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Wow In Music – Marquee Moon

Wow In Music – Marquee Moon

| On 18, Mar 2018

Darrell Mann

They were the first band to call the infamous CBGB in Lower Manhattan home and ignited the New York punk scene, but it took about three years for Television to release an album.

Several CBGB peers beat them to the punch. Patti Smith released Horses in 1975, while Blondie and the Ramones had their self-titled debuts hit shelves a year later.

But Television’s 1977 debut, Marquee Moon, just might be the most timeless of the bunch.

Despite its long road to completion, the album Marquee Moon remains rock solid to this day, a collection of eight confounding, challenging and inspiring songs that are punk at their core but meander into jammy psychedelia and the rattle and fuzz of late-‘60s garage.

There’s a lot going on here, and nowhere is that more apparent than with the album’s title track and crown jewel.

Written by front-man Tom Verlaine and produced by Andy Johns (the late brother of Glyn Johns, who produced albums from the likes of Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones and the Who), “Marquee Moon” clocks in at a whopping 10:47 (and regularly extended far beyond that when played live).

The first 20 droning seconds are akin to a religious experience, something that could be looped to infinity and hypnotize a sweaty punk congregation. Verlaine lays down an understated repetitive rhythm track—four strums of a B minor, four of a D5, over and over and over until it becomes quite hypnotic (Principle 20).

Then guitarist Richard Lloyd cuts in with a double-stop guitar flourish that tightly zigs where Verlaine zags (Principle 15). Fred Smith then adds an efficient but rumbling bass line for a few bars (Principle 5) just before Billy Ficca joins the party with a kinetic drum fill (Principle 5 again).

Keep in mind, this is all in the first minute of a 10-plus song, and that sequence occurs two more times throughout its epic length (Principle 14, ‘Loop’).

And each time, Verlaine and Lloyd build and build towards a chorus that hits you like a crashing wave and recedes into a ripping solo. (Unusually, especially for the burgeoning post-punk scene, the solos were actually credited in the Marquee Moon liner notes.)

Lloyd’s solo after the second chorus is a beautiful masterclass in staying in step with the melody while still adding enough swaggering embellishments to cut its own path through the song.

Verlaine’s turn comes after the third chorus in a much longer, meandering solo that recalls Jerry Garcia’s improvised leads. The Jazzmaster devotee takes his time in ratcheting up the tension with a run based on the jazzy mixolydian scale as his bandmates get progressively louder and more frantic (Principle 4).

Everything comes to a head at the 8:42 mark, when guitar, bass and drums collide, leaving behind shimmering piano and guitar twinkling briefly before the guys jump back into one final verse to close things out.

Couple the ebbs and flows of this wall of cascading sound with Verlaine’s twangy voice and dark lyrics about urban life and “Marquee Moon” takes on a near-Homeric breadth.

It is probably the best representation of what set Television apart from their three-chord Bowery counterparts. Both Verlaine and Lloyd were adventurous as guitarists on the burgeoning Big Apple punk landscape, from the interlocking guitar chords on the intro to the snaking solos. The fact that they nailed all of them—from gloriously messy to perfectly precise—makes this lengthy opus a scene-defining single.

Marquee Moon was ranked number 381 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2004 list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. It was then voted number 41 on its 100 Greatest Guitar Songs list in 2008.

It remains a song that has provoked a certain, ahem, obsession from fans. Something like this…

.0 – 1:04.9: the song’s canonical three interwoven rhythm parts (at 31.2 is first appearance of vocals, ‘I remember’);
1:04.9: beginning of Lloyd’s 1st guitar-passage; it occurs 3.2 sec. after Verlaine finishes stressing the word ‘elsssse’ in the line: ‘hearing something elsssse’;
1:37.0: occurrence of a guitar-crescendo, about 1.7 sec. after Verlaine finishes the phrase ‘Just waitin’ ’, marks the end of Lloyd’s 1st guitar-passage (lasts 32.1 sec.);
1:37.0 – 2:26.1: the three interwoven rhythm parts occur for the 2nd time for 49.1 sec.;
2:26.1: 2.4 sec. after Verlaine stresses the word ‘sadddd’ in the phrase ‘don’t you be so sadddd’, is the beginning of Lloyd’s 2nd guitar-passage;
2:57.5: end of Lloyd’s 2nd guitar-passage (lasts 31.4 sec.);
2:57.5: 0.3 sec after Verlaine finishes stressing the word ‘Hesitatinnnn’ ’… , is the beginning
of Lloyd’s 1st and only guitar-solo;
3:09.5: end of Lloyd’s guitar-solo (lasts 12.0 sec.);
3:09.5 – 3:13.5: Lloyd’s very short 4th guitar-passage of 4.0 sec.;
3:13.5 – 3:54.2: the three interwoven rhythm parts occur for the 3rd time for 40.7 sec.;
3:54.2: 2.8 sec. after Verlaine stresses the word ‘againnnn’ in phrase ‘… got out againnnn’, is
the beginning of Lloyd’s short 5th guitar-passage;
4:25.5: 1.6 sec. after Verlaine finishes the words ‘Unh Uhhhh’ in the phrase ‘ …ain’t waitin’ Unh Uhhhh’, there is a guitar-crescendo which marks the end of Lloyd’s 5th guitar-passage (passage lasts 31.3 sec.);
4:25.5 – 4:50.2: three interwoven rhythm parts occur for the 4th time for 24.7 sec.;
4:50.2: Verlaine’s long guitar-solo begins;
4:50.2 – 5:06.6: relatively simple but elegant guitar-strumming (16.4 sec.);
5:06.6 – 5:38.4: languid (i.e., adagio) and dreamy playing (31.8 sec.); however, over approximately the next 1:40, the tempo of Verlaine’s playing increases dramatically;
5:38.4: the pace of his playing increases to allegretto for 7.5 sec.;
5:45.8: the tempo has progressed to allegrissimo for 21.3 sec.; as the tempo increases in stages, Verlaine’s playing concomitantly becomes more inventive and more and more ferocious;
6:07.2: the tempo has become velocissimo for 21.1 sec.;
6:28.3: the tempo is full-fledged presto for 19.0 sec.;
6:47.3: the tempo is now prestissimo for 31.9 sec.;
7:19.2: the solo slows and becomes more arranged and structured as opposed to improvised; this section of the solo is made up of two legendary parts: Part 1’s first-half consists of six repeated guitar-lines. (Note: Each guitar-line lasts 3.5 sec.; in what follows, a beat occurs wherever there appears the capital letter ‘D’, ‘A’, or ‘T’.):

