|Studio album by Television|
|Studio||A & R Recording in New York City|
|Genre||Post-punk, art punk, rock|
|Producer||Andy Johns, Tom Verlaine|
|Singles from Marquee Moon|
Marquee Moon is the debut album by American rock band Television. By 1974, they had become a prominent act on the New York music scene and generated interest from a number of record labels. The band rehearsed extensively in preparation for Marquee Moon and, upon signing to Elektra Records, recorded most of its songs in single takes. Television's frontman Tom Verlaine produced the album with sound engineer Andy Johns at A & R Recording in September 1976.
For Marquee Moon, Verlaine and fellow guitarist Richard Lloyd eschewed contemporary punk rock's power chords in favor of rock and jazz-inspired interplay, melodic lines, and counter-melodies. Verlaine's lyrics for the album combined urban and pastoral imagery, references to lower Manhattan, themes of adolescence, and influences from French poetry. He also used puns and double-entendres to give his songs an impressionistic quality.
Marquee Moon was critically acclaimed upon its release in February 1977 and achieved unexpected commercial success in the United Kingdom, but sold poorly in the United States. It has since been viewed by critics as one of the greatest albums of the American punk rock movement and a cornerstone of alternative rock. Television's innovative post-punk instrumentation on the album strongly influenced the indie rock and new wave movements of the 1980s, as well as rock guitarists such as John Frusciante, Will Sergeant, and The Edge.
By the mid 1970s, Television had become a leading act in the New York music scene. They first developed a following from their residency at the lower Manhattan club CBGB, where they helped persuade club manager Hilly Kristal to feature more unconventional musical groups. The band had received interest from labels by late 1974, but chose to wait for an appropriate record deal. They turned down a number of major labels, including Island Records, for whom they had recorded demos with producer Brian Eno. Eno had produced demos of the songs "Prove It", "Friction", "Venus", and "Marquee Moon" in December 1974, but Television frontman Tom Verlaine did not approve of Eno's sound: "He recorded us very cold and brittle, no resonance. We're oriented towards really strong guitar music ... sort of expressionistic."
After founding bassist Richard Hell left in 1975, Television enlisted Fred Smith, whom they found more reliable and rhythmically adept. The band quickly developed a rapport and a musical style that reflected their individual influences: Smith and guitarist Richard Lloyd had a rock and roll background, drummer Billy Ficca was a jazz enthusiast, and Verlaine's tastes varied from the rock band 13th Floor Elevators to jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler. That same year, Television shared a residency at CBGB with Patti Smith, who had recommended the band to Arista Records president Clive Davis. Although he saw them perform, Davis was hesitant to sign them at first. He was persuaded by Smith's boyfriend, Allen Lanier, to let them record demos, which Verlaine said resulted in "a much warmer sound than Eno got". However, Verlaine still wanted to find a label that would allow him to produce the band's debut album himself, even though he had little recording experience.
In August 1976, Television signed a recording deal with Elektra Records, who promised Verlaine he could produce the album with the condition that he would be assisted by a well-known recording engineer. Verlaine, who did not want to be guided in the studio by a famous producer, enlisted engineer Andy Johns based on his work for the Rolling Stones' 1973 album Goats Head Soup. Lloyd was also impressed by Johns, whom he said had produced "some of the great guitar sounds in rock". Johns was credited as the co-producer on Marquee Moon. Elektra did not query Television's studio budget for the album.
Television recorded Marquee Moon in September 1976 at A & R Recording in New York City. In preparation for the album's recording, Television had rehearsed for four to six hours a day and six to seven days a week. Lloyd said that they were "both really roughshod musicians on one hand and desperadoes on the other, with the will to become good". During preparations, the band rejected most of the material they had written over the course of three years. Once they were in the studio, they recorded two new songs for the album—"Guiding Light" and "Torn Curtain"—and older songs such as "Friction", "Venus", and the title track, which had become a standard at their live shows. Verlaine said that, because he had predetermined the structure of the album, only those eight songs and a few others were attempted during the recording sessions.
