The 1977 benchmark album analysed...
Hazel Sheffield

12:06 13th November 2008

Punk music was all about doing it yourself, and making the music you wanted with the tools you had. It was ramshackle and raw, and that became its signature: a doing-away with the need for co-ordination and complication in favour of sometimes piecemeal musicality but a professed unwavering inclusivity.

Yet something about the whole movement was ferociously protectionist, from the maverick nastiness of the Pistols to the purer, punched-up bite of The Clash.  The Wire perfected a storming yelp and The Ramones made mince meat of eardrums with their unforgiving preoccupation for volume, but all of them snarled that punk belonged to them, and to you, if you only dared to take it.

In their early, Brian Eno-produced sessions, Television showed little sign of being any different.  The taught pleading of Tom Verlaine’s vocal comes off wafer thin and grating back then, the balance all wrong.  But by the time they recorded Marquee Moon in 1977, Television stood apart from their peers.  There is an artistic purity in what they managed to achieve that signposted the evolution of new wave and post punk.

The title track from their debut longplayer is Television distilled.  There is a subtle artistry behind the musical textures here that goes beyond the simplicity of trademark punk, and yet Tom Verlaine’s desperately reaching vocal alone would have you believe that Television just happened upon the careful progressions of their sound, that anyone could have it that way, if they wanted.

‘Marquee Moon’ rests on the casual groove of Fred Smith’s bassline, and percussion so impeccably placed that it barely registers.  Verlaine’s solos meld twisted upturned riffs with noodling motifs, but are always executed with a steely conviction that makes them stand firm against the abstract tension of Richard Lloyds rhythm guitar.  Lloyd refused to sit pretty on rhythm: he had a knack for creating totally unexpected tonalities that coloured Verlaine’s confident solo work with an intense unpredictability.

Television took up Sunday residency at New York’s CBGB in 1974, the first rock band to perform at the club, which soon became the epicentre of the New York punk scene.  Later that year Blondie, The Ramones and Talking Heads, to name but a few, would appear in that same venue.  There at its inception, Television took punk’s magnetic filth and made it aesthetic – no where is this apotheosis more apparent than in ‘Marquee Moon’.

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