I have played with the idea of doing this post for some time now. Problem is I kept changing my mind on what the ground rules would be as far as what a debut is in my mind. Would it be the first album an artist created on a major label? Would EPs be included on this list? Would an independent tape that you probably could only find locally qualify?
Sometimes being so damn picky when it comes to music creates a problem …
I decided to go the easier route and stick with full-length debuts, either independent or major label. I figure there is a greater chance that some of you (if anyone actually reads these things) may actually recognize some of the names and recordings listed. However, I would be remiss if I did not mention a few that would qualify if I expanded the qualifications a bit. In alphabetical order:
- Dead Hot Workshop – self-released first tape that included “A” and “Choad”
- The Father Figures – Lesson Number One
- Gin Blossoms – Dusted; when Doug Hopkins was still in the band
- Minor Threat – self-titled EP
- Tokyo Police Club – A Lesson in Crime
- T.S.O.L. – The Black E.P.
- Vandals – Peace Thru’ Vandalism
Yeah, I’m sure there are more, but let’s get to the actual list folks. Many of these albums I am listing are not just faves of mine but have made several professional critics Best Debut lists, so I must not be as out there as some of you think. IMHO this is a pretty essential list (well, some of it) in terms of debuts that are not only outstanding but necessary additions to any music library. Why 40? Well, first I was going to do twenty, then thirty, but each time I felt bad once I saw what I would be omitting. 🙂 Without further adieu, and in numerical order:
- Sugar – Copper Blue. Critics went nuts over this album and rightfully so. As awesome as Husker Du was and as good as Mould’s solo work is, Sugar created music that was other-worldly. College radio ate them up, old-school punks welcomed Bob’s return to loud, abrasive rock and roll and I just shook my head in disbelief that Mould could not only write better music but find another bass player and drummer just as good if not better than the gentlemen from Husker Du. Absolutely classic material.
- Band of Horses – Everything All the Time. These guys piss me off because I think they sold out and are part of Sound Strike without having the balls to say so. However, that does not take away from the fact that this album is downright beautiful and that “The Funeral” is one of rock and roll’s all-time epic songs.
- Lords of the New Church – Lords of the New Church. Incredible goth rock and post-punk debut from the band with former members of The Damned, The Dead Boys, Sham 69 and The Barracudas. Stiv Bators had an incredible voice and “Open Your Eyes” is an all-time fave. Best thing about this album was the variety of tempos and styles scattered throughout on great tunes such as “Lil’ Boys Play with Dolls”, “Portobello” and “New Church”.
- SNFU – And No One Else Wanted to Play. Unbelievable debut, classic melodic punk that was ripe with hilarious lyrics, one of the best vocalists Mr. Chi Pig and some of the best pop hooks ever created for punk rock.
- Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy. Beach Boys meets shoegaze and riveting Britpop. There was no better album created that was both beautiful and capable of making your ears bleed at the same time.
- Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. They were not the first punk band but the most important in terms of creating the “fuck you” image that became an essential part of the early British wave of punk. Side One of Never Mind the Bollocks is one of my all-time faves.
- Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes. We used to do aerobics to “Blister in the Sun”, “Kiss Off” and “Add it Up” my first two years of high school wrestling. Seriously. Punk rock meets folk music and some of the best sing-a-long lyrics ever put to paper.
- Fish Karma – Teddy in the Sky with Magnets. Don’t even try to claim that you have a sense of humor if this album bothers you. Teddy in the Sky with Magnets is one of the most irreverent and hilarious pieces of work ever created and yes, songs like “God is a Groovy Guy” and “Swap Meet Women” are supposed to make you uncomfortable. Enjoy!
- Echo and the Bunnymen – Crocodiles. Just about any other band that released this masterpiece would consider Crocodiles to be its watershed album. The fact that this debut (IMHO) was only the third or fourth best album released out of the five from the original line-up of Echo and the Bunnymen is a testament to how damn good this record is. Classic Britpop with a post punk edge, this album was just a flicker of what one of rock and roll’s all-time best (second in my opinion) bands would bring to the music world. Stunning.
- Agent Orange – Living in Darkness. Punk rock’s best band OF EVER delivered eight tracks of pure punk and surf bliss on this album. I just saw this band earlier this year with original vocalist and guitarist Mike Palm still in the band and all of this album was played that night. Incredible because Living in Darkness was released 30 years ago!
- U2 – Boy. The lead track “I Will Follow” is of the band’s best efforts and this debut was unbelievable. The Edge’s guitar work was stunning, Bono had not come into his own as a vocalist yet but was still amazing and this album delivered a unique style of post-punk that would lay the foundation of what was to come from this band.
- We Were Promised Jetpacks – These Four Walls. My favorite Fatcat Records band delivered an amazing disc full of intense indie rock chock full of pop hooks galore. This band’s energy is nearly frightening and vocalist Adam Thompson is outstanding.
- Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights. The first time I heard this record I said “Ian Curtis meets The Chameleons!” Awesome debut with dark, almost disturbing vocals, melodic post-punk and some of the best drumming I have heard in years.
