Television Adventure

10 Best Television Songs

The band Television emerged from the same CBGB scene that produced Talking Heads, The Ramones, Blondie, and Patti Smith. The group was started by Tom Verlaine, Richard Hell, and drummer Billy Ficca. Verlaine and Ficca were childhood friends, while Hell met Verlaine at high school in Delaware. Hell was replaced by Blondie’s Fred Smith on bass, while Richard Lloyd joined as the second guitarist.

Although they’re part of the punk and new wave era, Television don’t fully subscribe to the stripped-down ethos of punk. Their bare production, Verlaine’s strained vocals, and their four-piece arrangements fit, but their virtuosity, complex songwriting, and lengthy track times have more in common with other genres like free jazz and 1960s rock. Their key feature is the guitar interplay between Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd – Verlaine’s guitar lines are angular and intuitive, while Lloyd’s style is more traditional and his parts are carefully composed.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this list is dominated by tunes from Television’s acclaimed 1977 debut, Marquee Moon. They only made one further album before their 1978 breakup, largely blamed on Lloyd’s drug abuse. They recorded a reunion album in 1992, while they’re planning to release a fourth album with replacement guitarist Jimmy Rip.

10 Best Television Songs

#10 Little Johnny Jewel (Parts One and Two)

non-album single, 1975
Television’s first release was the non-album single ‘Little Johnny Jewel’, its halves spread over two vinyl sides. Lloyd disagreed with choosing it for a single and considered leaving the band – Pere Ubu’s Peter Laughner auditioned for his spot. According to Rolling Stone, Lou Reed also attempted to convince Verlaine that the song wasn’t a hit. Released on the independent label Ork Records, it’s a little primitive – often fans gravitate to the live version of 1982’s The Blow-Up.

Television 1992 Album

#9 1880 Or So

from Television, 1992
Television’s 1992 reunion album is a dignified effort that keeps their legacy intact, but it’s less exciting than their two 1970s records. The standout track is opener ‘1880 or So’, featuring Lloyd and Verlaine’s usual interlocking guitar magic. Verlaine told The Bob that he named the song after some bad 19th-century poetry – he tried to write his own lyrics in the same kitsch spirit, like “A face that glows in a golden hue/No one in this world knows what they do”.

#8 Prove It

from Marquee Moon, 1977
The second single from Marquee Moon, ‘Prove It’ was reportedly inspired by Raymond Chandler’s novel The Long Goodbye.

So we went in and did “Prove It.” Then we came back into the studio to listen back to it. And it sounded pretty good. So we played it back again a little louder. And we kept increasing the volume, until, finally, Andy snorted himself awake. He sat bolt upright, panicky, paranoid as all hell. The music’s playing, and he’s looking back and forth between us all, demanding, “Did I record this?”

We said, “Well, sure Andy, you recorded that before you fell asleep.” He breathed a sigh of relief. “God, I’m good.” That was Andy. And that’s the cut of “Prove It” you hear on the record.

Richard Lloyd,

#7 Foxhole

from Adventure, 1978
The excellence of Marquee Moon set a tough bar for Television’s subsequent releases to live up to. Adventure isn’t as impressive as Television’s debut, but it still boasts some strong tracks. ‘Foxhole’ was the lead single, with a great driving riff. The lyrics are a series of double entendres – the opening line is “soldier boy stands at full salute”.

#6 Friction

from Marquee Moon, 1977
The second line of ‘Friction’ is “all the action just would not let up” – it’s a great summation of this fast-paced and restless song. The cascading riff is another of Television’s many great guitar moments, while the song also features a rare lyric introducing a guitar solo – “How does a snake get out of its skin? Here’s a depiction….”

#5 Ain’t that Nothin’

from Adventure, 1978
Another strong Adventure tune, ‘Ain’t That Nothin” lacks the mystique of the Marquee Moon tracks. Instead, ‘Ain’t That Nothin” is surprisingly close to The Rolling Stones with a bluesy riff and Verlaine’s sneering vocal. Like the Stones, Television’s Marquee Moon was produced by Andy Johns, who was bemused by their punk sound.

