Acoustic Sounds


Marquee Moon



Label: Rhino / Elektra

Produced By: Andy Johns and Tom Verlaine

Engineered By: Andy Johns at A&R Studios

Mixed By: Andy Johns at Atlantic Studios

Mastered By: Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio (reissue)

By: Malachi Lui

January 29th, 2024



‘Marquee Moon’ and The Great Mastering Debate

Can good mastering be musically incorrect?

Everyone reading this site has by now probably heard about Rhino High Fidelity’s controversial reissue of Television’s landmark 1977 debut Marquee Moon. This latest edition, cut from the original master tape by Kevin Gray, sounds good but nothing like the original US pressing cut at Sterling. However, a few readers asked how how it compares to Rhino’s 2012 mass-market reissue, cut all-analog by Chris Bellman (initial US copies pressed at RTI, EU copies and later represses plated at RTI and pressed at Optimal). Tracking Angle editor (and the High Fidelity reissue’s initial reviewer) Michael Fremer doesn’t have the Bellman cut, but I do. So to resolve this question, I ordered the Kevin Gray cut, and Fremer also sent me a digital transfer of the original’s first side.

Being accustomed to Bellman’s cut, I immediately found Gray’s reissue lacking in excitement and urgency. From a purely technical stance, it’s everything an ideal remaster should be: more bass, bigger soundstage, greater transient precision, loads of detail. Right away, the bass prominence on “See No Evil” stuck out, to the point where I found it somewhat distracting. And though the mix itself stuffs Billy Ficca’s drums almost entirely in the center, the drum image has amazing soundstage height like never before.

However, it doesn’t sound “right” to me. Marquee Moon has always sounded punchy and compact, and this new “audiophile” expansiveness doesn’t really fit. Based on the transfer Fremer sent me (taken from the Wilson Benesch turntable currently under review for The Absolute Sound and captured with a Lynx Hilo converter at 96kHz/24bit), the original Sterling cut rolls off the bass at the expense of image solidity yet remains a thrilling listen. It’s very bright, but the top end has that precious “fresh tape” sound that only an original pressing can provide. Bellman’s cut (done when Tom Biery carefully supervised Warner’s vinyl reissues) retains the original’s character but makes a few technical improvements. The bass is more robust albeit still attenuated, the imaging is better, and the brightness is slightly less piercing. The 2012 Bellman reissue is a great middle ground between the Sterling original and Gray’s Rhino High Fidelity cut, however both show that over time, the master tape has lost the super high frequencies.

In a YouTube video, Kevin Gray admitted to having never heard Marquee Moon before mastering it 46 years later. I don’t blame Gray for how his cut sounds; he got a great sounding recording and made the default EQ changes that any good mastering engineer would make (in this case: slightly boosting the bass and lowering the high mids). Instead, the responsibility falls on Rhino High Fidelity reissue producer Patrick Milligan. (This is not an attack of any sort, rather a factual statement on how the business runs in general.) He is Gray’s client here, and it’s his job to guide the mastering process towards what he and Rhino want. It seems that rather than advising how it should sound, or providing a previous edition for reference, Milligan left Gray to his own devices to get the results that Gray most preferred.

Reissues are a complicated affair; everyone already has an idea of what the record previously sounded like, and there’s a ton of room for error. This opens up the question of good versus bad remastering (or mastering in general), which I’ve clarified into the following categories:

1) Reissues that suck because they a) sound nothing like the originals and b) sound like crap in general (ie, the 2010 remaster of Exile On Main St. The transients are blunted and the overall sound is congealed and compressed, which doesn’t provide any technical benefit nor does it match the original LP). Reissues with blatant mastering defects also fall into this category.

2) Reissues that suck due to needless revisionism from the original sound (ie, John Davis’ Led Zeppelin remasters supervised by Jimmy Page, or the A New Career In A New Town Bowie box set where producer Tony Visconti drastically altered—and severely hindered—the original sound.)

3) Decent reissues that sound similar to the original, but not quite as good. This could be due to tape deterioration, other subpar sources, or the chosen mastering process. (For example, Tim Young’s 2013 digital remaster of The Clash’s London Calling sounds tonally identical to his original 1979 cut, but “only” 85% as good.)

4) Good reissues that sound seriously great by every technical measure, but nothing like the originals. (This was the case with Ryan Smith’s recent VMP cut of Iggy and The Stooges’ Raw Power, but my favored—though comparatively niche—example is Bob Ludwig’s Yellow Magic Orchestra remasters. On those, you hear every last detail at the expense of the originals’ cohesion and/or mystery. Both perspectives are valid, though for some of those albums I can’t exactly recommend one over the other).