- The Heart Throbs – Cleopatra Grip. Ten to one most of you won’t know this band. Too band because this UK band created some truly gorgeous Britpop in the late eighties and early nineties. This album is essential for anyone that loves classic dream pop. Some trivia for you; the two women in this band were sisters of Pete DeFreitas, drummer for Echo and the Bunnymen. Some awesome genes in that family!
- Mighty Lemon Drops – Happy Head. An overlooked Britpop band that created a killer disc of mid-tempo indie pop chock full of one great song after another. This album had a very basic sound but the band did a tremendous job of sticking to that formula to create one heck of an album.
- Editors – The Back Room. I went nuts the first time I heard “Munich” and thought to myself, “the U.K. version of Interpol!” Funny theory since Editors are from the U.K. and had the U.K. retro thing going. When I heard “Lights” The Bob and I both exclaimed “Crocodiles-era Echo!” Great album, unfortunately the band has regressed since then.
- Catherine Wheel – Ferment. Shoegaze meets indie pop meets rock and roll meets one of my favorite vocalists of all-time. This is a spectacular record, mellow to mid-tempo epic Britpop that still has me awestruck today. I wish there was a good video of “Bill and Ben” to put here to truly display how awesome this album is.
- X – Los Angeles. I’m stunned this band is still around and still rocking out. X was labeled as a punk band but they were always so much better than the restraints of the genre. This album possessed elements of punk, rock and roll, rockabilly and even some country, all wrapped up into one outstanding package. Exene and John Doe formed one of rock’s best vocal tandems and Billy Zoom is a genius on the axe.
- The Chameleons – Script of the Bridge. So under-appreciated, this amazing band was a huge influence on many of the Britpop bands of the nineties and beyond. Incredible songwriting, guitars that shimmered, a beautiful vocal style and a rhythm section that was amazing all contributed to the creation of this amazing album. “Second Skin” remains one of my favorite songs from any band.
- Sunny Day Real Estate – Diary. Emo used to not be the four-letter word it is today. It has to piss SDRE off that they are considered by many to be a part of that genre of music because this band is truly amazing. A passionate vocal delivery by Jeremy Enigk is just a fraction of why Diary was so good. Sorry Dave Grohl, but you blew it getting rid of William Goldsmith on the drums. He combined with Nate Mendel on the bass to create one of the most riveting rhythm sections in history. Songs like “In Circles” and “Seven” still resonate today. The term “epic” gets thrown around too much in music. It applies to this album.
- R.E.M. – Murmur. Remember when R.E.M. was a very cool and very good college radio band? These guys used the whole Big Star influence to create some of the best jangly guitar rock of the eighties. Critics went nuts over this album, rightfully so because it is that good. They will be missed.
- Social Distortion – Mommy’s Little Monster. This 1983 release from Fullerton’s finest is one of punk rock’s greatest achievements, a stunning album of pure melodic punk genius. It would be hard for any band that claims to play punk rock today to not have been influenced somewhat by this album, it is that good.
- Suicidal Tendencies – Suicidal Tendencies. Hardcore punk received a shot in the arm with this release, a furious album with a singer that screams and a vicious 100mph pace. This was thrash at its best, metal influenced but still punk rock. That changed the very next album from this band.
- fIREHOSE – Ragin’ Full On. The Minutemen were an incredible band and it would have been easy after the tragic death of D.Boon for Mike Watt and George Hurley to shut it down. However, Ed fROMOHIO came calling and fIREHOSE was born. As much as I loved The Minutemen the approach of fIREHOSE was even more appealing to me. This record was incredible and helped even more people discover the awesome talent of Mike Watt on the bass, a man that remains a legend today.
- Big Country – The Crossing. Shame on you for thinking that Big Country was a one-hit wonder. “In a Big Country” is a great song but not even close to being the best song on this album. Anyone looking for a band with a huge guitar sound should pull out this amazing slab of vinyl. Play this loud!
- Swervedriver – Raise. There may be several debuts I have listed higher on this post, but many of those bands did not have the staying power of this Oxford, U.K. band. Swervedriver took the shoegazer genre to dizzying heights with the release of Raise, an album that delivered a punishing style of Britpop to the masses back in 1991. This album was just the tip of the iceburg for the wonderful damage that was in the future with their sophomore effort Mezcal Head.
- Elbow – Asleep in the Back. The greatest band in the world got off to a solid start with their 2001 debut. This album possessed the subtle, awe-inspiring Britpop that was to be the cornerstone of later efforts, but Asleep in the Back also possessed a bit of muscle on some tracks such as “Bitten by the Tailfly”. However, tracks like “Newborn” and “Powder Blue” are incredible tunes that showcase the best characteristics of Elbow; precise musicianship, lush melodies and the most dynamic singer in the world, Guy Garvey.
- The Specials – The Specials. There were plenty of great ska bands that came out of the early eighties U.K. scene, but none matched the power and frenetic energy of The Specials. The band’s debut inspired people to turn any room into an area to do some serious skanking. All of those ska-punk bands of the nineties owe The Specials for providing the foundation for that genre of music to become commercially successful. It’s just too bad none of those bands could even come close to replicating classic songs such as “Monkey Man” and “Message to You Rudi”.
