Looking back on the underappreciated genius of the band Television and their Marquee Moon album

Elisabeth Nelson has a most excellent piece in The Ringer about the NY punk rock debut of Television and their iconic 1977 album, Marquee Moon. Critically-acclaimed, hugely-influential, much copied, Television never reached the popularity of many of their late 70s post-punk contemporaries.

Hell and Verlaine consciously fashioned themselves after Verlaine and Rimbaud in just about every possible way, with the exception of actually shooting each other. They weren't lovers, but they were best friends. They wrote together and they plotted their particular type of world domination. Both young men were exquisitely beautiful: Verlaine tall and languid with haunting, dramatic, hollowed-out eyes and Hell with the square-jawed matinee idol looks and sullen vulnerability of Montgomery Clift. Verlaine was quiet, tense, and reserved. Hell was horny, consumptive, and gregarious. They published chapbooks and faux biographies and various literary acts of vandalism of the Burroughs-inspired sort. They called their first band the Neon Boys. It was sorta trash rock and sorta poetry. They were good, but too bookish for the Dolls crowd and too glam for the lit scene. If the New York intelligentsia wouldn't have them, then they would just have to change the calculus. They'd have to program a channel all their own.

Upon its February 1977 release, Marquee Moon was rhapsodically received by critics on both coasts and in London, but was slow to gain traction in other markets. Television had long been associated with "punk rock" on dubious musical grounds; their debut LP sounds more like King Crimson than the Sex Pistols. But the characterization made sense in other ways: Their outsider stance, preternatural cool, and impeccable fashion aesthetics had reinvigorated lower Manhattan and clearly paved the way for the U.K.'s ascendant response to the CBGB scene. Up until this point, they had benefited from their reputation as punk godfathers and the attendant bonanza of cachet that the tastemaking bohemian press had bestowed upon them.

But this became a boomerang. Verlaine had already begun to weary of New York's insider-provincialism and was aspiring to a wider audience, and the slow sales accompanying Marquee Moon seemed to validate the anxiety that the band was thinking too small. They toured the States supporting Peter Gabriel, then still at his proggiest, which sowed more confusion. They played three valedictory CBGB gigs and then vowed never to play there again. Radio programmers throughout most of the country failed to add them to playlists, electing instead to cast their lot with Elektra's other new signing, the Cars. Though it would reach no. 28 in the U.K., Marquee Moon sank like a stone commercially in the U.S., stalling out at 80,000 sales and failing to break into the Billboard 200.

Read the rest here.

Personal note: When I moved recently, I sold all of my vinyl. I had two pickers come from record stores to go through my collection. One of them pulled my heavily rubbed and bumped copy of Marque Moon from the rack, expertly sliding the album into his hand. He examined the dust, scratches, and worn-dull vinyl. "You got your money's worth there," he said with a chuckle and slid it back into the sleeve and moved it to the discard pile. I did, indeed.