|Studio album by Television|
|Recorded||September 1976; A & R Recording, 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. It was released in February 1977 by Elektra Records. By 1974, the band had become a prominent act on the New York music scene and generated interest from a number of record labels. They rehearsed extensively in preparation for the album and, upon signing to Elektra, recorded most of the songs in single takes. Television's frontman Tom Verlaine produced the album with recording 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, 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 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. The band'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 his 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 13th Floor Elevators to 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, but 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 record 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' 1974 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. When Johns suggested they record another take of the song, Verlaine said to him "forget it". Verlaine and Lloyd's guitars were separated during the recording to left and right channels, and the final recordings were left uncompressed and unadorned by 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. Jason Heller of The A.V. Club described it as an "elegantly jagged art-punk opus". According to Stylus Magazine's Evan Chakroff, both sides of the album begin with three short, hook-driven songs that 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.
The album's lyrics combine urban and pastoral imagery. Although it is not a concept album, many of the songs share geographical references to lower Manhattan. They also 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 magazine, 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 in an interview for Punk magazine: "You don't have to say what you mean to get across."
"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". The vignette-like "Venus" 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."
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.
Released in February 1977, Marquee Moon was acclaimed by contemporary music critics. Peter Gammond of Hi-Fi News & Record Review gave it an "A+" and called it one of the most exciting releases in music, highlighted by Verlaine's steely, Gábor Szabó-like guitar and authentic rock music. In his review for Audio magazine, Jon Tiven graded the album's performance an "A", its sound a "B", and felt that although the vocals and production could be more amplified, Verlaine's lyrics and guitar "manage to viscerally and intellectually grab the listener". Time magazine's Joan Downs said 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, writing for NME, wrote that Television have proven to be ambitious and skilled enough to achieve "new dimensions of sonic overdrive" and hailed the album as 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 music is wholly conservative. Robert Christgau of The Village Voice asserted that the "demotic-philosophical" lyrics could sustain the album alone, as would the guitar playing, which he said is as penetrating and expressing 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 the album sounds more like a stale version of Bruce Springsteen than avant-garde music. Gramophone magazine's Nigel Hunter 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 said 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. NME named it the fifth best album of the year on their 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."
Marquee Moon was an unexpected success in the United Kingdom, where it 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. Its sales were partly fueled by Kent's rave two-page review of the album for NME. 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 the United States, Marquee Moon sold fewer than 80,000 copies and failed to chart on the Top 200.
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, but that supporting act Blondie were ill-suited for their show. Blondie's Chris Stein said that Television were "so competitive" and unaccommodating on the tour, and 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 US, Elektra had given up on promoting Marquee Moon, which they dismissed as a commercial non-starter. The band was dispirited by their failure to meet commercial expectations, which led to their disbandment in 1978.
Legacy and influence
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, including Mark Weingarten of Entertainment Weekly, who called it the masterpiece of the 1970s New York punk rock scene. English writer Clinton Heylin said that the album marked the end of the New York scene's peak period. Spin called it the CBGB era's "best and most enduring record", and ranked it as sixth greatest album of all time in 1987. Q magazine gave it five stars in a retrospective review and included it in their 2002 list of the 100 greatest punk albums, while Mojo ranked it 35th on a similar list in 2003. In a 2004 review for Tracks, Christgau called Marquee Moon "the must-have—one of the great debut albums, period." It was named one of the greatest albums of the 1970s by NME, who ranked it tenth, and Pitchfork Media, who ranked it third.
In 2003, Marquee Moon was named the fourth greatest album of all time by NME, while Rolling Stone placed it at number 128 on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It was also ranked 33rd by The Guardian, and 25th by Melody Maker on its all-time list. Marquee Moon has been viewed as one of the greatest rock albums of all time by 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 precise instrumentation, uncluttered production, and introspective tone. 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 "introduced the world to post-punk" with its unprecedented style of rock and roll. 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 said that the album was innovative for eschewing the "sense of swing or groove" of previous New York punk albums in favor of a "heady intellectual" 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 remains a "fresh" listen because of "how Television flesh out Verlaine's poetry into sweeping sonic epics." 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. 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 expressive sound on the album made a great impression on him when he began to develop as a guitarist in his early 20s:
|“||I remember listening to Marquee Moon and being dazzled by it. What he did with a sort of jaggedy guitar sound, the amount of beauty and expressiveness that came out of it, was really exciting for me. It made me remember 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: "I just felt that Marquee Moon and the stuff from New York was odd, and it was different, and it was weird ... It still had a lot of energy". English guitarist Will Sergeant said that Marquee Moon was 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|
Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.
- Tom Verlaine – guitar (solo on tracks 2, 3, 4, 7, and 8), keyboards, lead vocals, production
- Richard Lloyd – guitar (solo on tracks 1, 4, 5, and 6), vocals
- Fred Smith – bass, vocals
- Billy Ficca – drums
- 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
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