Marquee Moon

Television

Elektra, 1977

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/11/2006

This could very well be the best guitar rock album you never heard.

Television was part of the new wave of American punks who got their start at CBGB's in New York, but this is one of the most un-punk albums of that genre. Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd share the blame/credit for this; they are guitar heroes trapped in Velvet Underground bodies.

Indeed, punk is not supposed to have long songs, guitar solos, melody or introspective lyrics. Patti Smith and Television were the main rebels against the punk rebel stance (making them true rebels, when you think about it). There are very few punk albums in history that dare to be creative, and even fewer that combine classic rock with the new direction punk was taking in 1977.

But Television's members were not the sort of party-rock punks Van Halen's members were; instead of singing about beautiful girls and tequila, they take the Dylan/Lou Reed approach, singing about the Venus de Milo statue and loneliness. Not exactly conventional themes, but then again Television was not a conventional band for the brief time their star burned.

In fact, the title track is a ten-minute tour de force that showcases this band's jamming abilities, but the gentle meandering of the Grateful Dead is replaced by Television's dual guitar muscle, a lean and spare sound that, when interspersed with some amazing solos by Verlaine and Lloyd, adds up to one of the great songs in rock history. It works because of a basic foundation -- a two-note chorus in one speaker, a couple high chords in the other, and a solid rhythm foundation -- which is then built on with solo after solo. The lyrics are almost an afterthought but showcase Verlaine's idiosyncratic spirit: "Life in the hive puckered up my night / the kiss of death, the embrace of life / there I stand 'neath the marquee moon, just waiting." nbtc__dv_250

Television owes as much to Moby Grape as it does to the Stooges and the Rolling Stones, the latter band being a particularly heavy influence on the "Wild Horses" electric rewrite "Guiding Light." The opening "See No Evil" immediately establishes the twin-guitar attack, an insanely catchy riff immediately hooking the listener and the muscular sound keeping them there.

Punk never really cared about the blues, but Verlaine pays his debt here on "Friction," which recalls the old days of Detroit rock set to some killer solos and -- if you can believe -- yet another catchy riff that underpins the song. Most of these songs, in fact, begin with a simple riff, become anchored by Fred Smith's bass and Billy Ficca's drums and then give the guitarists room to solo.

But unlike other guitar heroes, the solos always fit in the context of the song, and the song as a whole is what comes first. It's the sort of democracy that fueled some of the great jazz albums; maybe not coincidentally, the band wanted to record with engineer Rudy Van Gelder, who worked with Coltrane on his classic A Love Supreme.

The band's lean, slightly nihilistic sound is very reminiscent of the Velvet Underground, particularly "Prove It" and "Venus," but any time things get bleak a guitar solo comes in to save the day. The band almost tops the title track with the closer "Torn Curtain," an ominous slow rocker that is able to create a mood with just a few choice notes, a mood that draws you in and lets you really feel before fading to black, taking your soul with it. By that point, you wonder where the hell this CD has been all your life.

This is an album that has proved very influential on modern rock and on the post-punk that followed it. Critics often praise this one to high heaven, and in this case I agree with them. Marquee Moon deserves a lot better recognition than it has received and is one of the best unsung albums of the '70s. Crime that it's never been on the marquee like it deserved to be.

Rating: A-

User Rating: A


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