Happy 40th: Television, MARQUEE MOON

Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Happy 40th: Television, MARQUEE MOON

40 years ago today, one of the defining bands of the New York punk scene released their debut album.

When the band Television originally formed in 1973, the lineup consisted of Tom Verlaine (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Richard Lloyd (guitar, vocals), Richard Hell (vocals, bass), and Billy Ficca (drums), and the performances by the original foursome quickly made them NYC music legends, but it took them some time to successfully make the jump from the concert stage to the recording studio. An attempt to record demos for Island Records in 1974 with Brian Eno producing the band didn’t pan out –Verlaine has described Eno’s recordings of the band as “very cold and brittle,” with “no resonance” – and when Hell bid the band adieu in 1975, it was a little touch-and-go as to whether Television would ever deliver a debut album.

Thankfully, Hell’s replacement in the band, Fred Smith, proved to be the creative jolt that Television needed: they managed to secure a recording deal with Elektra Records, with Verlaine arranging to produce the band’s album, just as long as he agreed to be assisted by a recording engineer. The engineer in question, Andy Johns, was someone who both Verlaine and Lloyd respected, thanks to his work on the Rolling Stones’ GOATS HEAD SOUP.

The MARQUEE MOON sessions took place at A&R Recording in New York City in September 1976, with Lloyd later describing the band as “both really roughshod musicians on one hand and desperadoes on the other, with the will to become good.” That pretty well sums up the sound of the resulting album, but if you had to pick a defining track, it’s got to be the title track, which – at a running time of over 10 minutes – effectively dismissed the “short, snappy, and sweet” ethos which seemed to drive so many other punk bands and effectively defined Television as a band that was punk even by punk standards.

But is it actually punk? Perhaps it’s post-punk. Or maybe it’s art-punk. The fact of the matter is that we’re wasting time trying to define MARQUEE MOON when we’d be far better served by simply listening to it, but one thing’s worth noting: it was ahead of its time 40 years ago, and even now it’s arguable that music still hasn’t quite caught up to Television.