A special 99-page magazine – The 60 Most Important Albums Of NME’s Lifetime – is on sale now. You can order it here. In this excerpt, Alan Woodhouse enthuses about Television’s ground-breaking first album ‘Marquee Moon’.
Justifiably regarded as one the greatest and most influential albums of the punk era, Television’s debut album is the polar opposite of what that word ‘punk’ has come to mean: a crisp-sounding record, beautifully played, featuring lengthy improvised guitar solos and, in Tom Verlaine, a singer who you could justifiably claim was crooning on certain tracks – albeit obtusely. So although they will forever be synonymous with CBGB in the ’70s, ‘Marquee Moon’’s sound is rooted in many other places, giving the record a timeless quality that even their lofty contemporaries’ best records have struggled to match.
What sets them apart is that they had already been together for a few years, andwere so comfortable and familiar with the material they had for the record that being recorded live in the studio was not a problem for them. Plus, they could really play. That’s not to say the group weren’t infused with the energy around at the time – the opener ‘See No Evil’ revolves around a gloriously infectious dumb riff, while the likes of ‘Fiction’ and ‘Prove It’ are taut, clinically precise rockers, which gives the record a crucial balance. Because such was the dexterity of Verlaine and fellow guitarist Richard Lloyd’s playing, if it wasn’t reined in there’s a good chance they could have ended up with a sprawling, self-indulgent mess of a debut album. Underpinned by Fred Smith’s reliably solid bass parts and drummer Billy Ficca’s satisfying but relatively economical clatter, the two combine to devastating effect, creating something radically new from old parts – ’60s garage rock, psych, country and, yes, jazz.
The title track is the undoubted highpoint, a 10-minute epic which could stretch to over half an hour when they were playing live. But then, they were also capable of moments of economical beauty – the celestial ‘Guiding Light’ being the nearest Verlaine ever got to writing an out-and-out love song. It wasn’t a particularly big record in the band’s native America, although they scored a Top 30 album in the UK on the back of a lengthy review raving about the record by the legendary writer Nick Kent.
The influence of ‘Marquee Moon’ cannot be overestimated. The post-punk movement certainly took on board numerous aspects of the record – the clinically precise instrumentation, the clean sound and the introspective, vaguely gloomy feel. That filtered through to the indie movement of the ’80s, for whom the record became one of the sacred texts, while even bands like The Strokes have clearly taken inspiration from it. It would not be an overstatement to say that ‘Marquee Moon’ is to the ’70s what ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ was to the ’60s.
The 60 Most Important Albums Of NME’s Lifetime is on sale now. Order your copy here.