DootAh, DartAhDo Do Do Do Do Do;
DootAh, DartAhDo Do Do Do Do;
DootAh, DartAhDo Do Do Do Do;
DootAh, DartAhDo Do Do Do Do Do;
DootAh, DartAhDo Do Do Do Do;
DootAh, DartAhDo Do Do Do Do Do;

7:43.2: Followed by a seventh line:
Do; Do; Do; Do; Do; Do;
which serves as a transition to the second-half of the Part 1;

7:47.3: the second-half of Part 1 begins, and consists of the first-half’s lines 1 through 5 being repeated but at twice the tempo (each guitar-line lasts about 1.8 sec.), and the first-half’s line 6 is replaced by a new line:

DootAhDartAhDo Do Do Do,Do, Do;
DootAhDartAhDo Do Do Do, Do;
DootAhDartAhDo Do Do Do, Do;
DootAhDartAhDo, Do Do, Do,Do, Do;
DootAhDartAhDo Do Do Do, Do;
DootAh,Dah Do DartAh Do, Do, Dah;

8:11.5: Part 2 of this later section of the solo begins, and consists of twenty four short, repeated guitar-lines over the next 24.0 sec:

UttAh, Utt;

UttAh, Utt;

8:35.5: these twenty four are followed immediately by a series of 8 short, quick UttAh Utt’s; these 8 are played in double-time over the next in 4.1 sec., ending Part 2 at: 8:39.6:



8:39.6: Part 3 of this later section of the solo begins with a guitar-crescendo, which is followed immediately by beautiful, ‘bird-like’ guitar notes, which continue for 28.4 sec. Within these ‘bird-like’ sounds, are interspersed seven additional guitar-crescendos, separated from each other by 4.0 sec.;
9:08.0: the ‘bird-like’ sounds and Verlaine’s solo end with a final (8th) guitar-crescendo (so, the length of Verlaine’s solo is 4:17.8 = 9:08.0 minus 4:50.2);
9:09.3: Ficca’s gently hits his cymbals,
9:16.5: then the drums;
9:20.5: as the bass joins-in, the song has reverted back to the three interwoven rhythm parts for the 5th and final time (for 47.3 sec.);
9:42.1: Fade-Out begins as Verlaine stresses the consonant ‘d’ in the word ‘doubledddd’ in the final occurrence of the sentence ‘I remember how the darkness doubledddd’ (the Fade-Out lasts 13.2sec.);
9:55.3: the exact end-point of the (UK) LP version of ‘Marquee Moon’ occurs just as
Verlaine stresses the consonant ‘g’ of the second ‘listeningggg’ in the sentence ‘I was listening, listeningggg’. This fading and faint second ‘listeningggg’ is the absolute last sound emitted on the vinyl (UK) LP version. So, when playing your own LP (or a vinyl-to-digital-transfer of it), if you do not hear the final ‘I was listening, listeningggg’ then you do not have
your playback volume set loud enough (or its vinyl-transfer process was ended prematurely).

On the full version, we then get:

From 9:56.9 to 10:08.0 (i.e., from 9:57.2 – 0.3 to 10:08.3 – 0.3), Verlaine completes the entire ‘I was listening, listeningggg’ stanza by singing ‘to the rain. I was hearing, hearing something elssssse’;
10:10.6 to 10:27.7 is a reprise of the first 17.1 sec. of Lloyd’s very 1st guitar-passage, i.e., what he already played at 1:05.1 (at 1:05.4 – 0.3) of the song, but with a slight change: the final 3.0 sec. of this 17.1 sec. guitar-passage is played at a considerably slower tempo making its upcoming guitar-crescendo less abrupt;
10:27.7 This guitar-crescendo or guitar-‘swell’ (i.e., a rapid crescendo, followed by a gradual diminuendo), whose second-half includes tinkling piano notes, occurs at
10:32.0  the guitar-crescendo has been slowly decaying for 4.3 sec. allowing the emergence of repeating and tinkling piano notes;
10:40.2 Despite its decay, the guitar-crescendo continues to reverberate faintly, then ghostly, until at, after a total of 12.5 sec. since it first began, the guitar’s reverberation can no longer be heard over the still audible tinkling piano notes;
10:41.4 The piano notes, themselves, have grown weaker-and-weaker, and after a total of 5.4 sec. of piano, there is total silence.

The song’s five separate three-interwoven, rhythm parts total: 3:46.7 (or 38% of the UK LP.). Lloyd’s four non-solo guitar-passages total: 1:38.8 (or 17%). Lloyd’s solo is 12.0 sec. (or 2.0%). Verlaine’s solo lasts 257.8 sec. = 4:17.8 (or 43%).