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It was indeed inevitable that the short-lived new wave/punk act TELEVISION would fracture into solo ventures – well before their sell-by date. Cosmic guitarists TOM VERLAINE and RICHARD LLOYD (and for that matter, original bassist RICHARD HELL) would come to regret their ill-advised decision to divide their unique talents, but at least they’d left behind one true classic gem of an album in “Marquee Moon”.
Formed in New York City, NY in late ’73, Sanford School runaways Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell had played together in the embryonic Neon Boys (alongside TELEVISION sticksman Billy Ficca), while the final piece of the jigsaw came through the addition of second guitarist Richard Lloyd. Regular performers at the burgeoning CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City, a cult following led to William Terry Ork pulling out a one-off deal for his own self-named indie label, for whom they issued the cool, `Little Johnny Jewel’ single. By this point in ‘75, individual contributor and nihilistic punk, RICHARD HELL (who was upset with his band’s reluctance to perform his songs) bailed out, superseded by Fred Smith, not the “Sonic” one from MC5 but a man who’d filled in for BLONDIE.
Losing out on a deal with Island Records (endorsed by ENO), TELEVISION duly signed with Elektra, unleashing their ground-breaking, Andy Johns-produced debut album, MARQUEE MOON {*10} early in ‘77. At a time when TALKING HEADS, The HEARTBREAKERS, PATTI SMITH and the RAMONES were all finding their place among New York’s new wave elite, Verlaine’s impassioned New Jersey-boy drawl would stand him in good stead among the punk in-crowd. Although virtually ignored in their homeland (more astute new wave fans placed it in the UK Top 30), the album has since been acknowledged as a landmark release. The hypnotic near-10 minute title track (also a UK Top 30 hit when edited) breathtakingly showcased the driving/free-form cool guitar interplay between Lloyd and virtuoso Verlaine; the track first debuted at their early CBGB’s shows and was perfected/modified over the next couple of years). While the album as a whole testified to Verlaine’s thinly-disguised passion for The ROLLING STONES, PINK FLOYD and the darker moments of The VELVET UNDERGROUND, who could argue the merits of opener `See No Evil’, `Elevation’ (with intro licks coincidentally similar to PINK FLOYD’s “Pigs (Three Different Ones”) and `Torn Curtain’. Meanwhile, `Prove It’ (b/w `Venus’) gave the quartet another UK Top 30 hit – coloured vinyl et al. While Verlaine’s tortured vocals were reminiscent of LOU REED/PATTI SMITH, his molten-spark histrionics resolutely distinguished the band from the more wilfully amateurish new wave pack. TELEVISION remained the most musically adept band of the era.
Unsurprisingly, however, they found it difficult following up such a milestone and although ADVENTURE (1978) {*7} contained sporadic moments of genius, TELEVISON were beginning to lose clarity. Produced this time around by John Jansen, the harder spark had been all-but ditched on the intimate `Glory’, `Carried Away’ and `The Dream’s Dream’. Apace with the times and not succumbing to a “Whispering” Bob Harris-like horizontal approach, the set’s rockier pieces were down to UK Top 40 entry, `Foxhole’ and the excellent `Ain’t That Nothin’’.
Ironically, as the New York scene was at its height, RICHARD LLOYD effectively pulled the plug on the group after walking out mid-tour later that year. TOM VERLAINE tried unsuccessfully to translate his distinctive sound into a more mainstream rock setting with his solo career, retaining his characteristic vocals and of course, his trademark guitar alchemy. Fans of the group had to make-do with a sublime live cassette, THE BLOW UP! (1982) {*7}, a exploitative release from 1978 and featuring usual suspects and two covers, DYLAN’s `Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ and The ROLLING STONES’ `(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’; the 13th FLOOR ELEVATORS’ `Fire Engine’, although not included here, was another early insight to their cover idols.
TELEVISION eventually re-formed in the early 90s. The classic line-up of Verlaine, Lloyd, Smith and Ficca released their long-awaited eponymous TELEVISION {*6} set for Capitol in ‘92, a record suggesting that what Verlaine’s solo career was lacking was the anchor and foil of Lloyd’s rhythm playing. But with no hit single fodder and in a world besieged by grunge rock, songs such as `In World’, `Call Mr. Lee’ and `1880 Or So’, gave the impression that Tom was listening to too much FELT, or dare one say it, LLOYD COLE. In 2001 – for an “All Tomorrow’s Parties” re-appearance – TELEVISION reunited, and continued to do so whenever it was felt necessary. In 2007, Lloyd was unable to fulfill commitments with the band dure to illness; his place taken by former TOM VERLAINE solo associate, Jimmy Rip. We await the possibility of something in the form of a studio release – 201?.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Sep2012

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