Most of the album was recorded live, and a few songs were recorded in one take, including the title track, which Ficca assumed was a rehearsal. Johns suggested the band record another take of the song, but Verlaine told him to "forget it". Verlaine and Lloyd's guitars were recorded and multi-tracked to left and right channels, and the final recordings were left uncompressed and unadorned with studio effects.
The short, hook-driven song features dual guitar playing by Verlaine and Lloyd, who performs the solo.
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According to Rolling Stone magazine, Marquee Moon is a post-punk album, while Jason Heller of The A.V. Club described it as an "elegantly jagged art-punk opus". Both sides of the album begin with three shorter, hook-driven songs, which Stylus Magazine's Evan Chakroff said veer between progressive rock and post-punk styles. The title track and "Torn Curtain" are longer and more jam-oriented. Verlaine later said in an interview for Select magazine, "As peculiar as it sounds, I've always thought that we were a pop band. You know, I always thought Marquee Moon was a bunch of cool singles. And then I'd realise, Christ, [the title track] is ten minutes long. With two guitar solos."
Verlaine and Lloyd interplayed their guitars between drum hits and basslines. Their dual guitar playing drew on 1960s rock and avant-garde jazz styles, and eschewed the layered power chords of contemporary punk rock in favor of melodic lines and counter-melodies. Verlaine established a song's rhythmic phrase, against which Lloyd played dissonant melodies. Lloyd had learned to notate his solos by the time they recorded the album, which allowed him to develop his solo on a song from introduction to variation and resolution. He and Verlaine traded rhythm and melodic lines several times on some songs and produced tension. Lloyd later said of their approach: "There weren't many bands where the two guitars played rhythm and melody back and forth, like a jigsaw puzzle. It was what we were obsessed with when we recorded."
Most of the solos on Marquee Moon follow a pattern wherein Verlaine runs up a major scale but regresses slightly after each step. On "See No Evil", he soloed through a full octave before playing a blues-influenced riff, while on the title track, he played in a Mixolydian mode and lowered the seventh by half a step. Lloyd opened "Friction" by playing octaves before Verlaine played ringing harmonics and a series of descending scales.
Verlaine's lyrics on Marquee Moon combine urban and pastoral imagery. Although it is not a concept album, many of the songs share geographical references to lower Manhattan. According to Bryan Waterman, author of the 33⅓ book on Marquee Moon, the songs celebrate stern adolescence in the urban pastoral mode. The album's urban nocturne theme was derived from poetic works about Bohemian decadence. According to Spin, Marquee Moon is "about urban mythology" as Verlaine "brings a sentimental romanticism to the Bowery, making legends out of the mundane". The lyrics also incorporate maritime imagery, including the paradoxical "nice little boat made out of ocean" in "See No Evil", the waterfront setting in "Elevation", parting "like the seas" in "Guiding Light", and references to docks, caves, and waves in "Prove It".
Verlaine's lyrical style drew on influences from French poetry. He narrated the consciousness or confusion of an experience rather than its specific details. Verlaine compared the songs to "a little moment of discovery or releasing something or being in a certain time or place and having a certain understanding of something". He also used puns and double-entendres in his lyrics, which he said were atmospheric and conveyed the meaning of a song implicitly. "See No Evil" opens with the narrator's flights of fancy and closes with an imperative about limitless possibilities: "Runnin' wild with the one I love / Pull down the future with the one you love". In the refrain to "Venus", the narrator falls into "the arms of Venus de Milo". Verlaine explained his reference to the armless statue as "a term for a state of feeling. They're loving [ubiquitous] arms".