Still, for the next two or three days, Andy would mutter things like, “Oh, so, this is some kind of New York thing. You want to sound bad like The Velvet Underground. You want to sound crap like The Stooges or something. I see. Well, we could do that, but you have to remember I’m putting my name on it…”

Richard Lloyd,

Television Marquee Moon

#4 Venus

from Marquee Moon, 1977
Verlaine is apparently staunchly anti-drug, but ‘Venus’ was written about a period when he was exploring psychedelics. It takes place in Lower Manhattan, with Verlaine inspired by 19th century French romantics – born Tom Miller, he took his stage surname from French poet Paul Verlaine.

#3 Elevation

from Marquee Moon, 1977
Television’s predilection for unconventional guitar parts is on display on ‘Elevation’. The guitar riff that enters after Verlaine sings “elevation, go to my head” is completely off-the-wall, yet so memorable – a microcosm of what makes Television great.

For Elevation, Johns suggested a rotary effect on Lloyd’s guitar solo but a Leslie speaker was too expensive/complicated to rent. So, Lloyd remembers, “Andy took a microphone, and while I did the guitar solo… he stood in front of me in the studio, swinging this microphone around his head like a lasso. He nearly took my f***ing nose off! I was backing up while I was playing.”

The mania influenced guitar greats like The Edge, who had an epiphany while listening to “Elevation.” “I’d never heard guitar like that,” he told Rolling Stone. “I was intrigued by the composition – it was so sophisticated, yet so straightforward. It was like a light going on for me. I said to myself, ‘This is what is possible’.”

The Edge, Rolling Stone Magazine

#2 Guiding Light

from Marquee Moon, 1977
There’s a slight R&B flavour to this tune, with Verlaine on piano and providing a surprisingly tender vocal in the verse. Richard Lloyd’s guitar solo is gorgeous, while Smith’s bassline is more prominent in the mix than usual. He’s the steadying hand for the band, holding down each song’s structure so the other players can express themselves.

#1 Marquee Moon

from Marquee Moon, 1977
Television’s signature song is a ten-minute epic that’s closer in spirit to The Grateful Dead than to The Ramones. Both guitarists have a chance to shine – Lloyd plays the distinctive squiggly lead part, while Verlaine’s spidery soloing in the mixolydian scale takes up the entire second half of the song. The song started as a five-minute piece but it evolved into a fifteen-minute centerpiece in live versions.

What’s your favourite Television tune?



Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.


  1. I don’t know if they have enough that I like to make a top 10 but I love Marquee Moon and a couple others on the first album

    • As I understand it, it’s the normal major scale with the seventh note dropped – so in a C major scale you’d play Bb instead of B.

    • Max covered Marquee Moon (the song) very recently on his blog, so that might of helped you pre-familiarise with them. They hit this nice balance between classic rock (guitar virtuosity) and new wave (stripped-back production).

  2. I checked out Guiding Light after you mentioning that one the other day. Not only are the songs really good but the tone…they knew how to get a great sound with guitar and bass. Great list and I’ve been listening to these tonight.

    • Apparently there are no effects pedals on the first album at all – just Lloyd double-tracked some of his parts. Thanks for your recent post – it helped me decide what song list to write this week.

      • No problem… I want to read about them more…not history but how they recorded. I’ve heard clarity but they took it to a new level. It was so natural sounding…the no effects surprises me.

        • I linked to a Richard Lloyd interview a couple of times in that article – it was pretty interesting about the technical stuff even if he was harsh on Verlaine.

          • I record with Cubase in my music room I have made…any tips help…I’ll check it out.

          • I can do that! We have tried all sorts of fun things. At one time we had an 8 track reel to reel…we eventually transfered it to computer.

    • I’ve never been so keen of the 1992 album – it’s always felt quite dry to me. Like I know it’s good, but can’t embrace it in the same way as I can those 1970s records. I love Lloyd on those early 1990s Matthew Sweet records.

      • The only thing I know about scales is EGBDF. And that they go on the lines. And then there’s notes that go in the spaces between the lines. Right? And I think they spell a word but I can’t remember what that word is. That’s about the only thing I ever learned about music, and that was like in 6th grade. Haha

        • The lines in between spell “FACE”.

          If you’re on a piano, if you can play 8 white notes in a row starting on a C, that’s a C major scale.

  3. Television is one of those bands where I disagree with the critics. I found their songs to be cold and soulless. But I have Marquee Moon, so I’ll give it one more listen.

