Marquee Moon

Marquee Moon

There was always something off about calling Marquee Moon punk. The music is too sophisticated and the writing too opaque. Where quintessentially punk bands like the Ramones and The Clash worked through the alchemy of reduction, Marquee Moon expands in almost every direction, opening up where it could flame out (“Marquee Moon”) and forsaking punk’s brevity for a sense of romance and digression that might sound decadent if the band wasn’t so purposeful, which they are (“Friction”). To paraphrase the writer Robert Christgau, the Ramones could make it to the chorus in the time it took Television to finish the intro. The biggest difference, however, was philosophical. For all its revolutionary energy, a lot of early punk was dedicated to the historical project of figuring out where rock music had gone wrong—a quality that applied as much to arty bands like Talking Heads and Devo as the Sex Pistols, who might’ve hated Pink Floyd but had no problem with Chuck Berry or The Who. Television was different. They weren’t afraid to play ballads (“Guiding Light”) or make grand, theatrical statements (“Torn Curtain”). And they certainly weren’t afraid of the flashy solos and complex riffs whose technicality would’ve signaled an expertise anathema to anyone who considered punk the sound of the people (listen to Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd’s overlapping lines on “See No Evil”). Not anyone could play Marquee Moon; only Television could—that’s part of the point. But they also brought a naiveté and sexlessness to classic rock that rescued it from its increasingly macho jaws. These are songs about the beauty and mystery of the city at night (the title track) and the feeling of being so in love with your friends that you could faint (“Venus”). Verlaine sang them in a voice located somewhere between an elderly witch and a small, nervous boy—and yet for all the power in their performance, they never give up on the essential fragility that forms the album’s heart. By the mere fact of being the bookish outsiders they were, Television opened the door for anyone who felt the same, from R.E.M. and Sleater-Kinney and the history of indie rock down. That they couldn’t get into a rhythm with a conceptually driven figure like Brian Eno (who recorded demos for the album) or a classic-rock standby like Andy Johns (who nominally produced it) is telling: Marquee Moon wasn’t the past or the present, but a world apart.

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