Formed: New York, NY, USA
Bio Part 1 (1973-1975) / Part 2 (1975-1978) / Aftermath / Lineups / Discography
In the late 60's and early 70s, three poets with a love of rock and roll arrived in New York, equally obsessed by British pop music and loopy French poets/decadents Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud. One of them was Patti Smith, and she went on to sing about horses, discover religion, write a hit single with Bruce Springsteen, marry The MC5’s Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, become and mother and housewife, and then bounce back in the 90's with lots of critically acclaimed but actually very boring solo albums. The other two were Tom Miller and Lester Meyers...
Meyers and Verlaine were childhood friends who had been runaways from reform school, although both were returned to their parents. Meyers arrived in New York in 1967 with the aim of becoming a writer, Miller a year or so later with the aim of becoming a professional musician. For several years the pair of them wrote together, before they saw the New York Dolls in action and, thus inspired, promptly formed a garage rock trio with drummer Billy Ficca (who had actually played in a band with Verlaine many years previously). Influenced by the Dolls, Nuggets era punk and 60's British invasion bands, The Neon Boys were however hindered by their limited musical prowess - Meyers was an absolute amateur - and never made a record, although a rough and ready single (image on the right), released seven years after it was recorded in 1973, demonstrated a knack for raucous, undisciplined, and raw garage-punk.
The Neon Boys split up in Spring 1973, but after a brief period which saw Meyers acting as a manager for Miller, now a struggling solo artist, all three members of the Neon Boys decided to reform, with Terry Ork as their manager. The group became Television, Miller became Tom Verlaine, Meyers became Richard Hell, and a second guitarist, Richard Lloyd, was acquired.
Tom Verlaine: Richard Hell thought of the name ‘Television’. He was really drunk one night, and he has this list of about 200 names, and he looked around his room and saw his television set and put ‘Television” on the bottom of the page. Then he brought it to rehearsal and everybody said, "This one is really good". He had all kinds of names: "Goo Goo", "The Liberteens". (Sounds, April 1978)
Richard Lloyd: Ork was our first manager. He introduced me to Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell, and he was the single person most responsible for the entire New York scene of the late 70's. Terry had worked for Andy Warhol at The Factory and admired Andy's support of the arts including his relationship with The Velvet Underground. Terry wanted to have a band and he told me about another fellow who played electric guitar and asked me I'd like to meet him. Shortly after meeting him, Tom Verlaine, we formed Television with Terry as our manager. (Never Mind The Jubilee Q Punk Special, 2002)
This new band made its live debut at the Townhouse Theatre in March 1974, where they performed in front of a backdrop of televisions.
Tom Verlaine: After we did that first gig... I remember thinking, 'We've got to rehearse a lot more. This sounds horrible'. (From The Velvets To The Voidoids, Clinton Heylin, 1991)
Soon after this Television persuaded Hilly Kristal to give the band a regular Sunday slot at his club on the Bowery, CBGB, where over the course of the next few weeks they began attracting a sizable cult following, which they built on that August/September by supporting Patti Smith at Max's Kansas City no less than ten times in less than two weeks! Their profile was increased when Smith attended one of their earliest shows and began spreading the word. From January 1975 to June 1976 they pretty much took up residence at CBGB, rarely playing elsewhere. In January they played six shows with Blondie in support, in February/March six with The Mumps in support, and then three opening for the struggling New York Dolls. In March and April it was another support slot for Patti Smith - this time amassing an amazing 21 shows with her!
