From New York City, Television was an American rock band that made its biggest impact during the 1970s as an influencer of alternative and punk music. The founders, Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine were teenagers when they first met as fellow school students in Hockessin, Delaware. Separately, the two moved to New York with the dream of becoming poets. When the two met they founded their first band together, Neon Boys, along with a drummer named Billy Ficca. Neon Boys had a career run for a few months from late 1972 until the spring of 1973. The trio did record a couple of tunes, “That’s All I Know (Right Now)” and “Love Comes in Spurts” but neither was released until 1980.
On March 11, 1973, Neon Boys disbanded. On March 12, 1973, Television began as a four-man band that still had Hell, Verlaine, and Ficca but now included Richard Lloyd. Nearly a year later, Television performed their first gig at the Townhouse Theatre. It didn’t take long before Television developed a local cult following of fans.
At the time, the songwriting for Television was primarily shared between Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine. However, they, along with Billy Ficca and Richard Lloyd, encountered creativity and performance issues that reached the point where something had to give. As it turned out, it was Hell as his bandmates felt his frenzied behavior compromised the quality level of Television performances. At one point, the band refused to play Hell’s songs in concert for fear that he’d act up too much on stage. In the end, a frustrated Hell decided he had enough and opted to leave the band. Upon his departure, he took some of the songs with him.
After splitting with Television, Richard Hell first co-founded the Heartbreakers with Jerry Nolan in 1975 before moving on to form Richard Hell and the Voidoids. For Television, Hell’s replacement was Fred Smith, a bassist who previously was part of Blondie’s lineup. Together, the group made their official debut in 1975 with “Little Johnny Jewel” a song that was featured on both sides of a seven-inch single. This was released by the independent label, Ork Records. This was owned by the band’s manager at the time, Terry Ork.
However, the recording met with some conflict as Richard Lloyd was unhappy with the music selection that was made. The story had it he had a preference for “O Mi Amore” as Television’s debut, to the point where if his bandmates disagreed with him he’d leave. Supposedly, there was even an audition to take Lloyd’s place as the band’s guitarist. However, Lloyd stayed on board, at least for the time being.
Marquee Moon was the first studio album recorded by Television, which was released in 1977. This jazzy influence of 1960s rock, combined with a guitar-heavy performance, played a revolutionary role in the genre of punk music. Overall, the album was received well by an appreciative audience and music critics. Even today, Marquee Moon and Television are considered iconic by a fan base who saw more than just another rock band. When Adventure was released as Television’s second studio album in 1978, it was also considered a musical masterpiece by music critics. However, it failed to come to close to the same level of success as Marquee Moon.
1978 also marked the year of Television’s breakup as a band. The creative differences among each band member within the group continued to cause ripples in each man’s ability to get along. It didn’t help when Richard Lloyd’s drug abuse was also playing a factor in the equation. Due to all these issues, it was inevitable everybody would go their separate ways. Richard Lloyd embarked on a solo career, as did Tom Verlaine. Meanwhile, Billy Ficca teamed up with a new wave band called The Waitresses.
It wouldn’t be until 1992 that these former bandmates would reconcile their differences and release Television as their third album. Off and on, they engaged in various stage performances until Richard Lloyd announced in 2007 that he would leave the band. The idea was to leave after performing with them at New York City’s Central Park. However, Lloyd contracted pneumonia which landed him in the hospital. Unable to participate in the concert, Lloyd’s substitution was Jimmy Rippetoe (also known as Jimmy Rip). After that, Rip was invited to replace the guitarist as part of Television’s official lineup.
As guitarists, Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd were often regarded as talents that pushed the envelope as musicians. They were recognized for interlocking melodic and rhythmic guitar sounds in a manner that served as sources of inspiration for upcoming alternative and punk rock musicians.
In total, there are three studio albums to Television’s credit. There are also three live albums and a compilation album. There are also eight singles that were released by the band and some of them made chart appearances, mostly in the U.K., as the punk scene at that time was incredible.
At the height of Television’s career, the band had a fiercely devout fan following among New Yorkers, the British, and fans of independent American rock. As for the mainstream market, they were largely ignored as they favored bands like the Velvet Underground and the Grateful Dead at that time. Marquee Moon was highly favored by Television fans but it was a 1974 collection of demos that wouldn’t be polished and released until 1977. Adventure, as a 1978 release, was softer as an album compared to Television’s debut. It also came at a time when the tension among band members was at the breaking point, literally speaking.
When Television was released as an album in 1992, it met the same fate as the previous two. The critics loved it, as did the group’s loyal fan base, but there wasn’t enough mainstream attention to improve its record sales. Since then, there have been no additional studio recordings despite there being a rumor of a potential album in the works. That so far never materialized as a release yet but Television still continues as a rock band that still has a loyal fan base, both old and new.
Top 10 Television Songs
#10 – Little Johnny Jewel
Before Richard Hell broke ties with Television, “Little Johnny Jewel” was a song that technically served as the group’s debut single. This song presented the foundation that would become Television’s signature style as Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd made their mark as guitar gods. This song was released as a single in 1975 that had the first half of it on one side of the record and the second half on the other side. In New York, “Little Johnny Jewel” became a favorite while the rest of the listening audience had yet to learn about it, as well as the band that performed it.
