|Studio album by|
|Released||February 8, 1977|
|Studio||A & R Recording in New York City|
|Singles from Marquee Moon|
In the years leading up to the album, Television had become a prominent act on the New York music scene and generated interest from a number of record labels, eventually signing a record deal with Elektra. The group rehearsed extensively in preparation for Marquee Moon before recording it at A & R Recording in September 1976. It was produced by the band's frontman Tom Verlaine and sound engineer Andy Johns.
For Marquee Moon, Verlaine and fellow guitarist Richard Lloyd abandoned contemporary punk rock's power chords in favor of rock and jazz-inspired interplay, melodic lines, and counter-melodies. Verlaine's lyrics 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 in describing his perception of an experience.
Marquee Moon was met with widespread acclaim and was hailed by critics as an original musical development in rock music. The critical recognition helped the album achieve unexpected commercial success in the United Kingdom, but it sold poorly in the United States. The record has since been viewed by critics as one of the greatest albums of all time and a foundational record of alternative rock. Television's innovative post-punk instrumentation on Marquee Moon strongly influenced the new wave and indie rock movements of the 1980s.
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 group 13th Floor Elevators to jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler. That same year, Television shared a residency at CBGB with singer and poet Patti Smith, who had recommended the band to Arista Records president Clive Davis. Although he had seen them perform, Davis was hesitant to sign them at first. He was persuaded by Smith's then 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 Television'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 band's first 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, who 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 recording.
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 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.
For most of Marquee Moon, Johns recorded Television as they performed live in the studio. A few songs were recorded in one take, including the title track, which Ficca assumed was a rehearsal. Johns suggested the group 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.
According to Rolling Stone, Marquee Moon is a post-punk album, while Jason Heller from The A.V. Club described it as "elegantly jagged" art punk. Robert Christgau regarded it as more of a rock record because of Television's formal and technical abilities as musicians: "It wasn't punk. Its intensity wasn't manic; it didn't come in spurts." 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. "As peculiar as it sounds, I've always thought that we were a pop band", Verlaine later told Select. "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." As Tom Moon observed, Verlaine's singing avoids the "cursory punk snarl" while the band's music demonstrates "extended instrumental sections, impenetrable moods" (as on "Torn Curtain") and historical rock influences like Chuck Berry and the early music of the Rolling Stones (as on "Friction").
Verlaine and Lloyd's guitar parts on the album are interplayed around the rhythm section's drum hits and basslines. Their dual playing draws on 1960s rock and avant-garde jazz styles, abandoning the layered power chords of contemporary punk rock in favor of melodic lines and counter-melodies. Verlaine's guitar establishes the song's rhythmic phrase, against which Lloyd is heard playing dissonant melodies. Lloyd had learned to notate his solos by the time they recorded Marquee Moon, allowing him to develop his solo for a song from introduction to variation and resolution. Some songs have the two guitarists trading rhythmic and melodic lines several times while producing tension. "There weren't many bands where the two guitars played rhythm and melody back and forth, like a jigsaw puzzle", Lloyd said.
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 solos through a full octave before playing a blues-influenced riff, and on the title track, he is heard playing in a Mixolydian mode and lowering the seventh by half a step. "Friction" opens with Lloyd playing octaves before Verlaine's ringing harmonics and series of descending scales.
Verlaine's lyrics on Marquee Moon combine urban and pastoral imagery. Although it is not a concept album, many of its songs make geographical references to Lower Manhattan. According to Bryan Waterman, author of the 33⅓ book on the record, it celebrates stern adolescence in the urban pastoral mode. Its urban nocturne theme is derived from poetic works about Bohemian decadence. According to Spin, the album is about urban mythology; Verlaine brought "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", sea metaphors in "Guiding Light", and references to docks, caves, and waves in "Prove It".
