Sunday, January 29, 2023

The music that made Television: Tom Verlaine’s favorite songs of all time

Punk might have come of age in New York, but there is an argument to be had that it was, in fact, born in Kentucky. It was there, in Lexington, that Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell grew up in the shadow of a shrouded brick block narcotics treatment facility known on the streets as Narco. This reprobate fortress was frequented by artists like William S. Burroughs and housed a covert section of the counterculture movement in the sleepy town on the doorsteps of two young proto-punks playing with toy guns in the neighboring fields.

Eventually, in October 1966, the two young buddies of Verlaine and Hell fled Lexington to find the permanent housing of counterculture rather than the repair centre for the foolhardy few who stepped one toke over the line. For a few weeks, Tom ‘Verlaine’ Miller and his best pal thumbed their way across the south in a serpentine path of wavering circumstance soon to be cut short when they were apprehended by the police. But from these first speculative steps into the no-mans-land of wayfaring adolescence, an attitude of independence was instilled in the 16-year-old daring duo, and like chickens with ambitions of batter-free longevity, they were convinced that there was a better life for them outside of Kentucky.

In 1974, on April 14th, their eventual band, Television, were booked to play one of the first-ever gigs at CBGB only a month after it was opened. They picked up where the New York Dolls had left off and helped to spawn punk as we know it. At one of their first gigs, a fellow proto-punk was in the audience working as a full-time journalist—that reviewer was Patti Smith and she wrote the headline: “Television: Escapees from Heaven”.

Thereafter her punk heralding piece reads: “Confused sexual energy makes young guys so desirable; their careless way of dressing; their strange way of walking; filled with so much longing. Just relentlessly adolescent.” Bearing in mind this at a time when they only had the New York Dolls and the Ramones for company, this youthful spirit was pretty much the Promethean punk force.

However, what set Television aside was that they were offering up a dose of adrenalised rock ‘n’ roll, there was a rich, eclectic mix in their musical welter, and that is certainly reflected in the selection that Tom Verlaine put forward as some of his favourite tracks of all time when he appeared as a guest DJ on NPR. Consisting of a slew of personal highlights from his own career and the mix of records that have inspired him, the list offers a unique insight into the music that inspires the seminal guitarist and songwriter.

Verlaine’s picks primarily comprise contemporary classical music and cinematic scores exhibiting how sonic drama has always been at the forefront of his musical thinking. For example, the seminal Bernard Herrmann piece ‘Prelude and Outer Space’ from the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still is considered one of the most influential pieces of music in cinema, helping to establish the sounds that we now consider space-age. Considering that Verlaine helped to craft the sound of punk guitar and beyond, it is clear to see how he has his eye on sounds that crystalise something sonically.

With jazz from Charles Mingus and contemporary classical from the Polish composer Henryk Górecki, it is clear that musical complexity constructed in a highly listenable way is something that soars in his own music. The duelling guitars that made ‘Marquee Moon’ one of the greatest punk songs of all time might sound a million miles away from Henry Mancini’s work on paper, but in reality, the tonal cacophony of pitching notes is a bold searing style that both artists share to bring a unique energy to their songs.

And speaking of Verlaine’s own compositions, the star selected a slew of his own favourite compositions from years gone by, from the instrumental guitar work of ‘The O of Adore’ to his lyrical introspection on ‘The Day on You’. Sadly, however, due to contractual reasons, a few of these songs aren’t on Spotify, so they avoid the playlist below.

Tom Verlaine’s favorite songs:‘Marquee Moon’ by Television
‘Hog Callin’ Blues’ by Charles Mingus
‘Second Piece’ by Henryk Górecki
‘Those Harbor Lights’ by Tom Verlaine
‘Experiment in Terror’ by Henry Mancini
‘The O of Adore’ by Tom Verlaine
‘Prelude and Outer Space’ by Bernard Herrmann
‘The Day on You’ by Tom Verlaine

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