#9 – Days
From Adventure, “Days” was a song that shared a cheerier perception of life. Unlike most of the music from Marquee Moon, Adventure leaned into tunes that were more mellow. The opening riff started off as a gentle introduction, leading to a beautiful dual guitar performance by Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. This could almost pass as a love ballad as the idyllic lyrics seemed to reach for the sky. The beauty behind “Days” was its ability to uplift someone’s mood from a state of anxiety to relaxation as its pace felt like enjoying a lazy afternoon that’s stress-free.
#8 – Guiding Light
As a song, “Guiding Light” was probably the only musical beacon of hope from the album, Marquee Moon. Between the guitar and piano performance, along with Tom Verlaine’s vocals, this song felt like an angelic number. Among Television’s fan base, “Guiding Light” served as a great song to lift the mood from something depressive to something hopeful.
#7 – Torn Curtain
What made “Torn Curtain” so appealing was its delivery as a song loaded with soul. From Marquee Moon, listening to this tune sounded like the performers were using music to express their innermost thoughts. “Torn Curtain” seemed to let on there was a mix of confusion and helplessness. Both the song and the album served as a reflection of a community enduring a series of experiences that felt traumatic.
#6 – Elevation
“Elevation” was a song that served as a key influencer of the post-punk musical movement. This was among the most rhythmic tunes Television ever produced, showing just how well each band member played off each other as a group. This was made obvious with 1977’s Marquee Moon.
What made Television and “Elevation” so appealing was how well they held their ground as musical artists who stayed true to themselves. Instead of conforming to the industry’s standards just to appeal to the mainstream music market, this band kept its identity as is. As instrumentalists, Television was top-notch, especially when delivering music that literally elevated the senses to just shut up and listen. Both the music critics and the fans who followed them knew this. Because of this, Television was among the most influential groups to come out of New York’s early punk scene.
#5 – See No Evil
When Television was making a name for itself as a rock band, its style was seen as post-punk that also had the influence of blues and jazz mixed in. “See No Evil” was a song that made this fusion evident and in a good way. The guitar solo featured a full octave before shifting to a bluesy riff that almost felt like a supernatural experience. Marquee Moon was regarded as Television’s best studio album and for good reason.
“See No Evil” also had the blend of guitar works by Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd that let off a hue of darkness that felt like an Alice in Wonderland experience. Another highlight was Verlaine’s howling as if he was a man possessed. This was a song that was loaded with a punk attitude, which dictated the rest of the album’s layout that deservedly gave it the critical acclaim it still receives today.
#4 – Prove It
In 1977, Television released the single “Prove It.” On the U.K. Singles Chart, it became a number twenty-five hit. As a song, it was a lyrical detective story that became a staple song during some of Television’s live concert performances. This was a great tune that demonstrated the talent of each band member. While Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd demonstrated why they’re legendary guitar gods as they dueled, Billy Ficca was no slouch either with his drumming skill. It was as if he, along with bassist Fred Smith, performed as judge and jury until Verlaine declares at the end of the song that the case is closed. The verdict as far as Television is concerned suggests “Prove It” was yet another gem that came from an incredible rock band.
#3 – Friction
Richard Lloyd’s guitar performance in “Friction,” combined with Tom Verlaine’s vocals, made this song a worthy champion as a cult classic. From the album, Marquee Moon, “Friction” was among the great tunes that rightfully earned Television its place in the hearts of fans who knew good music when they heard it. What made Television so appealing, especially among New Yorkers, was making reference to Lower Manhattan in most of the band’s musical material. When both the audience and the musicians seem to be on the same page, this is an added bonus to a song that felt like a somewhat spooky and wild rollercoaster ride throughout.
#2 – Venus
“Venus” was a song that made references to the psychedelic experience of certain drugs once they’ve been taken. Although Tom Verlaine was very much against drug usage while Television ran as a band, there was a time when he briefly experimented with it. Thanks to this, he was able to make a song about it that made it a trippy number that easily won over an audience. “Venus” is euphoric, to say the least. From the album, Marquee Moon, this song shared the same French poetry characteristics as most of the songs in its tracklist.
#1 – Marquee Moon
Television’s debut album, Marquee Moon, produced “Marquee Moon” as a single that peaked at number thirty in the U.K. after it was released as a single in 1977. This was a song that was written by the band’s lead vocalist and guitarist, Tom Verlaine. This became Television’s signature song that displayed the unique guitar talent of Verlaine, as well as Richard Lloyd and his second chorus solo. As an original recording, the music faded out just shy of the ten-minute mark. Reissued recordings have since extended the song to just beyond ten minutes. In concert, “Marquee Moon” has been known to play as long as fifteen fabulous minutes. Because of the song’s length, most radio formats at the time wouldn’t play it. When it was released as a single, the song was divided with the first part on one side of a vinyl record with the second part placed on the other side.
The most significant appeal behind “Marquee Moon” was the double-timed guitar riff, plus a trilled bass and guitar pattern that delivered an off-the-wall experience that was hypnotically awesome. As a song, this was a great jam performed by two guitarists who clearly knew how to expertly handle a guitar. While the original studio version is, without doubt, a classic, the live versions of “Marquee Moon” remains as epic as it gets when it comes to wowing the audience with a great tune.
Feature Photo: English: Photograph by Roberta Bayley. Distributed by Elektra Records., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Top 10 Television Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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