Number 9: Television – Marquee Moon (1976)
American punk was, for the most part, vastly different to British punk. It’s widely acknowledged that the Ramones debut is the first recognised punk record, but ten years earlier, the likes of The Stooges and The MC5 were making music so aggressive that it would make Black Flag look like a bunch of fannies, but that’s merely my opinion (To further extend my opinion, I believe that the first punk record was Bob Dylan Live 1966. Discuss.) The U.S. punk scene was arty and spiky, a reaction against the horrific boredom of records made by slurs on the music industry such as Chicago, The Eagles and Supertramp. A venue in New York became famous, you can buy T-Shirts with its logo on in fucking Top Shop. It was called CBGB’s.
The biggest stars of American punk and new wave would play there, Blondie, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Suicide, The Ramones themselves, and of course Television, the most iconic of them all and possibly the most surreptitiously influential band of the era. Everything about them was perfect, from the skinny angular image to the neat, well-chosen name. Marquee Moon could well be the most musically accomplished album ever made that isn’t a jazz or classical album. It is a punk record that doesn’t contain a single strummed chord. It is a record that plays to the head rather than the heart, the astoundingly visceral lyrics (“My eyes are like telescopes,” “I recall lightning struck itself”) matched so potently by the guitar work of two musicians who were at the absolute peak of their craft. Verlaine and Lloyd’s lines weave together like a scientific diagram of DNA, creating a intricate yet rugged tapestry which is often difficult to take in all at once.
The opening track, See No Evil, is a song that The Strokes have made an entire career out of ripping off, a terse, circular guitar riff which blooms magnificently into a solo after the second chorus. It is the only conventional song on the album. Venus de Milo and Friction both feature guitar work that is the sonic equivalent of watching thousands of fireworks cascading to the ground in perfect time, and Torn Curtain is the soundtrack to a film noir that was never written. To say that Marquee Moon plays to the head is true, but there is warmth and humour here as well, mainly found in Guiding Light, with it’s lighters-aloft guitar break and the line “Never the rose, without the prick.” Elevation, for my money the best track on the album, has the most gripping sense of physical movement of any song ever written, and a heart-stopping change of time signature over the refrain. And one of the best, if not the best, guitar solo of all time. And then there’s the title track. Oh, good lord, the title track.
Your average punk single lasted about two and a half minutes. Admittedly, Marque Moon the song was released across two sides of 7″ vinyl, but it was still breaking ground in the most obscene way. This is a song based on a jazz scale invented in 1958 by Miles Davis, it is ten minutes and forty-two seconds long, it is sung by a man, whose voice, by any conventional measure, is terrible. It has no business being released as a single. It is a masterpiece, and an essential listen to anyone who has an interest in post-war music.
The NME made their 10/10 review of Marquee Moon the front page headline, the only time that has ever happened. The band themselves succumbed to the pressure of being The Best Thing In The History Of The World, and their second album, Adventure, got absolutely slated in the music press, simply for not being as good as their first one. So after playing in front of rabid punk crowds for a couple of years, they ended up supporting Peter Gabriel in sit-down venues to endless booing. A band that featured a really bad singer whose vocals perfectly suited the music, a group of musicians with an almost telepathic understanding, and one of the greatest ever debuts followed by a record that couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. Hmmmm… Mart… have we got one of those?
Best Tracks: Venus de Milo, Marquee Moon, Elevation
Best Moment: 2:43 into Guiding Light. For the most-part, this is a pretty cold album, but this bit is lovely.
Like this? Try: Horses by Patti Smith, 1976
Allen Miles is 33 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who thinks she’s Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/disappear2014