Listen to this song by mid-70s proto-new wave giants Television. It’s ‘Marquee Moon’, an epic length slice of alternative rock before there was such a thing as alternative rock. This song is an achievement in sound, and unique in its placement in the pantheon of biggest songs in the world. The song is the title track to the 1977 album, Marquee Moon, a record that stands for many as a rosetta stone for multiple strains of rock music from the end of the 70s to the present day.
In some ways, the song and the band that created it both epitomized and undercut the shift rock music made in the mid-70s. The rock scenes on the east coast at the time were going through a sea change. New voices like Patti Smith and Richard Hell & the Voidoids were adding angular textures and unglamourized presentation that drew attention to the music in a way that stadium rock was too big to deliver. And Television stood among them.
Yet, at the same time, Television wasn’t a band to be found on a small scale either. In this song alone, you can hear the sheer size of what they were building up, and committing the possibly unexpected move of including long instrumental passages even if it was in a new paradigm.
Here’s the thing about the solos on this song; they are not in place for the musician playing them, but rather for the song itself, the overall atmosphere. Somehow, it pulls from a tradition of rock soloing, yet stands as something new, too. The instrumental passages here are all about the song, not the playing. It is a subtle achievement, but a vital one. And it would go on to effect how all rock soloing would evolve, from Gang of Four, to Joy Division, to the Smiths.
Guitarist, songwriter, and leader Tom Verlaine, along with guitarist Richard Lloyd, bassist Fred Smith, and drummer Billy Ficca added virtuosity into the CBGB punk scene, and made something new, although the seeds were only just being sown. The band released singles in Britain where they were championed by NME writer Nick Kent, and where they had a direct effect on bands coming out of British scenes. The fruits of their labours would become most apparent by the late 70s and early 80s, after Television themselves would be overshadowed by their followers and relegated to cult status.
The enormity of this song, and album off of which it comes cannot be underestimated. Not only does it burn just as bright as any historically important document, it also stands as the river’s source for punk, post-punk, modern progressive rock, and indie-guitar rock that would follow it from the mid-70s to the present day. If this is the first time you’re hearing it, I envy you.