Richard Lloyd: We played our first gig at CBGB the last Sunday of March. Sundays were Hilly’s worst nights. Terry convinced him to let us play by guaranteeing he’d fill the place with friends who were all alcoholics. So Hilly gave us four Sundays in a row. Pretty soon, other bands started hearing about it, and coming down asking for gigs. Hilly didn't know anything about rock music. Basically, we steamrollered him. Terry [Ork, band manager] offered to start booking the club, so long as it was understood it was Television’s place. Bands would audition, and Terry would ask me what I thought. Talking Heads, the Ramones, Blondie: that’s how they started playing CBGB. We were picking the bands and playing, and it was like hosting a three-and-a-half-year-long New Year’s Eve party. Once we got some steam, CBGB was it. (The story of Television, by Richard Lloyd - link in links section below)
Richard Hell: We were really unique. There was not another rock and roll band in the world with short hair. There was not another rock and roll band with torn clothes. Everybody was still wearing glitter and women's clothes. We were these notch-thin, homeless hoodlums, playing really powerful, passionate, aggressive music that was also lyrical. I think we were were the best band in the world that year. Well, for the first four or five months. (Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, 1996)
ABOVE: Smith, Verlaine and Hell; advert for Patti Smith/Television show at Max's Kansas City on August 28th 1974
In late '74 the band attracted the attention of Richard Williams at Island Records, and early the next year he invited them to record a demo for the label, with Brian Eno as the producer (although it seems that Williams did as much, if not more, producing than Eno). Verlaine vetoed anything written or sung by Hell, and so they recorded five Verlaine numbers: 'Prove It', 'Venus de Milo', 'Marquee Moon', 'Friction' and 'Double Exposure'. To Verlaine the demo was a disaster, partially because Hell was no bassist, and partially because the production was wrong. Either way, the Island deal did not materialise, and after three shows supporting the Dolls Hell left.
Tom Verlaine: [Williams] had heard the band in New York on his way to California once, and he called up and said he wanted to do a demo. I said 'Great', and just before he came over, he said he wanted to bring over this guy Eno, who was apparently really good in the studio as far as technology and all that jazz goes. He probably is, but I think he had a certain sound in mind for us which probably just didn't work out. It's an interesting tape but I don't let anybody hear it, because I don't like it. (Zig Zag, June 1977)
Tom Verlaine: It was horrible, dull, Eno changed our sound. I told the company that I hated the tape, and they just didn't want to hear it. (Penthouse, March 1976)
Not to dismiss Lloyd and Ficca, who were excellent musicians and vital to the Television sound, throughout this period Television was chiefly a two-man show, and those men were very different. Verlaine was the serious-minded, poetical artist type who was swiftly taking command of his instrument and becoming one of the best guitarists of his generation. His songs - 'Horizontal Ascension', 'Hard On Love, 'Venus De Milo' - where intense and witty but dry. He wanted the band to be properly good. He was also growing tired of writing short (or fairly short) songs and wanted to play more free-flowing music that allowed him to indulge his youthful passion for improvisation. He was also, at the time, the paramour of Patti Smith, who was the toast of the New York scene, which no doubt cemented his own belief as being an artist rather than a rocker. (Smith invited Verlaine to play guest guitar on her debut LP 'Horses', which he did on a song he co-wrote with her, 'Break It Up'.)
ABOVE: Verlaine, Hell, Lloyd, Smith. (Thanks to Graham for the photo.)
Hell, meanwhile, was an insane showman who jumped about all over the stage looking both goofy and sexy, with his spiky hair and ripped clothes, every bit the punk rocker before the punk rock look was everywhere. His bass playing was still no more than adequate, but compared to his high-achieving bandmates he was pretty inept. And then there were his songs - 'Blank Generation', 'Love Comes In Spurts', 'Fuck Rock and Roll (I'd Rather Read A Book)' - which were proper rock 'n' roll tunes, smart but deliberately dumb at the same time, ragged, anthemic and fun. His tunes had titles that people wanted to tell their friends about. Hell was an intelligent man, but he was not interested in being serious or arty. Verlaine would ask Hell to "stop jumping around", and gradually began taking control of the group, squeezing out Hell's songs by simply refusing to play them. By April 1975, the only song Hell was singing in the band was 'Blank Generation', and then Verlaine decided he didn't want to play that anymore either.
Richard Hell: Verlaine withdrew himself more and more until he saw himself as being superior all the time to everybody and everything - so that he couldn't possibly lose. Tom got horrible, man. He gradually decided that he lived by separate rules from everybody else. And if anything fell apart for Tom, Tom would just say that he was a misunderstood genius, and that nobody else understood him. (Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, 1996)
Richard Hell: He was gradually depriving me of any role in the group and when it reached the point that it was just intolerable I left. And I felt totally betrayed. We'd been best friends, only companions. (From The Velvets To The Voidoids, Clinton Heylin, 1991)
Tom Verlaine: I do remember not being enthusiastic about hearing [Hell] sing, especially after we made a tape and I heard tapes of the band live. At that point I was really trying to concentrate on keeping the band focused. And I was already getting bored with playing [three-minute songs]. I didn't feel friction. I liked Richard but at that point he was using a lot of dope. (From The Velvets To The Voidoids, Clinton Heylin, 1991)
ABOVE: Hell being annoying (image from Richard Hell's official website), and Hell being Hell in 1977.