- Hey Mercedes – Everynight Fireworks. The first time I heard the lead track from this disc, “The Frowning of a Lifetime”, my jaw dropped. I was absolutely awestruck. There are plenty of great moments on this disc that include “Our Weekend Starts on Wednesday” but that lead track was truly amazing. Best quality about this disc is the precise stop-start action that characterizes many of the tracks.
- The Cars – The Cars. What a wonderful mix of seventies new wave and rock and roll! This band enjoyed monumental success throughout its career but many Cars fans believe this debut was their best album. Great pick because tunes like “Good Times Roll”, “My Best Friend’s Girl”, “Just What I Needed” and “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” are still essential songs 33 years later. Oh yeah. “Moving in Stereo” is my favorite song on the disc. The fact that song is played during one of cinema’s all-time greatest moments in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” helps of course. 🙂
- Reverend Horton Heat – Smoke Em’ if You Got Em’. Sometimes you can remember exactly where you were when hearing a great album for the first time. When one of my best friends Laki played me “I’m Bad”, the second track from the Reverend’s debut in the parking lot of May West in Tempe after a late breakfast one weekend night, I was blown away by the overwhelming power of that song. After hearing the instrumental “Bullet” that leads off the disc I was hooked and bought the album the next day. The Reverend is still one of the best axemen in the business, this album was just the tip of the iceburg.
- A Place to Bury Strangers – A Place to Bury Strangers. I saw A Place to Bury Strangers at the 2008 Monolith Festival. Although I only caught 1 1/2 songs I was completely blown away by the sheer volume and intensity APTBS exhibited, so I bought this album at the festival. Dark, ominous and brutal are just a few of the adjectives I could use to describe this disc. What is really frightening is singer, guitarist and songwriter Oliver Ackermann manages to incorporates pop hooks in each song as well.
- Adorable – Against Perfection. Oh my, the first time I heard lead track “Sunshine Smile” I was hooked! Classic dream pop with some of the most awesome guitar work on record, complemented well with the unique vocal stylings of Piotr Fijalkowski. Another Creation Records gem!
- Gun Club – Fire of Love. I could never decide whether to classify this band as punk, rock and roll, blues or rockabilly. What was easy to categorize was this album as phenomenal! Fire of Love meshes all those genres into one killer package, featuring tracks such as “Sex Beat”, “She’s Like Heroin to Me” and the ultra-frenetic “Preaching the Blues” with one of the most hyperactive vocal and guitar deliveries on record.
- The Mary Onettes – The Mary Onettes. Go ahead and dub this album as too retro. The Mary Onettes took Movement-era New Order, tweaked that sound and created a beautiful album that featured soaring vocals and keyboards mixed with hypnotic guitars.
- New Order – Movement. The members of Joy Division could easily have thrown in the towel after vocalist Ian Curtis tragically committed suicide the eve of the band’s U.S. tour with The Buzzcocks. Instead the three recruited a new member, changed their name and underwent a transformation that kept the foundation their former band created but added in a heavier keyboard element than before. Peter Hook’s insane bass riffs were the perfect complement to Ian Curtis’s soft-spoken vocal delivery. Later era New Order was more popular on the charts; for this listener this debut and the 1981-Factus 8-1982 EP are the ultimate achievements created by this legendary band.
- The Pretenders – Pretenders. What an amazing debut from a band that would go on to achieve legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame status. Pretenders led off with the vicious “Precious” and led the listener on a roller coaster ride of tempo changes with other tracks, such as the band’s first huge single “Brass in Pocket” to the punk rock style of “Tattooed Love Boys”. Pop music never sounded so brash and snotty.
- The Doors – The Doors. The Doors are a band I am so bummed I never had a chance to see live. This record is pure poetry, incredible lyrics that force the listener to pause in between tracks and ponder the meaning. This foursome created a beautiful album that was full of danger and mysticism throughout. Tracks such as “Light my Fire”, “Break on Through (to the Other Side)” and “The Crystal Ship” were just a foreshadowing of one of rock music’s most epic tracks, “The End”.
- The Ramones – Ramones. Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy were simply too far ahead of their time. It is tragic that so many sissy punk bands of the nineties and beyond enjoyed mainstream success, while the godfathers never had that opportunity. Ramones proved punk rock did not have to be 100mph to be effective. This album was so simple by definition but so explosive and dynamic that it remains one of rock and roll’s most important albums.
- Gang of Four – Entertainment. Possibly the most intelligent band on this list, the Gang of Four delivered some of the most incendiary post-punk the music world has ever experienced. Entertainment was an amazing album, twelve songs that combined punk, funk and reggae into a complex but amazing style of music. Many people consider this the band’s crowning achievement. To me this album was just the band’s way of preparing the world for possibly the greatest sophomore effort in music history Solid Gold.
Brutal, I still ended up leaving Joy Division, The Clash and PJ Harvey off this list. All of these albums are in my collection and yes, I still play all of them, each disc is that good folks.
Hope you enjoyed this list, what great fun putting it together. Cheers!