friday, February 4, 1977

Fleetwood Mac released Rumours: February 4, 1977

image from fleetwoodmac-uk.com


Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.) Second Hand News / Dreams (4/16/77, #1 HT, #24 UK, #11 AC, sales: 0.5 m, air: 5.0 m) / Never Going Back Again / Don’t Stop (4/30/77, #3 HT, #32 UK, #22 AC, air: 3.0 m) / Go Your Own Way (1/8/77, #10 HT, #38 UK, #45 AC, air: 1.0 m) / Songbird / The Chain (10/25/97, #30 AR) / You Make Loving Fun (10/15/77, #9 HT, #45 UK, #28 AC, air: 2.0 m) / I Don’t Want to Know / Oh Daddy / Gold Dust Woman

Sales (in millions): 19.0 US, 3.14 UK, 40.0 world

Peak: 131 US, 11 UK

Rating:


Review: “Intense, internal drama always adds a kick to a final piece of work…[and] few bands can equal Fleetwood Mac…[for] their angst [that] gave us an album that defined a decade.” DV There was bound to be some adjustment after the immense success of the 1975 Fleetwood Mac album, which saw Californians Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks come in as newbies to the band. Since its roots in the late-1960s, the band had slowly transformed from the British blues-rock band conceived by Mick Fleetwood and John McVie into “crisp, professional soft-rock.” DW

As for the band’s internal conflicts, Mick Fleetwood said, It would “take us almost a year, during which we spoke to each other in clipped, civil tones while sitting in small, airless studios listening to each other’s songs about our own shattered relationships.’” CRS “Keyboardist Christine McVie sparred with husband/bassist John, and singer Stevie Nicks scrapped with boyfriend/guitarist Lindsay Buckingham.” CDU In addition, “enormous amounts of cocaine were consumed by musicians and engineers, destroying their perspective and slowing the work to a snail’s pace” CRS

“The resulting romantic pressure-cooker” AZ produced “a tour de force” BN “that even the very L.A. production can’t smother.” TL “The two couples confess, blame, sigh and ride a deep, chugging groove” RS which made Rumours “the ultimate hangover album for the lovestruck.” DV “Though they wanted to kill each other, they still wanted to sound damn good while they were doing it.” DV This was “different from all other easy-listening rock, give or take an ancient harmony or two.” RC It “was packed with great pop smarts;” DV “every song is catchy and clever.” DW “Its brainy guitar solos were rather more frequent than those of other Southern California sunny soft-rock outfits.” RS

It doesn’t hurt that “they’ve got three melodist-vocalists on the job” RC and that “the cute-voiced woman writes and sings the tough lyrics and the husky-voiced woman the vulnerable ones.” RC In addition, “Buckingham pushed the production into a magnificent combination of intricate and spare.” RS In addition there is his “precise guitar, and the taut blues rhythms of John McVie and Fleetwood.” TL “The ensemble playing, the elastic rhythms, and lush harmonies…transform the material into classic FM fare” AZ and make the album “consistently memorable” AMG – “a milestone in classic rock.” GS

Dreams

“Each songwriter makes his or her presence known.” AZ Stevie Nicks’ “folkish Gold Dust WomanAMG “casts a great spell” DV and gives the album its “most chilling” DV moment while “the melancholy hit Dreams made it quite clear just how much depth and substance [she] was capable of.” AMG “Her slightly hoarse, ‘magic’ voice [does] wonders to the song.” GS “‘Here you go again,’ breathed Stevie Nicks…‘you say you want your freedom.’ The emotional weariness captured in that line suffuses the album, notwithstanding the upbeat melodies and pristine, daring production.” BN

Go Your Own Way

Buckingham contributes “harder-driving” DV and “deceptively simple pop songs” AZ with “self-depreciating lyrics” DV that “reveal a complex account of their despair.” DV Second Hand News, with its “great, galloping guitar sound” DV “sounds very close to [the previous album’s] ‘Monday Morning’ but…is actually better because it has some tremendous acoustic playing and a lot of silly happy noises.” GS Both it and Never Going Back Again “go from anger to humor to insecureness.” DV “Arguably Buckingham’s greatest track” BN is Go Your Own Way, “a drum-driven cry at the death of love” BN featuring “fiery vocals” CDU and “one of his finest guitar solos.” RV

Don’t Stop

Christine McVie turns in “fast, joyful, optimistic pop” GS and “ultra-catchy slogans” AZ on tunes such as “Don’t Stop, which President Bill Clinton used as his campaign theme song in 1992.” AMG “Smiley-face ballads Songbird and Oh DaddyRS “sound nothing like the boggy, all-too-identic kind of sentimental slush that marred so many of her earlier compositions.” GS The “beautifully understated…You Make Loving Fun,” CDU which “has a steady, disco-ish beat (a very rare thing for Christine)” GS and “optimistic tones…[which] perfectly show a renewed sense of love. It’s one of Christine McVie’s shining moments in the band.” DV

You Make Loving Fun

The Chain, written collectively, is the Mac at their most dramatic.” AZ It is “the full-band invocation of coming darkness and cramped emotional interdependence.” RS It “begins as a slow dirge simply damning the lies of another, before surging into the angst-filled refrain, ‘Chains keep us together.’” RV It is “angry and menancing [and] beautifully constructed.” GS “It all works perfectly…a sort of tennis match between lovers.” DV


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