Television’s 10 Best Songs

televisionThis month, legendary band Television will embark on a rare West Coast tour featuring all of its original members (save Richard Lloyd, who left the band in the late ’70s). Although the group, fronted by Tom Verlaine, has performed a few one-off shows recently, this run of five dates is an anomaly. Television is best known for its classic album Marquee Moon (1977), an inspired, dynamic masterwork of adventurous guitar work and infectious melodies. Follow-up albums Adventure (1978) and a self-titled reunion record in 1992 will never top such a colossal opening salvo, but they also have their charms. Check out what we consider the band’s 10 best songs here and then catch them live (tour dates at the bottom).

10. “Days

Opening with a gently looping riff, this almost seems like Television-lite. It’s not the kind of track you associate with the heyday of CBGB, but Verlaine and Lloyd aim not to rock out but to find beauty. The two-guitar format gives this music the feel of an intimate conversation on what is practically a love ballad, shot through with modest solos like lovers’ electric sweet nothings, its lyrics a grounded idyll that still reaches for the clouds: “Up on the high, high hills/ With my floating friend.” – Pat Padua

9. “Glory

Live, Tom Verlaine and company could jam at almost Grateful Dead lengths on epics like “Marquee Moon.” But their second, less epic album begins with the simplest of riffs and what would make a great 3:11 single. A more gentle album opener than “See No Evil,” “Glory” doesn’t deliver that debut album’s rush but instead offers the steadiness of a reliable guitar duo. Radio-friendly hooks make this sound like a commercial move, but its lyrics are a natural continuation of their mystical vision: “I was out stumblin’ in the rain/ Staring at your lips so red/ You said, ‘Blah, blah, blah’/ Got a pillow stuck in my head.” – Pat Padua

8. “Guiding Light

Marquee Moon’s lone beacon of hope and pathos is atypical of the rest of the album in a number of ways—the tempo; the arrangement, with its traditional soul ballad-like arpeggiated rhythm guitar and audible piano; and especially the focus on Verlaine’s voice. He really carries the song (that mealy-mouthed motherfucker) from the surging, triumphant verses to the prayer-like chorus—many supposedly brilliant pop vocalists have never displayed that kind of grasp on dynamics. But as always with Television, the guitar steals the show—Richard Lloyd’s practically angelic solos are probably the simplest on the album, and also the most inescapably hummable. – Jeremy Winograd

7. “Friction

A spooky undercurrent kicks things off, setting an ebbing-and-flowing tone of unease. What really drives it home, though, is the whirling guitars, ascending then dropping back down like a roller coaster at a nocturnal carnival. Pent-up with sexual frustration in the verses, both musically and lyrically, it detonates into a scalding torrent in the refrains. As the title implies, the friction rubs and rubs until the coolness is supplanted by a raw conflagration. — Cole Waterman

6. “Little Johnny Jewel (Parts 1 & 2)

Right from the first note of their first single, it was clear that Television was doing something different. “Little Johnny Jewel” isn’t a perfect debut; the loose playing from the rhythm section sounds a little too sloppy these days. But this song is all about the guitars, and they put on quite a show. It sounds as if Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd are developing their signature sound right in the studio, learning each other’s technique in order to find the magic they would wield on later albums. It all had to start somewhere, and “Little Johnny Jewel” was a hell of a start. – Kevin Korber

5. “Torn Curtain

Considering the fact that Marquee Moon is synonymous with the Lower East Side in its seediest days of the late ‘70s, and considering that one of the biggest reasons Television broke up so quickly was Richard Lloyd’s drug addiction, I can’t help but hear “Torn Curtain” as a junkie song. It may not literally be about drugs, just about sorta general sadness and pain and “tears.” But it feels like the bitter, desperate bottoming-out counterpoint to the skittery, paranoid high of “See No Evil” that opens the record. Verlaine’s solos wobble between dissonance and consonance like a guy at the end of his rope who can’t decide to keep going or just give up on life once and for all. – Jeremy Winograd

4. “Elevation

With its spare, fractured minor key arrangement, “Elevation” helped established an early framework for the forthcoming post-punk movement. Far more rhythmic than nearly anything else in Television’s catalog, this song showed the group’s complexity and ability to play off one another in a way that flies in the face of traditional rock structure. Toeing the line of progressive rock, they manage to avoid the genre’s clichéd posturing in their unique approach to song construction, never downplaying their instrumental prowess and maintaining a detached tone of musical nihilism. This refusal to compromise or dumb down their cerebral sound made Television one of the most compelling groups to come out of the early New York punk scene. – John Paul

3. “See No Evil

One of the all-time great album openers. From the outset, with Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd’s interwoven guitars of noodly raggedness spewing blue-hued darkness, you’re led down the rabbit hole into a new world. A thumping rhythm carries the fire beneath it, with Verlaine howling like a man overcome by his own lusts. Revved up with a Benzedrine fury, it’s anachronistic to its core—from the hotbed of the ‘70s CBGB scene yet apart from it, it’s punk in attitude, but not in sound (proto-post-punk?). “I understand all/ Destructive urges/ It seems so perfect/ I see, I see no…evil,” Verlaine proclaims, his revelry in moral anarchy, misanthropy and nihilism being an infectious call to arms. — Cole Waterman

2. “Marquee Moon

The prototypical Television song, “Marquee Moon” carries all the hallmarks that made their debut such a watershed moment: Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd’s dueling, virtuosic guitars; intricately structured, atypical arrangements; and Verlaine’s impressionistic, poetic lyrics. An extended jam that shows off the group’s instrumental prowess, “Marquee Moon” is a far cry from their more rudimentary, three-chord CBGB peers. While based in the punk movement, theirs is a sound more in keeping with the great, unheralded guitar band tradition of Moby Grape. An admitted influence, their multi-guitar attack is most evident here within the intricately woven, hypnotic lines of Verlaine and Lloyd. Epic in the best way, “Marquee Moon” was and is a defining moment in the burgeoning New York punk scene and is simply one of the greatest guitar songs of all time. – John Paul

1. “Venus

There are other songs on Marquee Moon that get more attention, but “Venus” is the perfect distillation of what made Television so great. Here, Tom Verlaine’s voice and lyrics take center stage; he gives a blissed-out performance that moves away from the surrealist style that the band is known for, in favor of an anecdote from Verlaine’s pre-New York past with Richard Hell. He captures a beautiful moment, one where he and his friend realize that they’re not like everyone else in their small town. It’s a rare moment of clarity from a songwriter who prizes obscurity over all else, and it’s unlike anything else in the band’s discography. – Kevin Korber

See Television live:

23 Jun 2015 Moore Theatre, Seattle, WA
25 Jun 2015 Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, BC
27 Jun 2015 Sled Island Music & Arts Festival, Calgary, AB
30 Jun 2015 The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA
02 Jul 2015 Teragram Ballroom, Los Angeles, CA
03 Jul 2015 Teragram Ballroom, Los Angeles, CA

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