The name Television has popped up here a couple of times recently. James Brooks from Land Observations name-checked them in his Six Of The Best article and a couple of weeks ago I was comparing the laconic vocals and snaking guitar sound of Charlie Boyer & the Voyeurs latest single to that of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. All this has coincided with the old iPod (well, it’s not that old – 3 and a half years – but I suppose that’s ancient in tech-speak) refusing to sync any new additions to my iTunes library and, worse than that, wiping itself clean of all the 140+GB of crap that was on there originally and deciding it’s just not going to work any more. Even the (cough) ‘Genius’ at the Apple store in Glasgow had to somewhat disappointingly concede defeat. As the iPod goes everywhere with me at all times this has proven nothing short of a disaster. So much so that I’ve gone all end-of-the-millenium retro and started playing CDs again. Real, shop-bought CDs in the car and on the stereo at home (I had to dust it a wee bit first, I’m ashamed to admit). Having exhausted the Can Lost Tapes box set that fell into my hands for less than £18 in a destined-to-die HMV store, the one album I’ve had on constant repeat for a fortnight is Marquee Moon, the debut album by Television.
Terrific photo, aye? More about it here.
It’s now considered something of a (yawn) seminal classic or something, so far out of step/ahead of the pack when first released that it sounds fresh, ageless and timeless when you listen to it now. But you knew that already. In mid 70s America, Television found themselves roped in with the NYC punk lot, seemingly by virtue of having a regular gig at CBGBs. Original bass player Richard Hell, with his penchant for ripped jeans, safety pins and home-made spiky haircut is considered the true originator of the punk style, but by the time of Marquee Moon‘s release, he had long since left the band to form The Voidoids and invent the Stray Cat Strut with their I Belong To The Blank Generation single…
Anyway. Where were we? Oh aye, Television. Where did they fit in? Not for them the 3 chords-in-platform-heel Stonesy glam slam so beloved of the New York Dolls. Not for them the legs akimbo cartoon buzzbomb of the brothers Ramone. Not for them the high-brow beat poetry set to the low-brow beat music of Patti Smith. Television set themselves apart from the off. With an approach to their individual instruments bordering on muso, and a healthy disregard for the two and a half minute pop song, they were so far out of step/ahead of the pack that they still sound fresh, ageless and timeless today. Guitars intertwined like psychic snakes, riffing off one another creating astonishing Fender Jag ‘scuse me while I kiss the sky melodies and counter melodies seemingly at will. Not quite free jazz, but certainly free from the straight-jacketed constraints of their 3 chord loving peers. Learn an F chord, barre it and move it up and down the frets. Play it loud, play it fast, there you go, you’re a band. Television were so far ahead of this, it’s not hard to understand why, 35 years later they were 1) seen as misfits and 2) sound as now as the latest daft haircutted, snake-hipped gang of teenagers straight off the cover of the NME.
First single (not on the album) Little Johnny Jewel was a taste of things to come. 7 minutes of art rock, all cheese-grater strings and rake-thin bass, slightly out of tune chords, random blips and blops and clattering, carefree jazz drumming, with a more spoken-word than singing approach to the vocals, the pre-pubescent seeds for Marquee Moon were sown. After an aborted session with Brian Eno, and balls duly dropped, the band started fashioning the music that would grace the album. Tougher, meatier, more aggressive yet airy, effeminate and even effete when compared to the band’s contemporaries, the alt. mix of the title track is the aural equivalent of watching Picasso sketch Guernica. Or something less pretentious than that. Friction, with its galloping elastic band riff and ‘Eff! Are! Aye! See! Tea-Eye-Oh-Enn!’ refrain is a personal favourite amongst an LP full of personal favourites. If you’ve never heard Television, rectify that now!
Just as The Velvet Underground before them and The Beta Band since (I digress, but believe me, one day The Beta Band will come to be as revered as the truly great originators they were. They will!), Television never really got their dues at the time. But their influence is writ large in any twin guitar band with a penchant for razor-sharp riffs and meandering solos. Scratch just under the surface of all the usual suspects (you know who they are) and you’ll find a well-worn copy of Marquee Moon rotating ad infinitum between the grooves. The coolest part of it all? Well, rumour has it that around the time of recording the Blue Sky Blue album, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy received the ultimate birthday present from his wife- a guitar lesson from Richard Lloyd. Not the first band that springs to mind at the mention of meandering solos and disregard for a well constructed pop song, Wilco did indeed adopt a more Verlaine/Lloyd approach on some of Sky Blue Sky‘s less structured tracks. Impossible Germany, for example, features a pair of clean, chiming guitars wrapping themselves around one another for 6 shimmering minutes. The solo alone is pure Lloyd. Or Verlaine. I can never tell the difference. If you’ve never heard it, rectify once more.