Although he was against drug use after Television formed, Verlaine previously had a short-lived phase when he used psychedelic drugs, to which he makes reference in similes on songs such as "Venus". The vignette-like song follows an ostensibly drug-induced, revelatory experience: "You know it's all like some new kind of drug / my senses are sharp and my hands are like gloves / Broadway looks so medieval, it seems to flap like little pages / I fell sideways laughing, with a friend from many stages." According to Waterman, such lyrics contribute to his impression of Marquee Moon as a transcendental work in the vein of 19th-century Romanticism: "Verlaine is into perception, and sometimes the perception he represents is as intense as a mind-altering substance. But like Emerson, the speaker in Verlaine's songs would probably think a drug trip was a cop out. Having said that, I'm sure getting stoned and wandering around what seemed like a medieval city in lower Manhattan in the late sixties and early seventies was a formative experience for a lot of artists."
The album's cover was shot by photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who had previously shot the cover for Patti Smith's 1975 album Horses. His photo for Marquee Moon situated Verlaine a step in front of the rest of the band, who are in a tensed, serious pose. Verlaine held his right hand across his body and held his slightly clenched left hand forward. When Mapplethorpe gave Television the contact prints, Lloyd took their favorite shot to a print shop in Times Square and asked for color photocopies for the band members to mull over. Although the first few copies were oddly colored, Lloyd asked the copy worker to make more "while turning the knobs with his eyes closed". He likened the process to Andy Warhol's screen prints. After he showed it to the band, they chose the altered copy over Mapplethorpe's original photo, which Fred Smith had framed and kept for himself.
Release and promotion
Marquee Moon was released in February 1977 in the United States and on March 4, 1977, in the United Kingdom, where it was an unexpected success and reached number 28 on the UK Albums Chart. The album's two singles—the title track and "Prove It"—both charted on the UK Top 30. The album's sales were partly fueled by Nick Kent's rave two-page review of the album for NME magazine. While holidaying in London after the album's completion, Verlaine saw that the band had been put on the magazine's front cover and called Elektra's press department, who encouraged Television to capitalize on their success there with a tour of the UK. However, the label had already organized for the band to perform on Peter Gabriel's American tour as a supporting act. Television played small theatres and some larger club venues, and received more mainstream exposure, but were not well received by Gabriel's middle-American, progressive rock audiences and found the tour unnerving.
In May, Television embarked on a highly successful theatre tour in the UK and were enthusiastically received by audiences. Verlaine said that it was refreshing to perform at large theatres after having played clubs for four years. However, he felt that supporting act Blondie did not suit their show because they were too different artistically, even though both bands had emerged from the music scene at CBGB. Blondie's Chris Stein said that Television were "so competitive" and unaccommodating on the tour and that they did not treat it like a joint effort. He recalled one show where "all our equipment was shoved up at the [Glasgow] Apollo and we had like three feet of room so that [Verlaine] could stand still in this vast space."
By the time of Television's return to the United States, Elektra had given up on promoting Marquee Moon, which they dismissed as a commercial failure. Marquee Moon sold fewer than 80,000 copies in the US and failed to chart on the Billboard 200. The band was dispirited by their inability to meet commercial expectations, which led to their disbandment in 1978.
Marquee Moon was acclaimed by contemporary music critics. In her five-star review for Sounds magazine, Vivien Goldman hailed it as "an obvious, unabashed, instant classic". Peter Gammond of Hi-Fi News & Record Review gave it an "A+" and called it one of the most exciting releases in music, partly because it is highlighted by Verlaine's steely, Gábor Szabó-like guitar and authentic rock music. Audio magazine's Jon Tiven wrote that although the vocals and production could be more amplified, Verlaine's lyrics and guitar "manage to viscerally and intellectually grab the listener". Joan Downs of Time felt that the band's sound is distinguished more by the bold playing of Richard Lloyd, who has the potential to become a major figure in rock guitar. Nick Kent of NME said that Television has proven to be ambitious and skilled enough to achieve "new dimensions of sonic overdrive" with an "inspired work of pure genius, a record finely in tune and sublimely arranged with a whole new slant on dynamics". He also claimed that the music is vigorous, sophisticated, and innovative at a time when rock is wholly conservative. In his "A+" review for The Village Voice, Robert Christgau asserted that Verlaine's "demotic-philosophical" lyrics could sustain the album alone, as would the guitar playing, which he said is as penetrating and expressive as Eric Clapton or Jerry Garcia "but totally unlike either".
