Friday, June 4, 2010

June 4: Television, "Marquee Moon"

Artist: Television
Song: "Marquee Moon"
Album: Marquee Moon
Year: 1977

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While one can find countless interesting fusions of genres over the decades, there are some that seem to be unable to mix with one another due to simply being based on such opposite foundations.  The best example may be taking the stripped down approach of punk rock and trying to combine it with anything that focuses on longer songs or improvised sections.  Though they rarely work properly with one another, there is one band that managed to bridge the gap between the "simpleness" of punk rock and the complex arrangements of jazz roots, manifested in the sound known as "jam music."  Standing as one of the key bands that began the post-punk movement, and perhaps the beginning of "new wave," there are few groups that can compare to the extraordinary musical creations of Television.  Originally founded by Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine, the group ended up replacing hell with former Blondie bassist, Fred Smith before they entered the studio to record their groundbreaking 1977 debut, Marquee Moon.  Truly a revolutionary record, the album can be seen as a "normal" rock record, and yet the brilliant progressions, powered by a clearly punk attitude make it unlike anything else in music history.  Pulling strong influence from the work of The Velvet Underground, Marquee Moon shows that the band knows no limits, and there is perhaps no more impressive a moment on the album than their epic song, "Marquee Moon."

Clocking in at just shy of eleven minutes, the run-time alone stands in strong defiance to everything that was thought to "be" punk rock.  Yet within the music, written by Tom Verlaine, lives an amazing swagger and attitude that is "vintage" punk sneer.  It is songs like "Marquee Moon" that prove the idea that in any genre, it is far more about the spirit and energy behind the song than it is the structure that makes it "fit" into a particular genre.  Along with the attitude, the song bolsters one of the most brilliant guitar progressions in history, and the signature riff, played by both Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, weaves seamlessly through the bass and drums, creating a rhythm all its own.  This cadence seems to simultaneously contrast and compliment the bass of Smith, while the drumming of Billy Ficca creates an almost impossible third tempo.  The fact that the song manages to function at such a complex rhythmic level defies all previous musical norms, and it blew open the doors for endless "post-punk" experimentation.  Again standing in contrast to the "norms" of punk, Verlaine and Lloyd treat the listener to plenty of amazing guitar "licks" as well as one of the most phenomenal solos of the era.  Finishing off the song, Verlaine gives "Marquee Moon" an absolutely breathtaking ending, as his final progression is nothing short of sonic bliss.

While his guitar performance on "Marquee Moon" would have certainly been enough to instantly solidify him as a music legend, Tom Verlaine places himself into the most elite group of performers in history with his equally brilliant vocal stylings.  Possessing one of the most unique and instantly recognizable voices in history, his singing cuts through the music and creates yet another tempo within the music.  Falling somewhere between David Byrne and Joey Ramone, there has simply never been anyone who sounded quite like Verlaine, and his distinctive ability to punctuate songs without really changing his delivery makes the songs of Television unparalleled.  Clearly drawing from the word of poetry, Verlaine's lyrics follow their own pattern, and it is this almost disconnected rhythm that can be heard in later bands like Fugazi and Gang Of Four.  It is also within the lyrics of "Marquee Moon" that the songs' somewhat dark mood comes into play.  The almost cryptic lyrics paint a dark image, filled with storms and graveyards.  Yet there is also an undeniably "deeper" level, where one can hear the words as quite introspective, such as when Verlaine sings, "...I asked him, how he don't go man.  He said, "look here junior, don't you be so happy...and for heaven's sake, don't you be so sad..."

For so many reasons, the band Television remain today one of the most important groups in the entire history of music.  Whether it was the fact that they physically built the stage at the legendary CBGB's club, or the fact that it was largely their pioneering music that kick-started the post-punk and new wave movements, the importance of the group cannot be overstated.  Blending psychedelic rock with the punk attitude, the band proved that nearly any style of music could be fused with another, and their 1977 debut, Marquee Moon, remains one of the most sensational records ever released.  Though quite literally every song on the album is an amazing musical accomplishment, Television threw all expectations to the wayside with the albums' epic title track.  Completely exploring every aspect of the music, the band jams in and out of their complex rhythmic structure, and one is truly left in awe of the amazing talent that each member shows.  Clearly, both Verlaine and Lloyd were fans of this "jam" style, as they perfectly fill each moment, yet are skilled enough to know "when not to play."  The addition of Tom Verlaine's unmistakable voice over-top the stunning music only makes the song more superb, and there is simply nothing else in the history of recorded music that can compare to Television's 1977 masterpiece, "Marquee Moon."

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