Television: “See No Evil”
From the farewell to R.E.M. yesterday, we move on to one of their major influences, the great NYC art-punk band, Television. “Art punk” is really just a way of describing punk played by people who knew their instruments and who had more literary aspirations than their more garage-y peers. One might say it was “punk with pretense,” but that sounds too derogatory; Television, Patti Smith, Pere Ubu, and the like were merely interested in incorporating elements of the avant garde, be it free-form jazz or beat poetry, into punk, often influenced as well by the Velvet Underground. Sometimes it was a difficult listen, but other times it simply rocked, and Television’s incredible 1977 debut album, Marquee Moon, a milestone in the genre, did the latter.
Throughout Marquee Moon, lead guitarist and singer Tom Verlaine weaved his snaking guitar lines in and around Richard Lloyd’s rhythm guitar patterns, while bassist Richard Hell and drummer Billy Ficca anchored the songs’ often complex rhythms. It’s a mesmerizing sound, and one that is introduced with a bang right out of the gate by the album’s lead-off song, “See No Evil.” It’s a fast and furious nugget of punk-pop that also introduced Verlaine’s unusual, quavery singing voice — a voice that’s a bit of an acquired taste but which suits his lyrics well, uncertain and questioning where overbearing or strident wouldn’t have worked.
“See No Evil” is a classic of the genre, and R.E.M. covered it many times in concert, doing as good a cover version of it as I’ve ever heard, Stipe’s vocal style fitting the song as well as Verlaine’s, and Mike Mills’ backing vocals working perfectly in the call-and-response style of the chorus. R.E.M. were paying tribute to the genius of Marquee Moon, and it has similarly influenced many of the post-punk bands that followed in the decades to come.