In a negative review, Noel Coppage of Stereo Review panned the singing and songwriting, and wrote that Marquee Moon sounds more like a stale version of Bruce Springsteen than avant-garde music. Nigel Hunter, writing for Gramophone, found both Verlaine's lyrics and guitar playing vague, and felt that listeners need a "strong commitment to this type of music to get much out of it". In his review for Rolling Stone, Ken Tucker stated that the lyrics generally amount to non sequiturs, meaningless phrases, and pretentious aphorisms, but are ultimately secondary to the music. Although he found his solos potentially formless and boring, Tucker credited Verlaine for structuring his songs around chilling riffs and "a new commercial impulse that gives his music its catchy, if slashing, hook". High Fidelity magazine said that the music's "scaring amalgam of rich, brightly colored textures" compensates for Verlaine's nearly unintelligible lyrics.
Marquee Moon was voted as the third best album of 1977 in the Pazz & Jop, an annual poll of critics run by The Village Voice. Christgau, the poll's creator and supervisor, ranked it number one on his own year-end list. Sounds also named it the year's best album, while NME ranked it fifth on its year-end list. Verlaine later said of the overwhelmingly positive response from critics, "There was a certain magic happening, an inexplicable certainty of something, like the momentum of a freight train. That's not egoism but, if you cast a spell, you don't get flummoxed by the results of your spell."
Legacy and influence
|The Austin Chronicle|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
According to journalist Tony Fletcher, Marquee Moon was difficult to categorize upon its release and was instead hailed as "something entirely original, a new dawn in rock music". Since then, it has been cited by rock critics as one of the greatest albums of the American punk rock movement, with Mark Weingarten of Entertainment Weekly calling it the masterpiece of the 1970s New York punk rock scene. According to English writer Clinton Heylin, Marquee Moon marked the end of the New York scene's peak period, while Spin said it was the CBGB era's "best and most enduring record" and ranked it as the sixth greatest album of all time in its April 1989 issue. Q magazine included it in its 2002 list of the 100 greatest punk albums, while writer Colin Larkin ranked it ninth and Mojo ranked it 35th on similar lists. The album is often voted high in critics polls of the greatest debuts of all time and has also been named one of the greatest records of the 1970s by NME, who ranked it tenth, and Pitchfork Media, who ranked it third.
On September 23, 2003, Marquee Moon was reissued by Rhino Entertainment with several bonus tracks, including the first CD appearance of Television's 1975 debut single "Little Johnny Jewel (Parts 1 & 2)". That same year, it was named the fourth greatest album of all time by NME, while Rolling Stone placed it at number 128 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The album was also ranked 33rd by The Guardian and 25th by Melody Maker on their all-time lists. It has been viewed as one of the greatest rock albums of all time by English radio DJs Marc Riley, who said that "there's been nothing like it before or since", and Mark Radcliffe, who called it "the nearest rock record to a string quartet—everybody's got a part, and it works brilliantly."
Marquee Moon was also one of the most influential albums recorded in the 1970s and has been cited by critics as a cornerstone of alternative rock. It heavily influenced the indie rock movement of the 1980s, while post-punk acts appropriated the album's uncluttered production, introspective tone, and meticulously performed instrumentation. Hunter Felt of PopMatters attributed the album's influence on post-punk and new wave acts to the precisely syncopated rhythm section of Fred Smith and Billy Ficca, and recommended 2003's "definitive" reissue of the album to listeners of garage rock revival bands, whom he said had modeled themselves after Verlaine's Romantic poetry-inspired lyrics and the "jaded yet somehow impassioned cynicism" of his vocals.