Hell's departure made not a dent in the group's trajectory. While their former bassist swiftly teamed up with Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan (both ex-New York Dolls) and Walter Lure to form the ill-fated Heartbreakers (after having turned down Malcolm McLaren's offer to lead the Sex Pistols), Television immediately found a replacement for Hell: Fred Smith, who was poached from The Stilettos (the band which became Blondie). Smith could actually play the bass, and was also less image-orientated than Hell, which made him an ideal candidate for the job. The next few months saw Television come into their own as a fully-fledged art-rock band with long guitar solos and some very long songs: 'Kingdom Come', 'Marquee Moon' and 'Little Johnny Jewel' would regularly exceed the ten-minute mark.
Debbie Harry: Fred Smith fucking quit Blondie. I was pissed. I was pissed at all of them - all of Television, all of the Patti Smith Group, and Patti and Fred. I was pissed at Patti Smith because she talked Fred into joining Television. Boy, did he make a mistake. Ha Ha. (Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, 1996)
Taking a cue from Patti Smith, who had released an independent single in 1974 ('Hey Joe'/'Piss Factory'), Television made their vinyl debut that October with Little Johnny Jewel, an atmospheric, disconcerting record that went on (and on) for seven magnificent minutes, allowing full reign for some some idiosyncratic guitar soloing, hypnotic rhythms and a real sense of what happens when Johnny "loses his senses". It was in fact so long that it had to be split over two sides of a 7-inch single (Part 1 on side one, part 2 on the flip). Not everyone was happy with this, though: Lloyd quit in protest at Verlaine's perverse choice for the band's opening salvo. He was briefly replaced by Peter Laughner of Rocket From The Tombs, but Lloyd then decided he didn't want to leave after all.
Tom Verlaine: In the 70's, we thought it was so stupid to go shopping things around. We considered starting our own record company, and actually we should have kept it going because we'd have made 10 times as much money. We recorded 'Little Johnny Jewel' on a four-track - it was almost like a rap song, just a riff with me talking on it - and the oddest magazines, like Penthouse, gave little write-ups because I think they were equally fed up with what the record companies were doing. So this got written up in the most unlikely places, and they all printed the address so we could sell thousands of these through the mail. (Never Mind The Jubilee Q Punk Special, 2002)
The group's star was still in ascendance during this time: throughout the latter stages of 1975 and throughout 1976 they were regulars on the New York scene: Talking Heads supported them several times, as did The Mumps and the long-forgotten Mong. In August they were signed by Elektra, having been courted by Arista, for whom they recorded a demo with Allen Lanier (keyboard player for the Blue Oyster Cult).
Tom Verlaine: We did about five songs in two nights, working 14 hours a night. We did 'Torn Curtain', a song called 'I Don't Care', a version of 'Guiding Light', and a song called Mi Amore', which we do occasionally as an encore... maybe there was something else, I don't remember. It came out a lot nicer, it was a much warmer sound than Eno got. it was different from the album because we were working in a different kind of studio...not a better ne. But the arrangements were really similar. (Zig Zag, June 1977)
In December they recorded their debut LP, Marquee Moon, which they produced themselves. The LP's studied professionalism, sophistication and widescreen approach was a long way from the garage rock of the Richard Hell days, but its deliberately glassy yet punchy production and avoidance of rock cliches - along with Verlaine's strangulated, nasal vocals - made it somehow fit right in with the mood of 1977. It came out in February (in the USA) and March (in the UK) to mainly ecstatic praise, even getting into No. 28 in the UK charts. (It didn't even make it into the Billboard Top 200 in the USA.)
The LP spawned two UK singles: Marquee Moon and Prove It, both of which came in 7" and 12" editions. Although the 12" version of 'Prove It' came in two shades of green, 'Marquee Moon' was the more interesting, as the 7" version split the song into two halves (just like 'Little Johnny Jewel' a few years earlier) and the 12" edition featured the LP version in two versions, one stereo (i.e. same as the LP) and one mono. None of these release came in a picture sleeve, but that didn't prevent both from being scraping into the UK Top 30.
