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?


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  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’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.

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