TrackAlbum / Single
Little Johnny JewelOrk Records - Ork 81975
See No EvilMarquee Moon
VenusMarquee Moon
Marquee MoonMarquee Moon
The Grip Of LoveTom Verlaine
Red LeavesTom Verlaine
Shane, She Wrote This Television
Call Mr. LeeTelevision


Television photo 1
Television (l to r): Fred Smith, Tom Verlaine, Richard Lloyd, Billy Ficca
‘Marquee Moon’ cover photo by Robert Mapplethorpe



Television playlist


Contributor: Robert Webb

Back in 1977, Television’s debut album, Marquee Moon, reset the clock. To my ears, this was unlike any other music around at the time. The staccato guitars, the nervy, demanding vocals, the enigmatic lyrics. Television sounded like they couldn’t wait. “What I want, I want now / And it’s a whole lot more than anyhow,” sang Tom Verlaine on the opening line. This was urgent stuff.

In their homeland Television couldn’t change channels. Their quirky, uncommercial single Little Johnny Jewel on the tiny New York Ork label had gone unnoticed in 1975 and, although they were now signed to Elektra, most record buyers had never heard of them. In mid-seventies they’d been stuck in New York’s esoteric art-punk-rock bubble. American sales of the album were slow, but in Britain it was a different picture. Helped along by ecstatic reviews in the influential music press, Marquee Moon tugged at Britrock’s sluggish tide and eclipsed the national album charts in March 1977. America eventually caught up and these days Marquee Moon is universally and rightly recognised as one of the most significant albums in rock.

Whittling this list down to ten Television songs isn’t so easy, even with their frugal output. I’ve taken three from Marquee Moon: Verlaine’s composition Venus, mysterious in its imagery (“Broadway looked so medieval / It seemed to flap, like little pages”), still sounds like the standout, with Richard Lloyd’s double-tracked guitar. See No Evil is built around a killer riff. The title track, as long and taut as fence wire, was released on both twelve-inch and seven-inch formats and it too cut its way into the Top 30 that spring. Record Mirror highlighted the “anti-matter guitar scrawling vicious obscenities on your soul” and hailed the single “Record of the week, month, year”.

Television was formed in the early seventies in New York’s then unfashionable Lower East Side by guitarists Verlaine, Lloyd and Richard Hell, the original punk stylist, along with drummer Billy Ficca. They’d originally been called the Neon Boys but in early 1974 Verlaine renamed them Television (“Much later I noticed that ‘TV’ was his initials,” Hell noted). They were managed by Terry Ork, a Warhol sidekick who wanted a Velvet Underground of his own. Verlaine’s and Lloyd’s guitars were a perfect match – tough and sinewy but chiming together they were audaciously melodic. Try this footage from the rehearsals in Ork’s loft that year.

They secured a residency at the now legendary CBGB club, down in the seedy Bowery where, mid-decade, drunks lined the sidewalk. Word soon got around and in December 1974 Island Records showed interest, booked studio time and hooked them up with a producer, Brian Eno. By most accounts this was an awkward pairing, and I can see why. Verlaine, reluctant to hand over control, resented Eno’s creative input. Ultimately nothing came of the sessions, although the songs demoed can now be heard on YouTube. Following various disagreements, Richard Hell quit the band in 1975 and was replaced by Fred Smith, ex-Blondie.

Taking their cue from bohemian Fin de Siècle Paris and deliberately unglamorous, with rough-shorn hair and ripped clothes in a period when, as Lloyd put it, everyone in rock ‘n’ roll wanted the finest shoes, Television were a band out of time. Their time came at the end of 1976 with the signing to Elektra, who gave them free rein in the studio, just as punk was beginning to rattle the windows.

The second album for Elektra, Adventure, was released in April 1978, on red vinyl. I like this album, although many people, including Richard Lloyd, don’t. Perhaps Marquee Moon was just too big an act to follow. “On Marquee Moon, everybody knew what they were going to do,” Lloyd said. “On Adventure, nobody knew.” Foxhole wasn’t a great choice as a single, but it was one of the songs from their live repertoire, so perhaps was safe ground. Better tracks are Days, Glory and Careful. They’re more studious, less tense than the extraordinary songs on the first album, although no less exuberant.

Three months after the release of Adventure, Television split up and Tom Verlaine recorded a self-titled solo album, released in 1979. I’ve included two tracks from this, largely because they were leftovers from AdventureRed Leaves is drawn from the unfinished title track of the 1978 album and The Grip Of Love was begun as a Television song, but never recorded by the band. Verlaine kept Fred Smith on as bassist, so Tom Verlaine could be seen as half a Television record.

And that was that. For a decade or more that was the story of Television. But then in 1990, Lloyd and Verlaine reconvened at the behest of their respective managers. They jammed for a bit and, in an instant, Television was reborn. At first it was as a live act, but new songs came tumbling out, enough for a new album. Fourteen years after their second album, their third was released, called simply Television. It’s a great album – although again, it divides opinion, particularly within the band. Lloyd has referred to it as “Television-lite”. I’ve chosen Shane, She Wrote This and Call Mr. Lee from this album. I don’t think of this as Television-lite at all – Lloyd’s guitar rings out as clearly as it did back in the seventies and Verlaine delivers with the same fraught urgency. Fourteen years were seamlessly condensed. It was as if the eighties never happened.

There have been no new Television records since 1992 although they have made sporadic live appearances in the 2000s. There was talk of a fourth album as recently as 2013: “It might happen before we all die, I don’t know,” Billy Ficca told Rolling Stone magazine. Television are no longer the future, but listening to Marquee Moon, over 40 years on, I am reminded of how far-reaching it sounded at the time. In the words of Bryan Ferry’s hit single released the same month as Marquee Moon, this is tomorrow calling. “I ain’t waiting, uh-uh,” replied Verlaine.



Television official facebook

The Wonder: Tom Verlaine, Television & Stuff (including discography)

Television live at CBGBs December 1976

Tom Verlaine solo discography

Richard Lloyd official website (including discography)

“Everything Is Combustible: Television, CBGB’s and Five Decades of Rock and Roll – The Memoirs of an Alchemical Guitarist” by Richard Lloyd (Beech Hill 2019)

Television biography (Apple Music)

Robert Webb is a freelance writer and editor. His writing has appeared in The Independent and BBC Online. He is the author of The 100 Greatest Cover Versions and a new biography of John Lennon.

Some of Robert’s other topper-posts: Alan Hull, Harry Nilsson, Laura Nyro, Van Dyke Parks, Todd Rundgren, Scott Walker, Bobby Womack

TopperPost #815

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