Tom Verlaine’s Top 5 Collaborations

Tom Verlaine was known mainly for his work as frontman and guitarist for the rock band Television, but his elite guitar skills appear on many other acclaimed tracks. Throughout his nearly 40-year career, Verlaine drew attention for his work in Television before launching his own solo career, which made him a sought-after musician.

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The guitar was a communication tool for the accomplished artist, who brought that tool with him into a series of standout collaborations ranging from David Bowie to Patti Smith. Verlaine passed away on Saturday (Jan. 28) at 73. Below, we look at five of his best collaborations.

1. “Kingdom Come” – David Bowie

When he wasn’t slaying on guitar, Verlaine laid down the instrument to pick up a pen, proving his gift as a songwriter with “Kingdom Come.” Verlaine originally wrote and recorded the song for his self-titled debut solo album released in 1979. A year later, Bowie got a hold of it and cut it on his critically acclaimed 1980 album, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), which topped the U.K. Albums chart.

The lyrics paint a grim picture of a man doomed in eternity, yet he sees hope on the other side as Bowie sings Verlaine’s potent words, Sun keeps beating down on me, wall’s a mile high / Up in the tower they’re watching me hoping I’m gonna die / I won’t be breaking no rocks / I said I won’t be breaking no rocks / When the kingdom comes.

“That particular cut, it was simply one of the most appealing on his album,” Bowie told NME in an archived interview in 1980. “I’d always wanted to work with him in some way or another, but I hadn’t considered doing one of his songs. In fact, Carlos Alomar, my guitarist, suggested that we do a cover version of it since it was such a lovely song.”

Well I’ll be breaking these rocks
And cutting this hay
Yes I’ll be breaking these rocks
What’s my price to pay?

2. “Glitter in Their Eyes” – Patti Smith

The guitar is the first sound that greets the listener upon pressing play on this fiery track. The gritty electric guitar is courtesy of Verlaine, which remains prominent throughout the song. It’s a sign of a talented musician when he shines as brightly as the lead vocalist. Verlaine’s electrifying guitar unites with the drums to roar as loudly as Smith’s powerful voice. Released as a single off Smith’s 2000 album, Gung Ho, “Glitter in Their Eyes” earned her a nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance at the 2001 Grammy Awards.

Oh can’t you see the glitter
The glitter in their eyes
Oh can’t you see the glitter
The glitter in their eyes

3. “23 Minutes in Brussels” – Luna

Verlaine’s voice comes pouring through his guitar at the beginning of “23 Minutes,” welcoming the listener in on this standout from Luna’s 1995 album, Penthouse. Verlaine adds a bit of intrigue to “23 Minutes” with his intricate playing. Halfway through the song, he gets a fierce solo that takes it to new heights, Verlaine almost crafting a soliloquy on guitar. Here, he shows off what a gifted player he is, a common theme throughout his expansive work.

23 minutes in Brussels
Why can’t they just leave us alone
Are we gonna to get into a tussle
Cannot take an airplane home

4. “Appetite” – James Iha

Like Verlaine, Iha also broke away from a famous band to embark on a solo career. Achieving fame as the guitarist for Smashing Pumpkins, Iha has released a series of solo albums. His 2012 sophomore endeavor, Look to the Sky, features Verlaine on a pair of songs. One of those is “Appetite,” which Verlaine comes screaming in on alongside the spooky piano and drums keeping time. Verlaine adds to the song’s eerie nature with subtle, yet electric notes, almost like static coming through the radio. Layered by Iha’s haunting voice, “Appetite” harbors a unique sound that’s only elevated by Verlaine’s presence.

A dramedy filled with endless scenes
Lots of stage lights
And an appetite

5. “Hotel Last Resort” Violent Femmes

Verlaine’s playing is a bit more subtle on this number by Violent Femmes. But like always, he still shines through the background of lead singer Gordon Gano’s gritty voice, dropping in electric guitar notes that shimmer amidst the rugged acoustic melody. Verlaine has a knack for capturing the spirit of a song, as evidenced by “Hotel Last Resort.”

“One of the greatest thrills of a long recording career is getting Tom Verlaine to play on one of our songs,” Gano said in 2019 upon the song’s release. “It’s just amazing to hear that sound.”

“We didn’t really give him much instruction, but he did exactly what we hoped he’d do,” praised bassist Brian Ritchie. “He clearly has an affinity for the song. He must’ve really clued in on the lyrics and he really interpreted them with a guitar.”

The ship is leaking tonnage and tankage
They sink, lightly sing fish
Message says, “Ship’s flag flies at half mast, report”
But no message can be sent from the Hotel Last Resort

Photo by Jordi Vidal/Redferns via Getty Images

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