In March they played two shows opening for Peter Gabriel, where they went down badly:
Tom Verlaine: We were not booed off stage. What are you talking about? I was onstage and I could hear what was going on. It was like half applause and half booing. And we were not booed off stage. We did our whole set. When you get that kind of response it just makes you play so much better. I think we're as good as our audiences are. If you come onstage and you feel that the audience isn't just curious – you feel like they’re with you on some simple emotional level – it tends to make you play better. You come out and there's too much expectation or some slight hostility, and it works against everybody. Sometimes you can just get over it by ignoring it. It depends on how tired you are. New Jersey likes three acts. They like The Grateful Dead. They like The New Riders Of The Purple Sage and there’s one other group they go nuts for. It's the kind of audience that drinks a few beers and just loves to give the band a hard time. Gabriel didn't go down that well either. (Sounds, May 1978)In April they refused to let The Damned support them at the Whiskey A Go Go in Los Angeles. The latter prompted Captain Sensible to write the classic retaliatory tune 'Idiot Box'
I can’t turn you off, so I just try and laugh you off
Tom Verlaine you may be art but you sure ain't rock'n'roll
People standing in the rain
Just to see that creep Verlaine
Supersonic, come back soon
‘Cause all we got is a Marquee Moon
Old Fred Smith works for the box, oh, what a haggard face
Hope he gets lots of shocks from his Fender bass
Dave Vanian, The Damned, April 1977: I don't think too much of Tom Verlaine. He just decided he didn't want us on the gig with him. He must have heard how we went down in New York, and I expect he couldn't stand the idea of our high energy. It would have been such a come-down seeing Television after us. He'd have got a lot of heckling. I saw them twice and the second time they were very boring. They did a dreadful version of 'Satisfaction'. (1988: The New Wave Punk Rock Explosion by Caroline Coon)
In May it was over to the UK and Europe for "New York New Wave" package tour with Blondie, a mismatch if ever there was was one, wherein Blondie fell victim to Verlaine's snooty behaviour:
Chris Stein: We had done that tour with Bowie and Iggy and they were totally helpful and Bowie was completely into making the show like a totality, and then when we toured with Television they were so competitive. The first show we showed up and all our equipment was shoved up at the [Glasgow] Apollo and we had like three feet of room so that Tom could stand still in this vast space. (From The Velvets To The Voidoids, Clinton Heylin, 1991)
Gary Valentine, Blondie: Verlaine had decided that we were to work within this restricted area. Our brief encounter with him made it clear that he wasn't particularly happy to have us on his tour. (Parallel Lives by Dick Porter & Kris Needs, 2014)
After this things went rather quiet: just one more concert (in August, in New York), and then nothing for several months. In actuality, Lloyd was in hospital with hepatitis, which freed Verlaine to exert even more control over the group's direction. Television's second LP, Adventure took several months to record and mix, in comparison with 'Marquee Moon' which was done and dusted in one month. Although a Top Ten hit in Britain when it was issued there in April '78, sales were not good: it peaked at number seven and over the over the course of the next three weeks it dropped out of the charts, one place lower each week. In the States it did even worse than 'Marquee Moon'. Critical opinion was largely that it was a disappointment, but that was mainly because it wasn't 'Marquee Moon'. Although the group had a large repertoire of old songs that could have been recorded, Verlaine chose instead to write new ones, with only 'Foxhole' and 'Careful' having any tried and tested stage legs, making it (in retrospect) seem like a dry-run for his subsequent solo career.
A UK tour (with The Only Ones in support) that April saw them playing to much smaller audiences than just a year before, and the band retreated to the USA, splitting in August, at the end of a three-night series of gigs at Bottom Line in New York.
Verlaine was fast out of the starting gate with his solo career, releasing a self-titled solo LP for Elektra in 1979. Unusually, it contained two old Television songs, 'Kingdom Come' and 'Breakin' In My Heart', both of which had been in the band's set since 1975. Lloyd's solo LP 'Alchemy' came out the same year. Fred Smith played bass on both. Ficca went on to join The Waitresses in 1980, playing of both of their excellent studio LPs.
Verlaine continued to churn out solo records over the course of the next decade: 'Dreamtime' (1981), 'Words From The Front' (1982), 'Cover' (1984), 'Flash Light' (1987), 'The Wonder' (1990) and 'Warm and Cool' (1992, reissued in 2005). Lloyd kept a much lower profile, issuing just 'Field of Fire' (1986) and 'Real Time' (1987). The pair of them also worked as guest musicians on numerous records.
