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Turning Television on again

By Todd Leopold

Television in concert. The band was known for the guitar interplay between Richard Lloyd (right) and Tom Verlaine (left).

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(CNN) -- The band Television used to sound like hell, Richard Lloyd says.

Not when it played live, necessarily. But the group's LP recordings -- 1977's landmark "Marquee Moon" and 1978's "Adventure" -- never had the audio dynamics the band laid down in the studio, the guitarist observes.

"You'd hear stuff in the studio, and it would sound great," he recalls of recording "Marquee Moon." "Then you go to the mastering sessions, and the process is essentially scratching on plastic with a nail."

When the mastering process -- the last step before mass production of a record -- was complete, Lloyd was handed an advance version of "Marquee Moon" and went home to listen. The dynamics were suddenly flatter, and the last few seconds of the 10-minute title track had been faded out because side one was overlong.

"I nearly cried," Lloyd says.

Fortunately for Lloyd and record buyers everywhere, both "Marquee Moon" and "Adventure" have been restored to their full audio glory, and have been re-released by Rhino with a handful of alternate takes and extra cuts. (Rhino is a division of Time Warner, as is CNN.)

The albums capture the intricate interplay of Lloyd and guitarist/songwriter Tom Verlaine, Lloyd with his precise runs, Verlaine with his wild, impromptu fretwork, all of which still sounds fresh and distinctive more than a quarter-century later.

Lloyd could hear Television in his head the first time he saw Verlaine.

"I leaned over and told Terry [Ork, the group's first manager] ... , 'Put me together with this guy,'" he says. "I can augment him perfectly." The two could be like "two gears in a clock. What I had and what he had could mesh."

Television's sound -- long songs augmented by the guitarists' solos and Verlaine's imagist lyrics -- was an exception to the single-length sensibility of most punk bands, but the group had a fervent following.

The group eventually took up residency at CBGB, which was at that time turning into the nexus of the downtown New York punk scene. Indeed, Television has two cuts on the new Rhino history of punk, "No Thanks."

However, Television's influential albums never sold well in America, despite its label's initial attempt to give the group a big rock sound. The "Marquee Moon" producer was Andy Johns, an engineer known for his work with Led Zeppelin, and Lloyd recalls Johns taking elaborate measures to make the drums sound like John Bonham's boom.

But that's not what Verlaine had in mind -- and, in retrospect, Lloyd says he was right.

"I was disappointed ... but if the drums were that big, it wouldn't be us," he says.

Television didn't last -- the group broke up after "Adventure," then had short-lived reunions in the early '90s and in 2001. Lloyd has been a sideman on a number of Matthew Sweet records and continues to record.

In the meantime, "Marquee Moon" has become a classic.

"People recognize it, and history has placed it among the group of influential records," Lloyd says. "I'm gratified it stuck to the wall."

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