The proto-punk band Television were forged in the blinding light of the New York music scene in the 1970s and 40 years ago, on February 7, 1977, the seminal band created their first studio album and masterpiece, Marquee Moon.
“Life in the hive puckered up my night,
the kiss of death, the embrace of life.
There I stand beneath the Marquee Moon just waiting.”
Television were formed by frontman Tom Verlaine, who had a shimmering and elegant guitar style, with Richard Lloyd on six-string guitar, Billy Ficca on drums and bassist Fred Smith. This was not the initial line-up, however. Originally called the Neon Boys in 1972, and started by Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell, Lloyd joined up with the group in 1974 and they changed their name to Television. In 1975, Richard Hell departed from Television and the original Blondie bassist, Fred Smith, replaced him.
40 years old today ‘Marquee Moon’ the 1977 debut studio album by Television pic.twitter.com/1byYfjo1La
— PuNk-and-Stuff (@PunKandStuff) February 8, 2017
The sound of Television’s Marquee Moon is one of many multi-layered and thin guitars, and Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd had noticeable differences in their styles and influences. Verlaine favored jazz, while Lloyd preferred more of a rock sound. Diffuser cites Tom Verlaine’s love of old jazz albums and describes how he preferred Coltrane to the pop music of the 1960s.
“In the early ’60s I hated pop. I took up sax in about ’63, and an older friend of mine had some John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman records, and that’s the music I liked. I never listened to guitar music. I thought it was a really twee instrument. But when I wanted to write songs, I decided that was the thing to play. For me, even a solo is an accompaniment of some kind, or it just takes the place of a voice.”
Television put a lot of work into their sound and were known for their extreme dedication when it came to the amount of time that they put into practice. Richard Lloyd found that this agreed with him, and didn’t mind the constant rehearsing.
“We used to rehearse like five or six hours a day. I felt like I had run off and joined the circus. That’s how super that felt.”
While it may seem hard to believe that 40 years has passed since Television’s Marquee Moon was released, The Observer describes the appeal of the songs on this record as related by Tom Verlaine.
“Each one of the songs is like a little moment of discovery or releasing something or being in a certain time or place and having a certain understanding in something.”
Television initially worked with Brian Eno, but decided against using Eno for their debut record with Island Records as their label. They also didn’t want to be on Clive Davis’s Arista Records as Tom Verlaine felt that he wouldn’t have enough creative control and wanted to record the sessions for their new record himself.
Elektra Records ended up signing Television and agreed to Verlaine’s vision, with the stipulation that a recording engineer with experience would be at the helm during the recording of Marquee Moon. Richard Lloyd explained that Verlaine was adamant that nobody would detract from the vision he had for his band and the record he hoped to create.
— Whitney Matheson (@whitneymatheson) February 9, 2017
“Tom didn’t want anyone telling him what to do, or telling us what to do. And so, what we decided was we would get an up-and-coming engineer/producer. And who better than Andy Johns, who was Glyn Johns’s brother, who was the engineer on Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Cream, Traffic. My God, you name it, he engineered it, and he was beginning to become a producer. In the meantime, we get all that skill, which was just phenomenal.”
The famous album cover for Marquee Moon was designed by Robert Mapplethorpe, who is also responsible for Patti Smith’s Horses. As Patti Smith was a close friend of Tom Verlaine, this decision worked in Television’s favor, and Mapplethorpe allowed the band to choose their favorite photo from the photography session, which ended up being the one which had Verlaine proffering an outstretched hand.
Despite fantastic critical reviews everywhere, Television’s Marquee Moon was more successful commercially in England than America, but over the past 40 years this album has inspired countless other bands and is rightfully now considered to be the masterpiece that it is.
[Featured Image by Thos Robinson/Getty Images]