So, I learned something new today. I learned that today marks the 40th anniversary of the release of Television‘s debut release, Marquee Moon. You think you know a thing or two about a given subject or topic and then you find out there’s a big gap in your knowledge of a thing. I’ve got over 7500 albums in my collection and I’d heard of and seen numerous references to Marquee Moon, but somehow, I’d never heard it before. That changed today.
To give credit where it’s due, I should mention that this post was inspired by an article on Pitchfork that discussed the evolution of the album’s title track. It piqued my interest, particularly references to punk, CBGB, The Ramones, Blondie. My first takeaway from listening to this record today is that I don’t entirely get the punk angle. I get that it came from that scene and they were part of that movement, but the music doesn’t sound like what I think of as punk rock. Maybe that’s the problem with trying to hyper-categorize music (something I try strenuously to avoid). To me, this just sounded like… well, like rock-and-roll and pop and garage and jazz and some other stuff thrown in there. Maybe it’s the lack of adherence to one style throughout the record that gets it lumped in with punk rock.
Taken as a whole, the record seems both adrift and nocturnal. Tom Verlaine‘s lyrics speak to displacement, an inability to fit in, the rampant guitar solos throughout the record furthering the feeling of detachment. And then, of course, the massive title cut in the middle of the album, a nearly-eleven minute opus full of nighttime imagery: “I remember how the darkness doubled / I recall lightning struck itself / I was listening, listening to the rain / I was hearing, hearing something else…” offset by a five minute instrumental jam in the middle of the song. It made for a powerful first listen.
One of the biggest things that struck me about Marquee Moon is picking up on influences – influences on the band as well as picking up on who they’ve influenced in turn. The aforementioned instrumental segment in “Marquee Moon” sounded like The Doors to me. As soon as the first vocals in “See No Evil” started, my first thought was, “Hm, so that’s why Gordon Gano sings the way he does with Violent Femmes.” Then there’s the massive drums and bass in this song from Billy Ficca and Fred Smith respectively that made me think of Devo (can’t say exactly why, but that’s what I thought of). What stuck out when I heard this song – this album – for the first time is how much they’re responsible for power-pop. For me, it’s impossible to listen to this and not hear their influence echoed back from the future by millennial bands like Arctic Monkeys, OK Go, Franz Ferdinand, The Wombats, as well as more direct first-generation influence on bands like Echo & The Bunnymen, R.E.M., and Pixies.
Along with “See No Evil,” tracks like “Friction” (which sounds like The Cramps if Lux Interior was a little less scary) and “Guiding Light” would be massive pop songs if stripped of their guitar solos so that they came in closer to the three-minute-thirty mark instead of hitting five minutes. I’m not saying that would be an improvement – I’m saying that I hear much more pop music on this album than I’d have expected. And again, this is the first time I’ve heard it.
Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine split guitar duties on this album, swapping solos from song to song (though they both get a solo in the sprawling title cut) and they’re both excellent. “Venus” rocks out with a chiming semi-surf guitar reminiscent of contemporaries Blondie – and on this track, Verlaine’s vocals are a male counterpart to Debbie Harry’s. And “Elevation,” with its Richard Lloyd solo and straight-up arrangement still feels more like rock’n’roll, but it’s clear influence on the burgeoning punk era is more apparent here than perhaps anywhere else on the disc.
I’m very glad to have made acquaintance with this record. For starters, it’s unforgivable that it’s taken so long. It’s also a really excellent album, brand new, fresh, and yet instantly familiar. I’ve listened to it once front to back and then listened to pieces of it that caught my ear the first time and which I wanted to comment on here. I know I’ve just scratched the surface and that future listens will reveal deeper layers to these songs. If you don’t know this record, I definitely recommend getting a copy. If you do know this record, I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts on it.