According to Sputnikmusic's Adam Downer, the album's unprecedented style of rock and roll inaugurated post-punk music, while The Guardian said that it scaled "amazing new heights of sophistication and intensity" as a "gorgeous, ringing beacon of post-punk, even if it did come out six months before Never Mind the Bollocks". AllMusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine believed that the album was innovative for eschewing previous New York punk albums' swing and groove sensibilities in favor of an intellectually stimulating scope that Television achieved instrumentally rather than lyrically. Erlewine asserted that "it's impossible to imagine post-punk soundscapes" without the album, which he said still sounds timeless because of how the band's overwhelming music gives substance to Verlaine's poetic lyrics. Fletcher argued that the songs' lack of compression, groove, and unnecessary effects provided "a blueprint for a form of chromatic, rather than rhythmic, music that would later come to be called angular".
According to Erlewine, Marquee Moon was radical and groundbreaking primarily as "a guitar rock album unlike any other". Verlaine and Lloyd's dual guitar playing on the album strongly influenced alternative rock bands such as the Pixies, noise rock acts such as Sonic Youth, and big arena acts like U2. Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune wrote that Television "created a new template for guitar rock" on what was their musical masterpiece because of how Verlaine's improvised playing was weaved together with Lloyd's precisely notated solos, particularly on the title track.
In his work with U2, Irish guitarist The Edge simulated Television's guitar sound with an effects pedal. He said that he wanted to "sound like them" and that the album's title track had changed his "way of thinking about the guitar". American guitarist John Frusciante said that Verlaine's jagged, expressive sound on the album made a great impression on him when he began to develop as a guitarist in his early 20s, as it reminded him that "none of those things that are happening in the physical dimension mean anything, whether it's what kind of guitar you play or how your amp's set up. It's just ideas, you know, emotion."
In a retrospective review for Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield called Marquee Moon "one of the all-time classic guitar albums" and said that the songs' tremulous, guitar twang shows how Television inspired bands such as R.E.M. and Joy Division. Joy Division's Stephen Morris cited it as one of his favorite albums, while R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe said that his love of Marquee Moon was "second only to [Patti Smith's] Horses". English guitarist Will Sergeant said that it was also one of his favorite albums and that Verlaine and Lloyd's guitar playing was a major influence on his band Echo & the Bunnymen.
All songs written and composed by Tom Verlaine, except where noted.
|1.||"See No Evil"||3:56|
|6.||"Guiding Light" (written by Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd)||5:36|
|CD reissue bonus tracks|
|9.||"Little Johnny Jewel (Parts 1 & 2)"||7:09|
|10.||"See No Evil" (alternate version)||4:40|
|11.||"Friction" (alternate version)||4:52|
|12.||"Marquee Moon" (alternate version)||10:54|
- "Marquee Moon", shortened on the original LP, was restored to its complete length of 10:40 on the 2003 remastered CD.
Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.
- Billy Ficca – drums
- Richard Lloyd – guitar (solo on tracks 1, 4, 5, and 6), vocals
- Fred Smith – bass guitar, vocals
- Tom Verlaine – guitar (solo on tracks 2, 3, 4, 7, and 8), keyboards, lead vocals, production
- Additional personnel
- Jim Boyer – assistant engineering
- Greg Calbi – mastering
- Jimmy Douglass – assistant mixing
- Lee Hulko – mastering
- Andy Johns – engineering, mixing, production
- Tony Lane – art direction
- Billy Lobo – back cover artwork
- Robert Mapplethorpe – photography
- Randy Mason – assistant mixing
- John Telfer – management
|Swedish Albums Chart||23|
|UK Albums Chart||28|
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- Marquee Moon at Acclaimed Music (list of accolades)
- Marquee Moon at Discogs (list of releases)
- Marquee Moon at Myspace (streamed copy where licensed)