Television reformed in 1992, much to everyone’s surprise, with the group playing its first show since 1978 at Glastonbury, and recorded a new LP, entitled 'Television', which sounds like one of Verlaine’s solo efforts. Apart from the comparatively peppy ‘Call Mr Lee’ and '1880 Or So', the songs here simply didn't have the hooks necessary to inspire repeated listens, the songs and playing failed to generate any sparks, and the overall sound was too contemporary for (my) comfort. This brief reunion lasted until mid-1993.
Richard Lloyd: On that third record, any time it came to record my parts, Tom would say, "I hear the amp buzzing. Could you please look into that?" Often, he would turn it down, until it was barely audible. So that nothing rustled, nothing moved. For me, that third record was Television-lite. It has a beautiful, nice sound. But it’s not rock’n’roll. What happened next, though, was we began playing live again. That’s where the real power came out. Songs that sounded tiny on that record really blossomed to life. Across Television’s final period, we rehearsed, we played – and we would write new songs. Then Tom would throw them away. For 14 years, from 1993 to 2007, when I finally quit, Tom would talk about us making a new record. But nothing ever came of it. We recorded nothing. Tom would always poo-poo the notion. It was like he didn't want to give anything to Television. Tom never really wants to share credit. When we first signed with Elektra, I found out years later that Tom had tried desperately to make the contract so he would be the only one signed as "Television". The rest of us would be hired musicians. Elektra wouldn't have it. (The story of Television, by Richard Lloyd - link in links section below)
Singles / Albums
|Little Johnny Jewel
|Prove It (7"/12", 1977)||Foxhole (7"/12", 1978)|
|Adventure (LP, 1978)||Glory (7", 1978)|
|Venus (7", 1977)||Little Johnny Jewel
|The Blow Up
|The Best Of Television & Tom Verlaine
|Live At The Old Waldorf - San Francisco, 6/29/78 (CD, 2003)|
|Ain't That Nothin
(7", promo, 1978)
Bootlegs Including Pre-1979 Recordings
|Arrow (LP, 1980)||Double Exposure
|Live Portland, Oregon 1978 (2xLP, 1989)||Live Adventures
|Arrow Head (CD, 1992)|
|Live In S. Francisco / 1978 (CD, 1992)||Last Live In Portland Oregon 1978
|Television With Bryan Eno (LP, 1994)||Fairland (CD, as Television with Brian Eno, 1994)||This Case Is Closed
|Early Gig ‘75 (CD, with Patti Smith, 1997)||Poor Circulation
|I Need A New Aventure (CD, 2003)||We Can't Do Anymore... Cause I'm Just Too Tired! (2xCD, as Patti Smith and Television, 2005)|
|Nights To Remember 1975 (2xCD, 2005)||Ticket That Exploded: Live At Portland, July 2nd 1978 (CD, 2005)||Back Into The Graveyard (2xCD, 2005)||Whisky A Go Go
|At CBGB (2xCD, 2007)|
|Sketches: The Demos 1974-75 (LP, 2013)||1975 Demos With Richard Hell
|Ain't That Nothing (Live at the Old Waldorf, San Francisco 1979)
The Sound Of '77 UK LP 1977 (WEA): Prove It [this is NOT a new wave comp!]
The Year Of The Ear : Vol 1 - The New Models US LP 1977 (Elektra/Asylum): Prove It / Marquee Moon [this is NOT a new wave comp!]
Sharp Holland LP 1979 (WEA): Ain't That Nothing
Singles: The Great New York Singles Scene US Tape 1982 (ROIR): Little Johnny Jewel
New York Rockers US Tape 1989 (ROIR): Friction
1-2-3-4 Punk & New Wave 1976-1979 UK 5xCD 1999 (Universal): Little Johnny Jewel
No Thanks! The '70s Punk Rebellion US 4xCD 2003 (Rhino - ): Marquee Moon / See No Evil
The Old Grey Whistle Test Live Europe 3xCD 2012 (BBC Worldwide/Rhino): Foxhole [Live]
FASTER LOUDER - We interviewed Television’s Tom Verlaine (it didn’t go so well)
THE STRANGER - Ex-Television Guitarist Richard Lloyd on Tom Verlaine, Hendrix, Music Biz Corruption, and Much More
UNCUT - The story of Television, by Richard Lloyd
DOUBLE EXPOSURE - Ricahrd Williams talks in detail about the so-called Eno demo