Song: Marquee Moon
Marquee Moon closes out side one of Televisions’s 1977 eponymous debut album; the NYC band had already been together for four years and had become an innovative, iconoclastic and technically proficient band. It was the era of punk and raw, stripped-down songs yet Television stood out for the singularity of its nerdishly studied, twin guitar approach, spearheaded by Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. Unlike so many bands emerging from the punk era, Television embraced that most un-punkish of traditions, the electric guitar solo. Marquee Moon, for all its potent lyricism and mysteriousness, is defined by the extended instrumental section which constitutes the heart of the song.
The band’s approach was not to everyone’s taste: a friend of a friend once flatly dismissed the band, summing up their style as “turgid.” Ah well… some years ago I was sitting in a west end Toronto bar with an old friend, enjoying the free-wheeling playlist of the young barkeep who was using vintage vinyl to entertain the room. When he threw on Marquee Moon we were in heaven… not a dud on the album. Then came on the namesake tune. Again we marvelled at the focussed purity of the song. We were entranced anew by Verlaine’s virtuoso guitar work - the restless energy and sheer melodic expansiveness of it. At one point, well into the solo that begins lo-key but which moves into something huge, my animated friend blurted out: “he keeps coming up with new ideas!”
All of Verlaine’s passages make sense; nothing feels like rock guitar wankery for its own sake. It’s a triumphant, upward-and-outward expanding architecture of anthemic sonic power. Responding to Lloyd’s commanding rhythmic chop - a steady, see-saw riff of a mere two notes, each one sounded twice before again alternating - the other guitarist mines that simple but amply melodic structure for all its worth. Further anchored by bassist Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca’s unshakeable forward-surging vibe, an inspired Verlaine builds to a searing crescendo - then the song flutters into a sublimely peaceful reverie. Inevitably, the band resurrects the invincible signature riff which began the song, with Verlaine repeating his surreal opening refrain (“I remember how the darkness doubled, I recall lightning struck itself”) and slowly fading to silence.
A monster song.
Posted by Max MacDonald