(No Label) (Italy) No. DE-92-SC, released 1992
Venus De Milo
Hard On Love
Little Johnny Jewel
Breakin' In My Heart
"We'd like to do a slow shing-a-ling tune"
Here's what must be the essential early Television 'proper' recordings. Eight songs from Television mark 1 with Richard Hell (three of them live at CBGB in '75) and six studio recordings from Television mark 2 with Fred Smith in '75. Plus one more live track from '75.
Richard Hell has his own unique chunk of mythology following him around that I don't intend to go into now (but for more, try here), but whatever your view of him he's certainly a seminal figure of the whole NY Punk/CBGB thing in a way that Verlaine and Lloyd weren't. Which is to say, not as a musical force but as an icon of the times. Whether or not Hell really was the first to come up with the torn t-shirt that ripped its way across the Atlantic is not really the point; the point is, I guess, that Verlaine didn't.
If it was "musical differences" that led to Hell and Television parting company then I'd bet it was attitude towards playing music as much as anything else. I would imagine that the better Verlaine and Lloyd became, they more everyone got frustrated with their own different reasons for wanting (or needing) to be in a band. In any case Hell, whatever he brought to the band in terms of style, confrontation and attitude, is no Fred Smith on the bass. Whereas live he was probably the visual focus of attention, on tape he's, well, ... adequate, really. Nevertheless, "Blank Generation" (here in both demo and live versions) is a pivotal song and if it's any kind of manifesto then it's Hell's, not Verlaine's. And he did go on to release with The Voidoids in '77 the rather wonderful "Blank Generation" album, also containing the great "Love Comes In Spurts".
The first five songs here, demos produced by Eno and Richard Williams, are fascinating in the way the blueprints of what would be "Marquee Moon"'s magnificence are being drawn up. Eno might have seemed like a perfect choice of producer for Television but I'd guess it was his influence that has them sounding at times alarmingly like Talking Heads. How relatively restrained it all sounds; not the songs themselves - it's obvious even from these first recordings that these guys are operating somewhere far left of mainstream. It's also apparent that nobody is quite sure how to record them - and maybe they weren't so sure themselves. Though by no means poorly recorded, the songs have a stark, skeletal feel to them, as if they needed to be bounced off a live audience to stretch and shape, breathe some space into them. But the intensity and passion I've always felt from Television is blatant here. It's the sound of a band reaching for a place, finding a voice. Verlaine and Lloyd haven't yet locked together in the way that would both spark the tension which runs through "Marquee Moon", "Adventure" and live recordings of the time, and redefine 70s (80s? 90s?) electric guitar music.
"Prove It" has a kind of loping, spacey feel to it, thanks to Ficca's lighter drumming and Hell's plodding bass sound. It's a busy sound without a solid core. Ficca's "jazzy" drumming fails to lock the sound down and the guitar break is so weedily recorded as to have almost no impact. The vocal is recorded "normally", as if Verlaine was being presented as "a singer", whereas one of the beauties of their first album would be the way the vocals cut through, and around, the music. "Friction" is edgy and more urgent. It sounds great, actually, with some frantic scrubbing Verlaine guitar lines. This is the sound that Television would hone to perfection on "MM".
"Double Exposure" has an anguished, go-for-it vocal and a kind of mad 60s feel. It's like The Who filtered through the New York Dolls. "Marquee Moon" is only half the song it would end up being. The confidence to get too close to the edge that would come to characterise Verlaine's playing isn't yet in evidence. You can just tell that this song will expand and develop the more it's played live.
I would have given them a record deal on the strength of "Friction".
"Fire Engine", "Blank Generation" and "Double Exposure", recorded live in '75, show that , by then, Television were fast, tight and frenetic.
Tracks 9-14 are studio recordings from ''75 and sound as if they were recorded live in the studio. They start with "Hard On Love", a great, lost Television song. Why didn't Verlaine (or Lloyd) record this properly later on? (Verlaine's "Without A Word" on "Dreamtime", which uses the basic musical structure, doesn't count). It's almost a traditional 'pop' song which even on (or perhaps because of) this basic recording conveys a longing and vulnerability. It owes something to 60s music, a little to country music and, like all the best pop songs, a lot to common experience. It should have been covered by Johnny Cash. Or Willie Nelson. Or The Four Tops.
"Friction" and "Careful" show more confidence. Fred Smith's bass playing brings a more secure foundation to the bottom of the sound. As if Billy Ficca now had someone to play with - consequently his playing seems tighter and less cluttered, and the sound of the band is taking on the familiar angularity and edge.
There's a rather mellow version of "Prove It" with a great Verlaine half-spoken vocal and evidence of an increasing sense of dynamics. Verlaine and Lloyd seem to be finding their places within the sound of the band and there's a feeling of something special beginning to gel. "Little Johnny Jewel" is intricate and full of space. Great drumming from Ficca and the beat held solid by Smith. Verlaine's guitar is so low that it sounds like an acoustic. It doesn't go anywhere near the places that later live versions such as on "The Blow Up" would, but it points the way.
The final track, "Breakin' In My Heart", is taken from the 1975 Piccadilly Inn live recording.
"Double Exposure" is simply essential for anyone wanting to hear the origins of the great albums that would follow. And all this was going on when people were still buying Eagles records?