Entrenched in the coolest scene of all time, the 70’s New York punk movement, Television was an influencer then and now. With friends/fellow influencers Patti Smith, Brian Eno, and the whole crew at CBGB’s, Television helped to start something new. Surprisingly, their contributions are not always seen as founding the punk movement itself. Many argue that Marquee Moon, with its more complex guitar work and impressionist lyrics are some of the first sounds of post-punk rather than punk, but it helps to first view their album within the context of punk.
Television’s connections to the punk scene of the time is what has made them the stuff of legends, contributing to Marquee Moon’s timeless canon. Television’s founding member Richard Hell is credited with inspiring the founding style of the Sex Pistols, convincing CBGB to become a punk club, and now inspiring the bunches of contemporary New Yorkers now looking back and starting punk bands.
They were rebellious, in their screaming, gut-wrenching vocals and drooping, drugged-out hair cuts. But they were also an extremely ambitious, revolutionary band, said to practice for hours on end. Does that make them less punk? And is that a bad thing? Maybe or maybe not. Looking back, Television’s classification as punk or post-punk doesn’t detract from its value. It’s worth listening to for its energy and jammy guitars that you can dance to matter what their genre.
See No Evil
Opening track “See No Evil” starts with a simple pattern of scratchy guitars dancing on top of each other. Frontman Tom Verlaine's gutsy vocals complement the sound interplay in a song about running from your wild tendencies while simultaneously reverting to your dark ways. It's a jam for self-conscious punks.
“Venus” brings out another song about choice of lifestyle that continues a similar aesthetic from “See No Evil.” Here, guitars are more spacey and expanive while Veraline sings about “the night.” In Verlaine's night out, he adventures in an imagined New York city street caught between the Medieval Times and involving romantic entanglements with classical goddesses. Verlaine's still pointing to that rebellion of punk themes, but doing it in his new, heavily art-referenced way.
When Television first tried to record with Brian Eno, the band said that they sounded like The Ventures, in a really bad way. Here, with "Friction"’s cascading, reverb-drenched guitars, you can hear some of that surf rock influence. But the song moves away from free-flowing guitars of surf rock or exploding guitars of punk with more of a battle. The instruments all fight for your attention. Fitting for this battle, Veraline’s lyrics focus again on his own moral debates.
By the time you get to "Marquee Moon," the self-titled hit of this album, you realize the genius of Television in the context of post-punk: Veraline’s self-exploration. On this track he sings most memorably: “There I stand neath the Marquee Moon/Just waiting,
Hesitating/I ain’t waiting.” No punk would wait and contemplate. But Veraline’s been a punk, and now he’s slowing it down, adding intricate guitars, and asking you to consider your life.
"Elevation" is the most romantic, saddest track. Verlaine’s still being contemplative, but he’s doing it now about a lover. For this love song, there’s a fitting Police-esque, Sting-y vibe to the sound.
"Guiding Light" starts slow but somehow picks up the spirit after “Elevation.” It's another slow-ish jam but with an emotional “build” proper for a song about rising up. The opening lyrics “Do I, Do I?” get you ready for a Verlaine space trip: one with layers of escape into your own thoughts.
The drums on “Prove It” steal this show. For the first time, they take over the work from the guitar on Marquee Moon, and they have success. Like the battling guitar sounds of prior songs, they instead use powerful starts and stops as to maintain Television’s frantic energy. It’s a key point to look to the creation of the album’s instrumentation.
Torn Curtain"Torn Curtain" takes you out with a bang. Veraline almost goes psychedelic, with some crazy keys and references to “trances.” But I like to think he just wanted to make a song that would stay with the listener as you leave. Like psychedelia, his contemplative efforts on "Torn Curtain" involve traveling to other dimensions, ones that exist only in your self-conscious, post-punk head.
text: allie miller