5) Great reissues with sound quality equal, close to, or better than the originals, while maintaining a similar character (ie, every reissue that we praise wholeheartedly). This includes albums where the originals were compromised and the reissues finally reveal the original intent (Blue Note Tone Poet and Classics series, Deutsche Grammophon The Original Source reissues).

Chris Bellman’s cut of Marquee Moon falls in category 5 while Kevin Gray’s cut falls in category 4. It doesn’t sound bad, but it has a more modern focus on the bass, drums, and vocals. The mix itself has the guitars very compressed, in a way that jumps out on previous editions but sounds dull here. Personally, I find this new reissue overly smooth and reserved to the point that it’s almost boring, though again, there’s nothing wrong with it in a technical sense. Some people might like it. I don’t. This mastering style works wonders for jazz records and other rock/pop albums, but not as well for something that demands grittiness and bite.

A mastering engineer can do a solid job without any client direction, but the result will only be as good as the client wants it to be. If the client—artist, recording or reissue producer, mixing engineer, record label—desires a particular sound, they have to communicate that.

Last June, I visited Steve Fallone at Sterling Sound. He was mastering a recent rock album, where the flat mixes sounded veiled on top and muddy in the lower midrange. The producer, who also mixed the record, attended the initial mastering session. Fallone and Greg Calbi first assumed that the band and producer intended that veiled sound, but they actually wanted it brightened and cleared up. The final master sounds great, but would it have been as good if that was never communicated, if the band and producer let Calbi and Fallone execute their initial plan with no revisions? Probably not. Sterling provides many great mastering services; mind-reading is not one of them.

I don’t consider this Rhino High Fidelity Marquee Moon reissue a debacle. It’s a different perspective on a classic album, and how much you enjoy that is subjective. I vastly prefer Chris Bellman’s earlier cut or the Sterling original, though my main point is that in general, there needs to be more control over reissues. If reissue producer Patrick Milligan lent Kevin Gray an original Marquee Moon and asked him to match it, he would’ve done it. Ditto for Milligan (or anyone, for that matter) sitting in on the mastering session and directing the process. But if someone just drops off a tape (or sends a file) and says nothing, the record will only sound the way that one person—albeit a highly experienced and incredibly talented professional—wants it to. Let this audiophile controversy be a learning experience for everyone in the industry.

That said, the Rhino High Fidelity packaging is top notch; more rock albums deserve those luxurious laminated tip-on gatefold jackets. David Fricke’s liner notes are useful enough for the uninitiated, though most fascinating are the insert’s scans of the original tape boxes. Whether or not you like Gray’s mastering, the 180g Optimal pressing is whisper-quiet. Also, I’ve seen complaints about Rhino’s shipping quality, but my copy came unblemished in a proper record mailer similar to what VMP uses.

As for the music on Marquee Moon, I direct everyone to Joseph W. Washek’s excellent analysis and history. He was there, I was not. I’ll additionally recommend Numero Group’s essential Ork Records: New York, New York box set (4LP with book, or a more reasonably priced 2CD with the book reformatted), which includes Television’s debut single “Little Johnny Jewel” and highly informative liner notes by Ken Shipley and Rob Sevier. It dives into Television’s early history, and how they basically set up Ork Records for their first manager, Terry Ork. Ork Records put out a handful of important early New York punk singles, and amassed a library of unreleased recordings because its namesake couldn’t keep up with the pressing costs.

To Washek’s point that Marquee Moon isn’t a punk album: sure, it’s not in the punk tradition that would soon follow (it’s jazzy art punk—modal punk, perhaps?), but Television was still part of the geographically and ideologically united movement that played at CBGB and rebuked arena rock indulgence. That’s “punk” enough for the mid-70s. Plus, founding member Richard Hell (who left before Television recorded anything of substance) singlehandedly invented the punk image that Malcolm McLaren hawked to a bunch of dejected, wannabe “rebellious” Londoners who ate it up then sold it back to America again. Classification debate aside, Marquee Moon is one of the most essential rock albums of all time and every serious music enthusiast should own a copy of some sort.

Music Specifications

Catalog No: RHF1 1098 / 081227818586

Pressing Plant: Optimal Media


Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Source: Analog Master Tape

Presentation: Single LP


  • 2024-01-29 01:21:54 PM

    Kevin wrote:

    Very good perspective on this subject. I have heard for years people saying how they loved the album but wished the sound was better on the original. You correctly pointed to two things which make this hobby so complicated. The subjective tastes of each of us and what we hear and also our “musical memory” of things we have heard. The latter being why I still wait for the fade out and in of songs that I first listened to on 8 track tapes. Keep up the insightful work!