Although Verlaine was against drug use after Television formed, he once had a short-lived phase using psychedelic drugs, to which he makes reference in similes on songs like "Venus". Its vignette-like lyrics follow 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, while psychedelic trips informed the experiences of many artists in Lower Manhattan at the time, "Venus" contributed to the impression of Marquee Moon as a transcendental work in the vein of 19th-century Romanticism. "Verlaine is into perception", Waterman said, "and sometimes the perception he represents is as intense as a mind-altering substance." Christgau said the lyric about Broadway lent the album its association among critics to the East Village, as it "situates this philosophical action in the downtown night".
The songs on Marquee Moon inspired interpretations from a variety of sources, but Verlaine conceded he did not understand the meaning behind much of his lyrics. He drew on influences from French poetry and wanted to narrate the consciousness or confusion of an experience rather than its specific details. He 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". Verlaine also used puns and double-entendres when writing his lyrics, which he said are atmospheric and convey 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".
Marquee Moon's title was interpreted by Waterman as an encapsulation of the urban and bucolic imagery in the songs, "suggesting the kind of night sky only visible above the neon glare of city-dwellers' assault on the dark". In his mind, the marquee rather than the moon in the concept sets the record's mood. He added, "sensory experience will be of prime importance to these eight songs. What can we see by the light of a marquee moon? What will be revealed on Marquee Moon's grooves?"
The album's packaging was designed by art director Tony Lane. The front cover photo was shot by photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who had previously shot the cover for Patti Smith's 1975 album Horses. His photo situated Verlaine a step in front of the rest of the band, who were captured in a tensed, serious pose. Verlaine held his left hand across his body and extended his slightly clenched right hand forward. When Mapplethorpe gave Television the contact prints, Lloyd took the band's favorite shot to a print shop in Times Square and asked for color photocopies for the group members to mull over. Although the first few copies were oddly colored, Lloyd asked the copy worker to print 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 group, they chose the altered copy over Mapplethorpe's original photo, which Fred Smith subsequently had framed and kept for himself.
Marquee Moon was released on February 8, 1977, in the United States and on March 4 in the United Kingdom, where it was an unexpected success and reached number 28 on the country's albums chart. The record's two singles—the title track and "Prove It"—both charted on the UK Top 30. Its commercial success in the UK was partly fueled by Nick Kent's rave two-page review of the album for NME.
While holidaying in London after Marquee Moon's completion, Verlaine saw that Television had been put on NME's front cover and notified Elektra's press department, who encouraged the band 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 of the UK with Blondie as their supporting act. They were enthusiastically received by audiences there, and Verlaine said it was refreshing to perform at large theatres after playing smaller clubs for four years. He nonetheless felt that Blondie did not suit their show because they were too different artistically, even though both groups had emerged from the music scene at CBGB. Blondie guitarist 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 US, 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 group was dispirited by their inability to meet commercial expectations, which contributed to their disbandment in 1978.
Marquee Moon received acclaim from contemporary critics. According to Tony Fletcher, the album was difficult to categorize in 1977 and was hailed as "something entirely original, a new dawn in rock music". In NME, Kent wrote that Television had 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 deemed the album's music vigorous, sophisticated, and innovative at a time when rock is wholly conservative. In a five-star review for Sounds, Vivien Goldman hailed Marquee Moon as "an obvious, unabashed, instant classic", while 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 Audio, Jon Tiven wrote that although the vocals and production could have been more amplified, Verlaine's lyrics and guitar "manage to viscerally and intellectually grab the listener". Joan Downs from Time felt the band's sound was distinguished more by the bold playing of Lloyd, who she said had the potential to become a major figure in rock guitar. Christgau gave Marquee Moon an "A+" in The Village Voice and believed Verlaine's "demotic-philosophical" lyrics could have sustained the album alone, as would the guitar playing, which he said was as penetrating and expressive as Eric Clapton or Jerry Garcia "but totally unlike either".
