The Quietus MARCH 21, 2014 - by Tyler Wilcox


During his unfathomably productive 1970s, Brian Eno made an indelible mark on the New York City rock scene, most famously on the trio of visionary LPs he made with Talking Heads and the era-defining no-wave comp No New York. But Eno's first encounter with the NYC scene remains unavailable: A five-song demo recorded forty years ago with the then-fledgling Television.

Not available officially, at least - the demos have been available through more subterranean channels for decades. After Television, Eno, Island Records A&R man Richard Williams and engineer John Fausty entered Good Vibrations Studio near Times Square in late 1974, the CBGB scene was abuzz with rumors about the "legendary Eno Tapes." The recordings subsequently appeared on Italian vinyl in the late 1970s (with Eno's name misspelled on the sleeve as "Bryan") and then debuted digitally in the 1990s on the essential Television odds-n-sods bootleg CD, Double Exposure. For unknown reasons, the demos were bypassed when Rhino reissued Television's catalog back in 2003. But of course, the curious can now check out these unreleased tapes on YouTube.

Taken as a whole, Television's Eno Tapes provide a tantalizing glimpse of an alternate universe where two of the most powerful musical forces of the 1970s forged a long-lasting and fruitful working relationship. Alas, it was not to be. From the outset there was, shall we say... friction.

In a 2013 blog post, Richard Williams wrote, "Tom [Verlaine] didn't like the way things turned out, and later he blamed Eno... Tom might equally have blamed me or Fausty, but he and Eno didn't get on, although there was no overt falling out. That still seems a shame. I didn't realise at the time what a perfectionist Tom was, and that he wanted perfection even on his demos."

Verlaine elaborated in an interview with Sounds a few years after the fact: "The whole thing sounded like The Ventures. It sounded so bad. I kept on saying, why does it sound so bad? And [Eno would] say, 'Whaddya mean? It sounds pretty good to me.'"

In a 2013 YouTube comment, Television's guitarist Richard Lloyd went even further, disavowing Eno's input altogether. "This was NOT produced by Brian Eno," he wrote. "Richard Williams from Island wanted to record the band and [said] that he would like to bring Eno along because Richard didn't know anything about how to record in studios. So we said OK, but didn't use a single idea that Eno brought."

Further muddying the waters was the fact that Verlaine and bassist/vocalist Richard Hell were falling out personally and professionally. "By the winter of 1974-75, Tom was shutting me out beyond a doubt," Hell wrote in his recent memoir I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp. "He had not only stopped allowing most of my songs onto set lists, but he'd told me not to move around onstage while he sang. He didn't want any attention distracted from himself." Hell claims that one of his songs, Blank Generation, was recorded during the Eno sessions (it's never appeared on bootleg), but complained that Verlaine performed it "like a novelty song." Just a few months after the sessions, Hell left the band for good.

So, the whole situation was complicated to say the least. But despite the general negativity expressed above, Television's Eno demos are very much worth hearing.

Take a listen to this demo of Venus de Milo, one of the band's signature songs. While it doesn't have the majestic quality of the Marquee Moon version, there's a nervous energy present here that sounds strikingly like early Talking Heads - a band that was still six months away from its first show at CBGB, and whose members almost certainly caught early Television gigs.

Double Exposure (the only tune recorded at these sessions that wouldn't show up on Marquee Moon) and Friction highlight the group's garage rock roots, with a nagging, Nuggets-like riff stop-starting behind Verlaine's sneering vocals and proto-no-wave guitar scrawls. Prove It comes across almost fully formed, a dream-like noir set to a sashaying salsa beat. Finally, the attempt at Marquee Moon's epic title track is not quite the masterpiece it would eventually become. But it does hint at a more successful collaboration between Eno and Television, when at the peak of the song's famous climb-the-stairs climax, a cascade of piano and ambient sound washes over the guitars, a zen-like calm overtaking the wiry tension. You could call it positively Eno-esque - except that Richard Williams says Verlaine played the keyboards here.

Ultimately, both Eno and Television would go their separate ways to create some of the most adventurous and influential music of the decade, leaving the legendary Eno demos as the only evidence of one of the great what-ifs of rock history.