Monday, October 11, 2010

Jam of the day: "Marquee Moon"

Artist: Television
Song: "Marquee Moon"
Album: Marquee Moon
Released: February 8, 1977 (reissued 2003)
Label: Elektra (reissued on 4 Men With Beards)

Alright, this is an old song, but I've played it so many times in my life after first hearing it because it's so fucking good. I heard again it this past weekend while hanging out at a friend's place and listening to records, and I essentially got to reremember why it's so great. The whole album is awesome, really, but this has always been the standout track to me. Go ahead, play it while you read along below.

[You gotta know it's special because it bypasses YouTube's standard 9:59 length restriction :-D ]

This is by far the longest song on the album (it developed as an extended jam during their early live shows) but it also has the shortest lyrics, built around a strange night spent wandering around (presumably) NYC and encountering an after-dark thunderstorm, an ostensibly sane man hanging out by the subway/railroad tracks, and a Cadillac at the cemetery. The rest of its length is filled with punchy drum beats and waves of undulating bass lines, all forming a background on which Tom Verlaine paints the most wondrously uplifting, magically never-ending but finite, oh-so-close-to-punk-but-that's-debatable-and-has-been-for-years-and-who-really-cares-because-it's-so-fucking-beautiful guitar solo the world has ever seen. It starts out fairly simple, a playful up-and-down melody that meshes with the rest of the instrumentation so perfectly that you think that's just how it will go, but then it edges ever so slightly upward, pulling you with it. And then it goes a little higher, and a little higher, and .... Whenever I listen to it, I can feel my posture straighten and my neck stretch out and my head rise a little and I'll be darned if I don't think that I'm just about standing up straight and levitating a few inches off the ground but, no, I'm still here in my chair by the time the solo ends and the first verse rolls back around for a reprise.

The best music isn't just music, it's sound and an effect, and this is one of the more compelling instances of that I've ever experienced. When a friend of mine first shared this glorious album with me in college I listened to it on repeat for a few weeks. It was eye-opening. I'd played it fairly often over the years, too, and was delighted to stumble on a sweet used vinyl copy at Wicked Discs earlier this year. It's made a great addition to the record collection, although there's a minor skip in the first few minutes of this song after the first verse, and another one in the middle of the lengthy guitar solo I described. Boo. But I don't really care, it's just part of the experience now. (Also, apparently the original vinyl faded the song out at 9:58 due to length restrictions, but reissues, like mine, keep the full 10:40 length.) If you're ever at the Brillobox on a Wednesday night before Pub Quiz and hear this one on the jukebox downstairs, it was probably me. It's a hell of a bar tune, and it's just about the best bang for your buck you could find :-)

I'll leave you with this quote from Wikipedia that is simply stunning to me:

"The song "Marquee Moon" was done in one take; drummer Billy Ficca thought that they were rehearsing."

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