Marquee Moon (Elektra, 1977)
Adventure (Elektra, 1978)
The Blow Up (ROIR, 1982)
Television (Elektra, 1991)
Live at the Old Waldorf (Rhino Handmade, 2003)
Television was one of the greatest rock & roll bands New York City ever coughed up, mystical guitar boys dressing up like punks and singing like poets while exploring the mind-expanding properties of the Fender Jazzmaster solo. Onstage at CBGB, Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd would sail away on ten-minute twin-guitar jams such as "Kingdom Come" and "Little Johnny Jewel." Their 1977 debut, Marquee Moon, remains one of the all-time classic guitar albums. But unfortunately, they broke up just as they were hitting their musical peak because the band members were reportedly high-strung freakazoids who hated one another.
Tom Verlaine's strangled voice takes some getting used to, but Marquee Moon shimmers with urban grime and psychedelic imagination. In the trebly twang of "See No Evil," "Guiding Light," and "Venus," you can hear how Television inspired bands from U2 and R.E.M. to Joy Division and Sonic Youth. In the epic title song, Verlaine probes the outer contours of six-string consciousness like a mix of William Blake, Sam Fuller, and the Shadows. Adventure is slighter, but it still has great songs such as the spastic rocker "Glory," the brooding "Carried Away," and the gorgeously sad "Days." "Marquee Moon" was a Top 30 single in the U.K., and Adventure cracked the Top 10, but that didn't help keep the band together. Television reunited briefly for a lightweight 1991 album, and have also gigged periodically in recent years, mostly at European festivals. The 2003 Rhino reissues of Marquee Moon and Adventure feature rare goodies, including the inferior studio "Little Johnny Jewel" and a great alternate version of "See No Evil" with additional guitars.
The weird part: Most of Television's best stuff has never been released. The band's live jams make the studio albums sound tame, but for the most part they're only available on rare bootlegs. The Blow Up is a collection picked by Verlaine from live 1978 New York shows, featuring attacks on Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and the 13th Floor Elevators' "Fire Engine." Even better (in terms of sound quality as well as playing), Live at the Old Waldorf finally got officially released in 2003, via Rhino's Handmade imprint. It's a legendary San Francisco show from the summer of 1978, when Television was topping itself every night. The 11-minute version of "Little Johnny Jewel" is an absolute peak of human/guitar telepathic interaction. As Television's legend keeps growing, more of their live work will get officially released—hopefully starting with the Portland show from July 3, 1978, featuring a definitive 17-minute "Marquee Moon" that gets religion.
Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
MUSIC 9 Classic Devo Videos
OLYMPICS 18 Epic Opening Ceremonies