Some reviewers expressed reservations. In Rolling Stone, Ken Tucker said the lyrics generally amounted to non sequiturs, meaningless phrases, and pretentious aphorisms, but were ultimately secondary to the music. Although he found Verlaine's solos potentially formless and boring, Tucker credited him for structuring his songs around chilling riffs and "a new commercial impulse that gives his music its catchy, if slashing, hook". High Fidelity felt the music's "scaring amalgam of rich, brightly colored textures" compensated for Verlaine's nearly unintelligible lyrics. Noel Coppage from Stereo Review was more critical of the singing and songwriting, likening Marquee Moon to a stale version of Bruce Springsteen. Nigel Hunter wrote in Gramophone that Verlaine's lyrics and guitar playing were vague and that listeners would need a "strong commitment to this type of music to get much out of it".
At the end of 1977, Marquee Moon was voted the third-best album of the year in the Pazz & Jop, an annual poll of American critics nationwide, published in The Village Voice. Christgau, the poll's creator and supervisor, ranked it number one on his own 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."
|Retrospective professional reviews|
|Christgau's Record Guide||A+|
|Spin Alternative Record Guide||10/10|
Since the album's original release, Marquee Moon has been cited by rock critics as one of the greatest records 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 included it in the magazine's 2002 list of the 100 greatest punk records, while writer Colin Larkin ranked it ninth and Mojo ranked it 35th on similar lists. The album has often been voted high in critics polls of the greatest debuts and has also been named one of the greatest records of the 1970s by NME, who ranked it tenth, and Pitchfork, who ranked it third.
Marquee Moon has frequently appeared on rankings of the greatest albums of all time. According to Acclaimed Music, it is the 23rd most prominently ranked album on critics' all-time lists. The Guardian and Melody Maker ranked it 33rd and 25th, respectively, on lists published at the turn of the 21st century. In Larkin's 2000 book All Time Top 1000 Albums book, Marquee Moon was voted number 53. On September 23, 2003, the album 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 latter magazine ranked it 130th in a revised list published May 2012.) It has been viewed as one of the greatest rock albums ever 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 one of the most influential records from 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 from PopMatters attributed Marquee Moon's influence on post-punk and new wave acts to the precisely syncopated rhythm section of Fred Smith and Billy Ficca. He recommended 2003's "definitive" reissue of the album to listeners of garage rock revival bands, who 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, Television introduced an unprecedented style of rock and roll on Marquee Moon that inaugurated post-punk music, while The Guardian said it scaled "amazing new heights of sophistication and intensity" as a "gorgeous, ringing beacon of post-punk" despite being released several months before the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks (1977). AllMusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine believed the record was innovative for abandoning previous New York punk albums' swing and groove sensibilities in favor of an intellectually stimulating scope that Television achieved instrumentally rather than lyrically. He claimed "it's impossible to imagine post-punk soundscapes" without Marquee Moon. Fletcher argued that the songs' lack of compression, groove, and extra effects provided "a blueprint for a form of chromatic, rather than rhythmic, music that would later come to be called angular".
In Erlewine's opinion, Marquee Moon was radical and groundbreaking primarily as "a guitar rock album unlike any other". Verlaine and Lloyd's dual playing on the record strongly influenced alternative rock groups such as the Pixies, noise rock acts such as Sonic Youth, and big arena bands like U2. Greg Kot from the Chicago Tribune wrote that Television "created a new template for guitar rock" because of how Verlaine's improvised playing was weaved together with Lloyd's precisely notated solos, particularly on the title track. As a member of U2, Irish guitarist The Edge simulated Television's guitar sound with an effects pedal. He later said he had wanted to "sound like them" and that Marquee Moon's title track had changed his "way of thinking about the guitar". Verlaine's jagged, expressive sound on the album made a great impression on American guitarist John Frusciante when he started developing 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 Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield called Marquee Moon "one of the all-time classic guitar albums" whose tremulous guitar twang was an inspiration behind 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 his love of Marquee Moon was "second only to [Patti Smith's] Horses". English guitarist Will Sergeant said it was also one of his favorite records, and that Verlaine and Lloyd's guitar playing was a major influence on his band Echo & the Bunnymen.
|1.||"See No Evil"||3:56|
|2.||"Guiding Light" (Verlaine and Richard Lloyd)||5:36|
|2003 CD 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.