Leave a Reply

More from Aphoristic Album Reviews

Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.

Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.

Review Pages

Read about the discographies of musical acts from the 1960s to the present day. Browse this site's review archives or enjoy these random selections:

Television Marquee Moon
Television Album Reviews

There were a plethora of musical acts that originated from the CBGBs club in New York in the mid-1970s; The Ramones, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, and Blondie all went on to achieve acclaim, while all occupying different niches in the punk and new wave spectrum. Television are the least well-known […]
Echo & the Bunnymen Album Reviews

Echo & the Bunnymen vocalist Ian McCulloch started his career in the humbly named Crucial Three, alongside Julian Cope and Pete Wylie. As the Crucial Three morphed into The Teardrop Explodes, McCulloch formed a new band with guitarist Will Sergeant, bassist Les Pattinson, and a drum machine. After the 1979 […]
1980s Album Reviews

The 1980s often get bad press, but they were full of great music. Admittedly many acts from earlier eras struggled to adapt to new technology and made weak albums. But many new acts thrived, and there was diversity; hip hop emerged, there was a fertile 1980s alternative rock scene, and […]
Stevie Wonder Fulfillingness First Finale
Stevie Wonder Album Reviews

Stevie Wonder is one of the most outrageously talented figures to emerge from the popular music era. His first song to hit number one was recorded when he was 12 years old, and he continued to have hits through the 1960s as a teenager like ‘For Once In My Life’ […]
Christian Contemporary Music

I don’t listen to much Christian music – most modern worship sounds like Joshua Tree-era U2 to me, while I prefer other faith-based acts to not limit themselves for the Christian market, like Sufjan Stevens, Over The Rhine, or Amy Grant. The best place to find talented Christian musicians is […]
Little Simz Album Reviews

Little Simz is a London-based rapper, singer, and actor with Nigerian heritage. She became a public figure in her mid-teens; in 2010 she appeared in the TV series Spirit Warriors and released her first mixtape Stratosphere. Her first full-length albums, released in her early twenties, received little attention. 2019’s Grey Area […]

Blog Posts

I add new blog posts to this website every week. Browse the archives or enjoy these random selections:

Dream Theater Images and Words
Switching from to – my experience

In April 2021, some posts on this music website, like 10 Worst Songs of the 1980s and 10 Best Hit Songs of the 1980s, went vaguely viral. My traffic doubled in a month, and I considered monetising this site as a side hustle. In order to do this, I switched […]
Tom Waits Heart of Saturday Night
10 Best Tom Waits Songs

California’s Tom Waits is effectively the patron saint of this website. My Waits album ranking was the first post from this site to become popular, and it’s still one of its most-visited posts. With recently accounted reissues of Waits’ peak albums, it feels like a good time to make a […]
10 Best Carly Rae Jepsen Songs

Canadian pop treasure Carly Rae Jepsen achieved peak cultural saturation in 2012 with the inescapable hit ‘Call Me Maybe’. ‘Call Me Maybe’ started as an acoustic song, but dressed up with some synth strings and endorsed by Justin Bieber, it was wildly successful. It showcased Jepsen as a bubblegum-pop girl-next-door and […]
Todd Rundgren Hermit of Mink Hollow
That Time Todd Rundgren Predicted a Failed Auckland Mayoral Campaign

It’s local election season here in New Zealand. In my home city of Lower Hutt, we have the now standard blend of people running for mayor. Some pleasant community-minded citizens, interspersed with a few conspiracy theorists – a bush-faced gentleman who opposes fluoridation and a guy who is still angry […]
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme - Simon and Garfunkel
A Listening Biography in 10 Albums

I recently participated in an album draft, run by Hans from Like everyone else I picked 10 albums, but I used mine to also tell a story about music fandom. Here are ten albums that broadened my horizons about popular music. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme – Simon & […]
Tom Waits Albums: Ranked from Worst to Best

California’s Tom Waits has enjoyed a remarkable career. Emerging in the early 1970s as a whisky-soaked, piano-playing balladeer, his career was seemingly petering out in the early 1980s. But he reinvented himself with the junkyard clang of 1983’s excellent Swordfishtrombones, and his output from that album through to 1999’s Mule […]