Marquee Moon was the debut album by American post-punk/art-punk band Television. Released in 1977, it has since gone on to be considered a pivotal album in the development of post-punk in the late-70s and early-80s, not to mention it having a lasting influence on indie, garage and alternative rock.
Marquee Moon was quite a unique album for a punk oriented group at the time and had a very different sound to the other music which was being made on the punk scene. The sound on the album is very much based on the twin lead guitar sound of Tom Verlaine, who was also the band’s lead singer and Richard Lloyd, with the two producing a heavily layered and lick laden guitar wall of sound. This dual guitar style was very much based on classic rock from the 70s and involved plenty of inter-play between the two, with one usually taking the rhythm part as the other took the lead, with both often swapping roles from rhythm to lead within songs as well. Gone were the power chords and heavy riffage of traditional punk rock, which were replaced with melodic guitar lines, counter-melodies and carefully constructed rhythmic sequences. This was more complex musically than punk and I guess allowed for more musical ideas to be explored within songs, while allowing for what I would describe as non-punk influences to be brought in such as progressive rock and jazz, influences which you can clearly hear throughout the album.
The songs themselves are incredibly catchy and very melodic but not in a way that you would normally associate with a good song, such as having a catchy chorus, or pop hook. The catchiness and listenable qualities of the songs on Marquee Moon are found more in the sound of the hook-laden and melodic guitar lines which come to dominate all the songs on the album, and help to form the organic base of which these songs are built. Songs such as opening track “See No Evil” and “Friction” are a classic example of the twin lead guitar attack and contain some amazing dueling guitar sequences complete with competing melodies and backed by a stellar rhythm section. Title track “Marquee Moon” is the album’s centrepiece and most out there track and at times tends to resemble a prog rock track, or in this instance a prog punk masterpiece. Coming in at over ten minutes something that would have been inconceivable for anyone with an ounce of punk in their music at the time, “Marquee Moon” brings in the prog and jazz influences that I mentioned earlier, especially in terms of the complex technicality of the guitar playing, the song structure, as well as the free jamming and extended guitar solo duels that are dottered throughout the song. This is quite simply prog punk at its finest and forms as a reminder of what could have been had the punk rockers not turned their noses up so much at progressive rock. Other tracks on the album that are worth a mention include “Elevation” which has a Beatles feel to it with some amazing psychedelic guitar melodies, “Guiding Light” which is a slower track that could also be described as the ballad of the album and gets dangerously close to being mid-70s corporate guitar rock but in a good way, and finally “Prove It” which brings in some jangly guitar and some thumping R&B influenced bass playing by bass player Fred Smith.
Although Marquee Moon was not a commercial success at the time, its reputation has grown tremendously over the years, while it has influenced most of the guitar music that has followed its release. It has been sighted by many critics as being one of the greatest albums of the 70s American punk rock movement and by Rolling Stones as the 128 greatest album of all time, high praise for an art-punk band who released an album that went against the grain of many of their contemporaries of the time. Marquee Moon is a truly amazing sounding album and showed a punk rock band could actually get down and dirty with some serious playing of the highest complexity and skill, but yet still retain their punk essence. This is definitely one of the best guitar albums ever recorded and contains some of the most melodically beautiful and clean guitar playing you are ever likely to hear. Well worth a listen for all guitar heads, punk worshipers, while progressive rock enthusiasts might just even dig this one to.