Call Mr. Lee

Album: Television (1992)

Songfacts®:

  • "Mr. Lee" is a common name for a stock character that used to show up a lot in movies and TV shows: a Chinese man who either owns a laundromat or helps with espionage. The lyric was written by Television lead singer Tom Verlaine in his typically abstract style. It's not clear what's going on in the song or why the dog is turning red. Verlaine has suggested that the dog is either embarrassed or a communist.
  • This was the first single Television released after re-forming in 1992. After issuing their debut album in 1977 and their follow-up in 1978, they broke up, or as they sometimes put it, went on an extended hiatus.
  • Even Tom Verlaine's bandmates didn't know what this song is about. "I've had people ask, 'In 'Call Mr. Lee,' is Mr. Lee a Korean spy?,' guitarist Richard Lloyd told Songfacts. "And I'm like, 'I don't know - I have no idea.' To me, it's just fantasy."
  • Television is one of the most revered bands in rock history, known for their intricate guitar interplay and for being the first band to play regular gigs at the CBGB nightclub in New York City. But for all their acclaim, they had poor sales numbers in America and never showed up on any Billboard chart until "Call Mr. Lee" made #27 on Alternative Songs chart, which didn't exist during their initial run. The never had another Billboard chart entry, and never released another album. In the UK, this song didn't chart but they did place three songs from their first two albums in the Top 40.
  • A common misconception is that Television did a lot of improvisation, but their songs were actually very structured. According to Richard Lloyd, every note in the ending guitar solo was mapped out, and he played it the same every time.
  • The only video Television made was for this song. The black-and-white clip shows the band performing in some kind of exotic warehouse.

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