Elektra Records Biography

Source: Elektra Bio


Few debut albums draw the kind of world-wide critical acclaim that greeted the release of Television's Marquee Moon (7E-1098). Blending haunting melodies with innovative arrangements, the album immediately sets them apart from their new wave peers, prompting the critic from England's "Melody Maker" to write: "They are likely to play some of the most astounding music of our time." Adventure (6E-133), released in April 1978, sustains the richnesss of that debut.

Tom Verlaine (born December 1949) grew up in Delaware, where he suffered enforced piano lessons, and belted out raw noise on the saxophone. He daydreamed to symphonies as a child, and later became familiar with modern jazz, but it wasn't until he heard the Stones' "19th Nervous Breakdown" that a rock song made a strong impact on him. An indifferent student, he was voted "Most Unknown" in his high school class before moving to New York in August 1968. (He's lived in the East Village ever since.) Verlaine knocked around a bit, wrote some poetry, worked at the Strand Book Store, and formed a band in 1971 called the Neon Boys. Comprised of Verlaine on guitar and two friends from his high school years -- Billy Ficca (born February 1949), drums, and Richard Hell, bass -- the group was short-lived, and Ficca soon split to Boston, where he played in blues bands for awhile.

Independent by nature, Verlaine proceeded to play a series of intermittent solo performances on electric guitar, and in October 1973, one of these shows was caught by Richard Lloyd (born October 1951). Lloyd was a guitar fanatic who had grown up in Greenwich Village before travelling across the country from Boston to San Francisco and back to New York. "As soon as Tom started playing, I knew something in his approach was correct," recalls Lloyd. "And I knew I could augment it." Soon a band was formed with the two of them splitting the guitar solos, Richard Hell on bass, and Billy Ficca, haled back from Boston, on drums. They called themselves "Television" because, says Lloyd, "It's something that's in every home in America. It's so obtrusive it's unobtrusive."

After a few months' practice, Television made their performing debut at New York's Townhouse Theater on March 2, 1974. Soon to follow was a residency at CBGB on the Bowery, where Verlaine persuaded the owner to let them play every Sunday night. It was during this spring that cult-poet Patti Smith called attention to the band, writing that "Tom plays guitar like a thousand bluebirds screaming."

In 1975, Fred Smith (born April 1948) joined the group. A Forest Hills native, Fred, as bassist for Blondie, had shared many bills with Television. When Verlaine asked him what Television songs he knew, Smith replied that he knew them all. "In some bands a bassist can relax back in the pocket with the drums," says Smith, "but Tom likes the bass to be melodic, so I have to fit notes into some unusual places."

Television had crystallized with the addition of Smith, and on August 19, 1975 they released their first record, a privately-pressed single (now a collector's item) called "Little Johnny Jewel". Despite critical raves, however, nearly a year passed before the band signed with Elektra in July 1976. It was a fitting match, since Verlaine had long been a fan of early Elektra innovators like Love and the Doors. "Elektra had the first great rock engineers," he recalls. "It looked like somebody there really cared about the sound." Richard Lloyd expresssed the relief of the band upon signing: "Finally we can start." Fred Smith went to a shoe store and wondered if he could now afford to buy another color besides black.

Released in February 1977 Marquee Moon was hailed by critics as one of the most striking and original recording debuts in years. The scissory, cascading guitar lines, the jabbing vocals, and the "psychotic calypso" drumming demonstrated that there was nothing punky or muddled about Television -- it has the silvery clarity of a poised knife -- and the writers gushed:

  • "One of the most deliriously exciting debut albums I've ever heard" -- Newsday
  • "An obvious, unashamed classic" -- Sounds
  • "They loom, as the Stravinskys of rock" -- N.Y. Daily News
  • "More coherent than Patti Smith, as mystical and poweful as the early Doors, and they reach for places most older rockers would be embarassed to consider" -- Scene
  • "The most powerful and passionate rock to come out of anywhere in a dog's age" -- Village Voice
  • "As of this moment, Verlaine is probably the most exciting electric lead guitar player, barring only Neil Young" -- NME

Television's distinctive style springs from the relentless individuality of songwriter Tom Verlaine. Possibly because he is shy, or perhaps just out of a desire to see more clearly, he doesn't run with any crowd, doesn't even have a telephone, and remains mostly unknown despite the attention his music has drawn. This social detachment has contributed to the refinement of his taste, and Adventure (the album is titled after a track that was dropped due to length) reflects that drive.

In March and April of 1977 Television opened the show for Peter Gabriel on his U.S. tour. In May, they did a sold-out tour of England, where they drew instant acclaim: Melody Maker voted Television the most promising new act (international) and Sounds dubbed Marquee Moon the album of the year. (In its second week of release in England, Adventure jumped from #81 to #7).

Verlaine prefers the difficult Jazzmaster guitar for its diamond-hard bite and sparkle: he toys with pinging harmonics ("I love the sound, like little bells"); and he experiments with little-known instruments like the ondioline. To co-produce Adventure he chose John Jansen (who had previously worked with Supertramp) because Jansen's engineering was "ambitious". The result is an inventive collection of slashing hard-rock tracks ("Glory", Ain't That Nothin' "), enchanting melodies ("Days", "Careful"), and unusual instrumental forays ("The Dream's Dream", "The Fire"). The sound is familiar, but it doesn't forfeit surprise. And Television still doesn't sound like any other band.