- by Tim Sentz Rating:10 Release Date:1977-02-08 Label: Elektra Records
Isn’t amazing how the birth of indie rock can be traced all the way back to 1977? The 70s were already the genesis (and to some, apex) of punk music and all of its subsequent offshoots. During the 70s there was no shortage of legendary acts churning out would-be classics at a rapid-fire rate: Iggy Pop delivered four LPs that would change the face of punk music, two with the Stooges, and two solo efforts; Joy Division would birth post-punk and goth rock with Unknown Pleasures, The Ramones were banging out repeated young anthems and lets not forget the Clash released their three most revered albums at the tail end of the decade. Yes, the 1970s were THAT great.
On the American side of things, the New York music scene was responsible for a lot of the sounds and feels we get from punk music today nationally. It’s where it all funneled through to determine success - pioneering clubs like CBGB housed future leaders of the genre, and while these acts didn’t extend much further sometimes, their place in history is cemented to this day with their short but bountiful discographies.
This isn’t a history lesson though. If you want to learn about punk, and post-punk, and proto-punk, and skate-punk, and horror punk - Google it. This is space is reserved specifically for the all-time classic Marquee Moon, but the short-lived NYC four-piece Television. Originally consisting of Tom Verlaine, Billy Ficca, and Richard Hell, and calling themselves The Neon Boys, Television set out to define what makes a legend. Hell would leave over disputes and whatnot, eventually forming The Heartbreakers, and then Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Before that, they’d bring in Richard Lloyd as a second guitarist, and to replace Hell they’d bring in Fred Smith for bass. In 1975, they achieved cult status in NYC which lead to the eventual recording of their most notable album Marquee Moon.
To review Marquee Moon, one has to consider just how daring it was in 1977. Punk was on the rise, and the scene was redefining youth culture. But Television weren’t “punks.” Television was just a group of musicians who didn’t adhere to labels, even when performing they made sure it was a group effort. The title track alone is evidence of this comradery, this homogenous idea of a band, as the rhythm and lead guitars weave into each other over the course of the 10-minute epic. It’s this approach that makes Television, most specifically on Marquee Moon that much of a revelation. Today’s music often highlights enigmatic frontman, lavishly pouring over their antics in positive and negative ways. It’s not the case with Television. Verlaine may be the lead vocalist, but everyone plays a part strongly on Marquee Moon.
What fascinates me the most about Marquee Moon is how fresh it still sounds in 2019. The boom of post-punk revival in the early 2000s brought us countless imitators, some good, some bad. But no one’s ever truly been able to mimic the grand explosiveness of Marquee Moon, not even Television themselves as their follow-up, 1978’s Adventure, is often forgotten about because of how much it lacks compared to their debut. At only 45 minutes, and 8 songs, Marquee Moon sets the bar for epic, without droning on as prog rock does. Instead, outside of the title track, tracks are kept to reasonable standards. This allows a more digestible listen for those uninitiated.
Obviously, the most commanding thing about Marquee Moon is its title track. Still a magnificent feat by today’s standards, the opus tackles so much in it’s near 11 minutes.
Recorded in one take, “Marquee Moon” transcends the typical paranoia of the 70s with a powerful intro, balanced perfectly by Verlaine’s vocals. Having rehearsed it and played it so often before recording, Television’s greatest moment feels so natural in the studio - something rarely replicated by modern bands. It’s equal parts jazz, post-punk, punk, and alt-rock, “Marquee Moon” defies the standards of what makes a great single. Released as the lead single, it’s hard to fathom any edited version of “Marquee Moon” being worthwhile. Its massive nature is booming, it towers over the rest of the album, and acts as that warm center of the album. It never overstays its welcome, even halfway through it still keeps your attention thanks to the innovative jamming from Verlaine and Lloyd.
Thankfully, the rest of Marquee Moon is no slouch either. Often overlooked because of how tremendous it’s centerpiece is, Marquee Moon’s other seven tracks range in playful proverbs like “See No Evil” to double entendres like “Friction.” But if listening to Marquee Moon for the first time is the approach, all of these songs fall to the wayside. There’s plenty to come back to on the album, the imagery that “Venus” conjures up is relatable to anyone aimlessly wandering the streets of their city with a tiny bit of angst hiding behind their eyes. The pensiveness of “Elevation,” the weariness of “Guiding Light,” all make Marquee Moon one of the quintessential albums of the 70s, if not all time. It’s a mass representation of identity in an ever-changing landscape. Those last 3-4 years of the decade saw so much transition, not just for the scene, but the country saw the reverberations of the Vietnam War shocked the nation. Jimmy Carter struggled as the 39th president of the country, due to some questionable pardonings he did early on, as well as the malaise of corrupt officials took hold.
So not only is Marquee Moon a landmark album for all of its associated genres, it’s a time capsule of life in the 1970s amidst turmoil and the evolving culture around them. Television was short-lived, breaking up after Adventure and laying low until the early 90s for a reunion album. Every member would find their place in other projects, but thanks to the internet, Television have resurfaced in the 21st century to play their iconic album in full at festivals and various venues on the Eastern United States. The feeling of hearing “Marquee Moon” performed live is something everyone should bear witness to. It’s life-altering and offers a comforting blanket to these relevant times. Television were never able to escape Marquee Moon, nor did they need to. It’s timeless, even in 2019, it still sounds crisp. The true definition of a classic.
I didn't get this album at first. Back in the day when you bought an album on reputation only, before hearing it, I couldn't understand why it wasn't the punk album I'd read about. Then I realised I'm an idiot and it's bloody brilliant.
1977!!! NO ELVIS BEATLES OR THE ROLLING STONES... IN 1977 I was born. YEAH!