Television: Marquee Moon (1977)

Some albums blow you over from the very first needle drop, forever altering your musical landscape.

This was not one of those albums.

Back when I was first exploring the early New York punk scene, I struggled to "get" Television.  The Ramones were fun, funny, high-energy no-frills romps; the Talking Heads were clever and arty and quirky.  But Television were.... I dunno, maybe I expected something more "punk," and what I heard was rock and roll.  Classic rock.  A 10-minute guitar jam.  And let's face it, Tom Verlaine is not the most inviting of vocalists.

Fortunately, I circled back and gave it another chance, and this time it clicked.  I came to recognize the first side of the album as one of the greatest 20 minutes of the punk era.

In hindsight, it's hard to understand why I was so reluctant to embrace this.  The album opens with an unrivaled one-two punch:  "See No Evil" is simply one of the finest rock songs of the late 70s, an insistent riff that digs in deep, amplified by the call-and-response vocals of the chorus; this isn't "punk," just unadulterated rock and roll in its purest form.  That "See No Evil" is anything less than a perennial classic rock staple alongside the Stones and Zeppelin is a pretty solid indictment of the rigid rules of mainstream tastemakers.  And the next track, "Venus," is at least as good, adding a joyful pop twist to yet another indelible guitar riff.  "Friction" is less poppy, more jagged and angular, but still pretty solid.  

All of which brings you to the title track, a 10-plus minute two-chord guitar vamp, a logical extension to the Velvet's "Sister Ray" only more jammy and less transgressive.  "Marquee Moon" is the merger of punk and the Grateful Dead, raw energy coupled with a willingness for a couple guitarists to see where the vibe takes them.  The song highlights the wonders of the band's dual-guitar attack, lead guitarist Richard Lloyd jamming frenetically up against Verlaine's jagged, percussive rhythm guitar, like an indie rock Garcia/Weir.  The slow build of the instrumental jam is as headphone friendly and exploratory as anything by the Dead or Floyd or others in the classic rock canon who seem miles removed from the New York CBGB's punk scene. 

I'm a little less partial to the second half of the disc.  "Elevation" is fine, kicking off the second side with a mellower groove, and "Prove It" has a nice 50s retro vibe, but neither is in the same league as the first half of the album, and the other two tracks are a little too slow and meandering.  Which doesn't make the album any less essential for anyone who simply loves rock and roll and is willing to look past labels and genre-based assumptions (and, again, can indulge Verlaine's not-for-everyone vocal stylings).  Personally, I ended up making a more personalized Television disc that substitutes the highlights of the underrated follow-up Adventure (particularly "Glory" and "Ain't That Nothing," which approach "Evil" and "Venus" in terms of sheer pure pop-rock greatness) for Marquee's weaker numbers; but both albums are pretty key to any legit record collection.

Here's an audio rip of "Venus" for the Spotify-impaired:
If you've got 10 minutes to burn, how about a nice live "Marquee Moon" jam from Tom Verlaine in 1985?
Here's a live "See No Evil" from a 2005 reunion gig (Verlaine's vocals are pretty shot, but the guitars sound great):

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