In Tony Fletcher’s fascinating book ‘All Hopped Up and Ready to Go: Music from the Streets of New York 1927-77‘ he depicts the death of the New York glitter scene as taking place on April 14, 1974, Easter Sunday. The date happened to be the night of a gig at the Bowery (CBGB) attended by Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye. TELEVISION were performing…they had begun life in the early 70’s as the Neon Boys, a group featuring guitarist/vocalist Tom Verlaine, drummer Billy Ficca, and bassist Richard Hell. They later changed their name to TELEVISION in ’73 when they were joined by rhythm guitarist Richard Lloyd. They were in their third week of a residency at a club that was about to change the New York music scene forever.
The venue wasn’t the most sought after, described by Fletcher as “bereft of both audience and ambience” with the owners dog running around loose leaving everyone in danger of stepping in dog shit. What the venue did allow them to do was to cultivate their own sound which they knew was different to anyone else at the time. The band were also excellent self-promoters and managed to attract Josh Feigenbaum of SoHo Weekly News who, in his review of their first gig, stated they were “loud, out of tune and pretentious as hell” adding “the next big break-through group coming out of New York”. That last line got well used on all future publicity. They didn’t have to wait long for a better line however…this time from none other than David Bowie: “the most original band I’ve seen in New York”….their reputation began to snowball.
Patti Smith asked Verlaine to play lead guitar on her first recording, a self-pressed 7-inch single ‘Hey Joe’/’Piss Factory‘ that gave birth to a generation of do-it-yourself releases. Smith and TELEVISION managed to get a ten-night residency at Max’s Kansas City, a venue that normally only booked national acts. They took to the stage looking unlike anyone else…ripped t-shirts, cut dyed-blond hair. Hell recalled “There was not another rock ‘n’ roll band in the world with short hair. There was not another rock ‘n’ roll band with torn clothes. Everybody was still wearing glitter and women’s clothes. We were these notch-fin, homeless hoodlums, playing really powerful, passionate, aggressive music that was also lyrical.” They also lay the groundwork for many of the guitar-based post-punk pop groups of the late ’70s and ’80s.
An early song from a 1974 rehearsal when Richard Hell was in the band. It appears on a bootleg entitled “Poor Circulation”
TELEVISION recorded a demo tape for Island Records with Brian Eno in 1975, yet the label decided not to sign the band. Hell left the band after recording the demo, forming the Heartbreakers with former New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders; the following year, he began a solo career supported by the Voidoids, releasing a debut album, Blank Generation, in 1977. Hell was replaced by ex-Blondie bassist Fred Smith and TELEVISION recorded ‘Little Johnny Jewel’, releasing it on their own Ork record label. ‘Little Johnny Jewel’ became an underground hit, attracting the attention of major record labels. In 1976, the band released a British EP on Stiff Records, which expanded their reputation. They signed with Elektra Records and began recording their debut album.
‘Marquee Moon’, the group’s first album, was released in early 1977 to great critical acclaim, yet it failed to attract a wide audience in America; in the UK, it reached number 28 in the charts, launching the Top 40 single ‘Prove It’. TELEVISION supported Blondie on the group’s 1977 tour, but the shows didn’t increase the group’s following significantly.
TELEVISION released their second album, ‘Adventure’, in the spring of 1978. While its American sales were better than those of ‘Marquee Moon’, the record didn’t make the charts; in Britain, it became a Top Ten hit. Months later, the group suddenly broke up, largely due to tensions between the two guitarists. Smith rejoined Blondie, while Verlaine and Lloyd both pursued solo careers; Lloyd also played on John Doe’s first solo album, as well as joined Matthew Sweet’s supporting band with the 1991 album Girlfriend.
ON Old Grey Whistle Test ’78
Nearly 14 years after their breakup, TELEVISION re-formed in late 1991, recording a new, self titled album for Capitol Records. The reunited band began its comeback with a performance at England’s Glastonbury summer festival in 1992, releasing ‘Television’ a couple months later. The album received good reviews, as did the tour that followed, yet the reunion was short-lived — the group disbanded again in early 1993. In 2001, TELEVISION again reunited for a handful of shows in the U.K., as well as an appearance at the Noise Pop Festival in Chicago.
Television – Call Mr Lee