  • 2024-01-29 01:22:17 PM

    anothercosta wrote:

    Great article. Explains a lot. It's great you mention the excellent Ork Records box. Totally understand and agree the onus is on the reissue producer for the end product. With no judgement, what's curious to me is Mr. Gray's seeming lack of curiosity about the original. Maybe he just didn't have the time?

    • 2024-01-29 01:24:33 PM

      Kevin wrote:

      I don’t see how he has time to sleep with all the titles he is involved with

  • 2024-01-29 02:02:05 PM

    Andor Kiss wrote:

    The LZ remasters supervised by JP sound absolutely fantastic - they were remastered based on near mint original pressings. And JP was there when they were first mastered. They do not "suck".

    • 2024-01-29 02:12:48 PM

      Malachi Lui wrote:

      they don't completely suck but they're too sterile for how i think of led zeppelin

    • 2024-01-29 03:20:18 PM

      db wrote:

      The most obvious thing about the Zep remasters is that Bonham's drums lost some "body" - or they sound less like real drums.

    • 2024-01-29 05:42:24 PM

      Will wrote:

      It is a matter of opinion, but I wish I hadn't bothered with the Zepp reissue's because I think they are missing that X factor you get in a good record.

    • 2024-01-29 11:06:29 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      I think they do sound awful compared to the RL original, the U.K. plum label and the Classic Records reissue. Have you heard those? The CDs JP supervised sound poor too IMO...

    • 2024-01-31 06:32:57 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      I have mint originals and these do not sound like the originals!

  • 2024-01-29 04:00:44 PM

    Bill Camarata wrote:

    I agree that the Bellman cut sounds better, but I have another issue with this version. I made a video last week about it. My first copy of this album was the CD and the track "Friction" sounds like there is a synthesizer at the end of it. I liked that ending but was surprised when it wasn't on either the Bellman or Gray cut! Check out my video here:

  • 2024-01-29 04:27:36 PM

    Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

    Great stuff, Malachi. I like this 'leveler' essay because it reminds audiophiles to chill and take a breath. There are a plethora of reasons as to why the end product is.

    Now I wanna look for the Bellman reissue... good luck, I'm sure.. lol.

    And holy crap you got tall! And your brain is taller too... Keep on being you!

    • 2024-01-29 04:54:15 PM

      Jeffrey C. Robbins wrote:

      Malachi, would this be the Bellman version? Amazon seems to have the import.

      • 2024-01-29 05:31:42 PM

        Malachi Lui wrote:

        unfortunately not, the bellman version has been replaced with an in-house optimal cut from a digital file. you'll have to find the bellman cut on the secondhand market but it shouldn't be terribly expensive.

    • 2024-01-29 11:09:02 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      I agree on all counts!

  • 2024-01-29 04:53:26 PM

    PeterG wrote:

    Great perspective. Plus, you explained why I never bothered to spin Exile again (haha). Thanks

    • 2024-01-30 12:36:49 PM

      Jeff D wrote:

      Same, was so excited to see it on vinyl again (Tower Records probably) Took it home, cleaned it and...WTF?

  • 2024-01-29 05:44:30 PM

    Will wrote:

    I am waiting the hear the new cut - I am one of those who bought the record when it first came out (UK copy) and sold it a few years later in the hope that a more listenable version appeared.

  • 2024-01-29 07:32:06 PM

    Spencer Marquart wrote:

    I love this Kevin Gray cut. And I’ve loved this record for many years. It’s a complete slam dunk for me!

    • 2024-01-30 12:34:32 AM

      recordhead wrote:


    • 2024-02-02 01:49:18 PM

      Owen Davies wrote:

      And me

    • 2024-02-02 01:49:24 PM

      Owen Davies wrote:

      And me

  • 2024-01-29 09:06:56 PM

    Lemon Curry wrote:

    I don't have the Bellman cut, nor the OG. But I was surprised at the comment about the "focus on bass". This is THE most bass deficient RHF I own (This was the 4th). And it's pretty toppy, to boot. Obviously nothing like the way the OG is described by everyone, but this isn't remotely like, say, the RHF modernization of The Cars. But, the louder you play it, the better it sounds, with the guitar chime really coming increasingly to the fore. To KG's defense, he cuts like an album a day, if not more. I wasn't expecting him to research or copy anything - I wanted a great sounding remaster, one I could listen to at volume, if the mood hit. And I feel that's what I got. My sole gripe is that my copy is noisy here and there, not pleased about that. If that becomes a trend, it'll be a problem.

