Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock – T

And now back to our regularly scheduled column.


There are very few albums that come out of New York in the seventies that can hold a candle to Television’s “Marquee Moon” and I could argue that they A-side of the original record is the strongest side on vinyl to ever come out of the seventies scene. I started reading about the band in the mid-seventies in Rock Scene Magazine. Rock Scene was half fanzine and half magazine and the likes of  writer Lisa Robinson and photographer Bob Gruen covered the New York underground and gave ink to bands like The New York Dolls , Television, The Ramones and Talking Heads before they ventured past north of Houston Street.

When they released their first single “Little Johnny Jewel” in 1975 they were still a five piece band with Tom Verlaine, Richard Lloyd, Fred Smith, Billy Ficca and Richard Hell. It came out on the tiny Ork Label and was impossible to find in Toronto. When I finally heard a cassette of the song I really couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about, very minimal and no balls as far as my 16 year old years could tell. Richard Hell split from the band in 1975 and formed The Heartbreakers with Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan from the New York Dolls and that was a bit more up my alley. In 1977 he formed a new band and released the seminal “Blank Generation” under the banner of Richard Hell And The Voidoids. Its sound and sense of fashion launched a thousand safety pins across the pond. It is also the title of great 1976 hour long movie of the scene at CBGB’s directed by Ivan Krall.

Now down to a four piece, and signed to Elektra, Television released “Marquee Moon” in 1977. I decided to give the band a second chance and as soon the needle dropped on my glorious green copy of the album and “See No Evil” came pulsing out of the Lloyds stereo it was pretty evident that the group had elevated their game. This was not punk, not glam, not like anything else out there. Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine weaved guitar licks around each other like cigarette smoke crossing a spotlight while Fred Smith spat out a bass line that seemed to work both  independently and totally in synch with Billy Ficca’s drumming. On top of that Tom Verlaine’s vocals were just so “I could care less” New York affected. On the next song “Venus” the vocals are even more distracted as he seems to be carrying on a conversation that we are not a part of. That song contains the classic lyric “I fell right in to the arms of Venus de Milo”. “Friction” is probably the closest thing to punk on the album “I get your point you’re so sharp” and picks up the pace before the ten minute masterpiece that is the title track. Two guitars duel over a punchy bass and rolling drums while Verlaine does his best Patti Smith style vocals. There is a huge jam in the middle of the song but it is so sparse it breathes as it builds to the finish. According to legend the song was produced in one take,

Side two is better than most of the stuff that came out during that era with “Elevation” and “Prove It” being two of the best songs in the bands library but it is the first four songs on the A-side that make this album a classic. Looking back it is interesting that so many of my favourite records had favourite sides as I was either too lazy to flip it over or may have only had time to listen to one side in a sitting, Portable music was a transistor radio and your sure didn’t hear bands like Television on radio. At least we had whole sides to listen to as opposed to the single songs we listen to today.

The Tubes

One of the best live shows of all time. When the San Francisco/Phoenix band first rolled in to Massey Hall in the fall of 1975 no one knew what to expect but we knew it was going to be memorable. With the A&M Records local promotion team running at full throttle and plenty of rumours about nudity, bondage and drugs the very staid Toronto community was on guard. The group had just released their eponymous debut album (produced by Al Kooper) and although no one was playing it (it was before MTV/MuchMusic and the language was a tad salty for radio) there was a huge buzz surrounding the live show. All told there were two dozen different band members and performers on stage that night, front man Fee “Waldo” Waybill went through eight costume (and personality changes), there were seven female performers in various stages of undress, walls of TV screens and amps and an overall production that was Busby Berkeley meets John Waters. Songs such as “White Punks On Dope” (featuring Waybill as a seven foot tall lame’-clad rocker by the name of Quay Lewd playing a toilet seat or Q-shaped guitar). “What Do You Want From Life?”  and Mondo Bondage” were built for theatrics.

Lyrically the group were too full of wit and satire to be accepted by the masses and much of their audience missed the point. The first album had moments of musical greatness (and one of the cleverest covers ever) but it was on the second album “Young And Rich” that the band came in to their own as songwriters satirizing upper middle class America with songs such as “Young And Rich”, “Proud To Be An American” and “Don’t Touch Me There”.  Their next four albums included a decent live album, two duds and a “contractual” greatest hits and seemed to spell the end of the band. Enter Canadian producer David Foster and the band breaks in to the mainstream with “Talk To You Later” and “Sushi Girl” from their “The Completion Backward Principle”.  Here the band go toe-to-toe with Gil Fisher (John Candy) on “The Fishin’ Musician” show from SCTV in 1981.

A band just a little too clever and a little too ahead of their time.

The Targets

One of the best new bands I have seen in a long time. From Winsford, England (close to Liverpool) the three-piece “Mod Punk” band calls Toronto their second home and are music festival faves. They have released two EP’s “These Grey Times” and “The Toronto Tapes” and destroyed every stage they have played. You can check them out at Bassist Sam Bell portrayed George Harrison in the overlooked Beatles/John Lennon “Nowhere Boy” in 2009.

Tenpole Tudor

Sometimes you just need to blast a song on the iPod as you head downtown to go and see bands and Tenpole Tudors 1981 classic “Swords Of A Thousand Men” is one of those songs that get you in the mood for a night of carousing. Here’s a clip

Lead singer Edward Tudor-Pole can be spotted as an actor in such rock classics as “The Great Rock And Roll Swindle”, “Sid And Nancy”, “Straight To Hell” and “Absolute Beginners”.

Treble Charger

Congrats to my boys in Treble Charger for their induction in the Indie Hall Of Fame this year at the upcoming CMW. I tried to sign them to MCA when the were NC-17 and later got to work with them at BMG during the “Maybe It’s Me”/”Wide Awake Bored”/”Detox” days. Great guys, great songs and a whole lot of fun on the road.

This Weekend

After selling out their show in Ottawa, Amos The Transparent hit Waterloo (tonight), Hamilton (tomorrow), the Horseshoe in Toronto on Saturday and Montreal on Monday. If any industry folks need to be on the guest list let me know.

As always if you are in Toronto and looking for a cool rock’n’roll diner please visit our friends at Shanghai Cowgirl 538 Queen Street West. It is right beside the world famous Bovine and around the corner from Cherry Cola’s.

Cam’s column appears every Wednesday

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Cameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener,  The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

2 Responses to “Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock – T”

  1. Cam,
    Thanks for giving props to New York’s grossly underappreciated Television. The punk scene would have been nowhere without them. Billy Ficca went on to be drummer in Hamilton native Dave Rave’s band The Dave Rave Conspiracy with fanzine/musicologist Gary Pig Gold, Coyote Shivers (who would marry professional groupie Bebe Buell), and Lauren Agnelli (of The Washington Squares).

    PS – My favourite Tenpole song remains the wonderfully campy “Wunderbar”.

  2. I used to have a handful of those Ork Records but never saw Television’s. By the time I was getting into the band, the pre-Elektra days were waning. And thanks for the tip about The Targets. Gives me something to explore over the next few days.

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