The Great Songs: Television – Marquee Moon

by Eric Melin on October 6, 2010

in Columns,The Great Songs

Sometimes a song comes along that just doesn’t sound like anything else.

Television‘s avant-garde tune “Marquee Moon” from the 1977 album of the same name may have inspired countless indie bands to emulate its sparse, angular style of “rocking,” but there will never be a song with this much space and interplay to contain a unique double guitar hook like this again. People call it post punk, but it was written right in the middle of that whole New York scene with the Ramones, Blondie, and Talking Heads, so call it whatever you want. I call it a classic—a worthy addition to The Great Songs.

marquee-moon-45-1977Also—as much as I enjoy air guitaring to all 9 minutes of  “Freebird,” I’ll take Television’s 10+ minute opus over Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Southern rock anthem any day. In one of the rare instances when having it on vinyl kinda sucks (even though it sounds so warm and fuzzy), the original vinyl LP faded out the song to 9:58. On CD reissues, its been restored to full length.

The key here is feeling. This isn’t guitar masturbation to show off what good musicians the band are. There’s a point. There’s a deliberate quality to it all: The guitar interplay with the rhythm section weaves in and out. A serene quality soon gives way to obscure lyrics about life and death; lyrics that stoke the imagination like the guitars do.

There’s the line about how “lightning struck itself,” “the kiss of death, the embrace of life,” and right after the song’s narrator gets out of the Cadillac in the graveyard (more death symbolism—what it means I’m not sure, but it conjures up some great imagery), the guitar orgasm begins.

Slowly at first—it sounds like the strings are being bent in all kinds of strange directions. It becomes furious, but retains this beautiful melodic quality throughout. The solos are from singer/guitarist Tom Verlaine and guitarist Richard Lloyd, with Lloyd’s solo coming after the second chorus and Verlaine after the third.

“Marquee Moon” is a true original from one of the New York late 70s CBGB scene’s best and most original bands. It’s also one of the most influential rock records you’ll never hear on mainstream radio. Britain’s NME ranked the album “Marquee Moon” #4 on its 2003 list of the Greatest Albums Of All Time and now its part of The Great Songs. What an honor!

The Great Songs series so far:

The Great Songs: Big Star – Thirteen

The Great Songs: The Kinks – Waterloo Sunset

The Great Songs: The Jayhawks – Blue

The Great Songs: Pavement – Summer Babe

The Great Songs: The Zombies – Care of Cell 44

The Great Songs: The O’Jays – Back Stabbers

The Great Songs: Queen & David Bowie – Under Pressure

The Great Songs: George Jones – He Stopped Loving Her Today

The Great Songs: Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart

The Great Songs: KISS – Deuce

The Great Songs: The Flying Burrito Brothers – Hot Burrito #1

The Great Songs: The Flaming Lips – Do You Realize??

The Great Songs: Pink Floyd – Astronomy Domine

The Great Songs: The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up

The Great Songs: Marvin Gaye – Let’s Get it On

The Great Songs: Slayer – Angel of Death

The Great Songs: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Beyond Belief

The Great Songs: The Replacements – Unsatisfied

The Great Songs: Cheap Trick – Surrender

The Great Songs: Guided by Voices – Motor Away

The Great Songs: The Louvin Brothers – Knoxville Girl

The Great Songs: Badfinger – Baby Blue

The Great Songs: Ray Charles – That Lucky Old Sun

In “Sucker Punch,” what is the name of the actor who plays High Roller?

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers and regular critic for KCTV5. He’s a member of the BFCA, VP of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also the current 2013 Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Xavier October 6, 2010 at 4:59 am

One of my all time favorites, in my top 10 tracks of all time definitely, jazz form used in rock context.

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2 hellohawk October 6, 2010 at 9:05 am

This is my all time favorite song and I was just rocking out to it at work the other day! I was geeking to a co-worker about pretty much all the things you just mentioned. There is no other song like this and there never will be again. It’s fucking inimitable.

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3 Racine October 7, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Amazing song! I love the whole album, but the title track is the best! The end is amazing, how the guitars almost shine and then fade out… and then it starts up again with that great drum beat! And that guitar riff, don’t even get me started! It’s so genius! Great pick! And such an underrated pick, both the song and the band!

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4 Rock October 25, 2010 at 6:57 am

Thanks for posting this!

I wonder if I should have put this on my Top Ten Moon Songs list.

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