    Without the history, knowing only what I know, I'd rate the sound a 9.

    But I understand how people have strong feelings about THIS album. That's a legit position.

    • 2024-01-29 11:10:35 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      and yours is a 100% legit and useful comment!

      • 2024-01-30 11:22:31 AM

        piero croce wrote:

        Is this the Bellman 2012

        • 2024-01-30 12:14:55 PM

          Malachi Lui wrote:

          no - as mentioned above, the current standard copies floating around of 'marquee moon' have identical packaging to the 2012 bellman cut but instead use a recut from a digital file done in-house at optimal. disappointing but it happens, i wonder if the bellman metal parts (at least for the EU edition) wore out at some point.

  • 2024-01-30 12:31:19 PM

    JT wrote:

    This is a great article. Not least the 5 gradation litmus test that ML has formulated - widely applicable going forwards. Nice contextualises remastering in the locus of the record industry generally.

  • 2024-01-30 01:53:20 PM

    Azmoon wrote:

    Much ado about an unimportant band and a mediocre album.

    • 2024-01-30 04:39:27 PM

      Mtglass wrote:

      You know what they say about opinions…

    • 2024-01-30 04:39:32 PM

      Mtglass wrote:

      You know what they say about opinions…

  • 2024-01-30 04:56:31 PM

    Mark wrote:

    Excellent well-thought out analysis Malachi. The five categories are certainly an innovative way of presenting your point of view, and drawing us the reader into a collective conversation.

    With respect to other gremlins in this part of the music business, I would encourage you to tweak this method to assess the various reasons a release can sound so bad/be warped/be filthy/non fill when it drops through the letter box. By way of example the new The Smile 'Wall of Eyes' on vinyl is getting ripped to bits on Discogs. It is becoming a more and more common occurrence - I never hear someone from the production side (e.g. Optimal) stepping up to explain what is going on. I am constantly reading comments about the lack of QC but nothing changes.

    Maybe you Tracking Angle chaps can get on the case!

  • 2024-02-01 01:17:18 AM

    Sloan Lamb wrote:

    “ie, John Davis’ Led Zeppelin remasters” — please stop making this mistake.

    The only time a word that ends in “s” does not get a second “s” after an apostrophe, meaning in the genitive or possessive case, is if it is plural. So it is “the boys’ shoes” but “John Davis’s…remasters.”

  • 2024-02-01 04:00:31 PM

    Bill Houston wrote:

    I love the five remaster categories! May they be implemented and refined on TA moving forward.

    Also, there cannot be enough bile dropped on the 2010 Exile remaster...the horror...the horror.

    • 2024-02-02 07:01:12 PM

      Jeff D wrote:

      Turns out I don't have the 2010 Exile after all. Mine is the Virgin pressed at RTI. Doesn't sound good either.

  • 2024-02-03 09:32:09 AM

    Harry Prenger wrote:

    I found this 2012 interview with Richard Lloyd where he talks about the recording of MM and about Andy Johns! "You want to sound bad like The Velvet Underground"? Scroll to chapter 8.

  • 2024-02-03 12:37:35 PM

    TJM wrote:

    So great to see you still writing excellent reviews Malachi!

  • 2024-02-12 05:18:24 AM

    piero croce wrote:

    It's interesting to note that the review on Analog Planet is quite different...

  • 2024-02-12 05:18:29 AM

    piero croce wrote:

    It's interesting to note that the review on Analog Planet is quite different...

  • 2024-02-16 10:51:39 PM

    Kenneth Robinson wrote:

    My preference is to listen to this record in mono at 'folk music' volume levels. I've a non UPC Scranton pressing - sounds great! 'A Love Supreme In Seattle' is another record I prefer in mono.

  • 2024-02-18 12:17:49 PM

    Matt Matthews wrote:

    Firstly, a thank you Malachi, for such an insightful write up of this classic and the current state of newly remastered records. I Just got my copy and gave it a spin. I love this Kevin Gray cut. As someone who has listened to Marquee Moon countless times over the last 40 plus years, I'm happy to say I love the original as well. I have no doubt that Verlaine & Co. wanted an edgy, lower east side vibe, but this new one, to my ears enhances the truly transcendent nature of this combo and their music. And best of all, I can play it louder! Regardless of why, I think it's super cool that a talent like Kevin Gray approached this classic blind, as it were. But don't worry. I'm not selling my original or my Bellman!