The Beatles‘ released their first album, Please Please Me in 1963. In honor of that world-changing LP, we’ve compiled a list of the 100 Greatest Debut Albums of All Time. A note on how we made the list: Albums got docked points if the artist went on to far greater achievements (which is why Please Please Me and Greetings from Asbury Park, great as they are, didn’t made the Top 10); conversely, we gave a little extra recognition to great debut albums that the artist never matched (hello, Is This It and Illmatic!). We also skipped solo debuts by artists who were already in well-known bands, which is why you won’t see John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band or Paul Simon. We focused, instead, on debuts that gave you the thrill of an act arriving fully-formed, ready to reinvent the world in its own image.
Produced by Ray Manzarek of the Doors, this is the first great West Coast punk album. Searing songs fly off like sparks, including a zippy cover of the Doors' "Soul Kitchen," opener "Your Phones Off the Hook but You're not" and the torrid, William S. Burroughs-influenced "Johnny Hit and Run Paulene," all propelled by guitarist Billy Zoom's rockabilly flash, D.J. Bonebrake's drums and John Doe and Exene Cervenka's cat-scratch harmonies and street-poet vibe. One song title perfectly sums up their scrawled message: "The World's A Mess, It's In My Kiss."
Everything got a lot livelier when these mod Scottish dance-whore boys showed up, wearing tighter trousers and flaunting catchier tunes than any band out there. The Franz lads declared their mission was making "music for girls to dance to," with frantic guitar jitters and a disco sense of melodrama in hits like "Take Me Out," "Michael" and "Darts of Pleasure." Alex Kapranos' vocals are full of smeared-mascara goth sex as he sighs pick-up lines like "I can feel your lips undress my eyes." Kanye West called them "white crunk music," Lil Wayne covered "This Fire" and the band still gets girls dancing.
Jonathan Richman moved from Boston to New York as a teenager in hopes of sleeping on Lou Reed's couch. That influence shows on the two-chord anthem "Roadrunner." Recorded in 1972 but not released until 1976, Lovers turned the tough sounds of the Velvet Underground into an ode to suburban romanticism, pure love, parents, the Fifties and all kinds of other things were that were totally uncool in the early Seventies. "[Rock] wasn't about drugs and space," he said years later. "It was about sex and boyfriends and girlfriends and stuff."
"I'm full of dust and guitars," Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett told Rolling Stone. Here's what that sounded like. The band's debut is all playful, psychedelic imagery and acid guitars. "Astronomy Domine" shows the group's pop side; "The Gnome" gets high on observations like "look at the sky/Look at the river/Isn't it goooood"; "Interstellar Overdrive" is a orgiastic guitar freakout that still leaves a burning sensation in the back of your brain. Barrett's vision of psychedelia was blues-free, a huge innovation in late-Sixties England, and his genius-freak persona has been a chimeric lodestar for scads of trippy shut-ins.
When their debut came out, Pearl Jam were competing with Nirvana in a grunge popularity contest they were bound to lose. Yet Ten is a near-perfect record: Eddie Vedder's shaky, agonized growl and Mike McCready's wailing guitar solos on "Alive" and "Jeremy" push both songs to the brink and back again. Where Nirvana proposed a violent broke with classic rock, Pearl Jam worked in the tradition of the Who, giving estranged, forgotten Gen X refugees the arena-stage they deserved. Their influence has been incalculable and – Creed notwithstanding – pretty great.
The Jesus & Mary Chain
Scottish boys with amazing hair, terrible skin, leather pants and black shirts buttoned up to the neck surfing a wave of gloom and enjoying every moment of it. The Mary Chain's debut is a decadent masterpiece of bubblegum pop drowned in feedback (see "Just Like Honey," "My Little Underground" and "Never Understand"). Psychocandy proved a massive influence on both sides of the pond, inspiring shoegaze in England and the noisy strain of indie pop in the States. Bands such as The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and albums such as My Bloody Valentine's noise-on-noise masterstroke Loveless are impossible to imagine without this album's jet engine mope.
Warner Brothers, 1970
While the hippies huffed flower power in 1970, this Birmingham crew preferred sulfuric fumes. The album that arguably invented heavy metal was built on thunderous blues-rock – see "The Wizard," which suggested the same juke-joint Lord Of The Rings obsession Led Zeppelin had. But the title track, with its famously downtuned Tony Iommi riffage, would define the sound of a thousand bands. And by the time Ozzy Osbourne sings "my name is Lucifer, please take my hand" on "N.I.B." it was hard not to feel pulled over to the dark side yourself.
Blessed with impressive pedigree (he was the son of the Sixties folk-pop icon Tim Buckley) and a voice of great range and deep character, Jeff Buckley was cursed with a perfectionist's streak. Buckley had scrapped one stab at a second album and was gearing up to start over when he drowned in a freak accident in Memphis in May 1997, leaving Grace as the only studio album completed to his satisfaction in his brief lifetime. But it is a rich legacy: the transportive blend of serpentine guitars and Buckley's melismatic singing in "Mojo Pin" and "Grace"; the garage-band swagger and velvet pathos of "Last Goodbye" and "So Real"; the way Buckley turns Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" into delicate, personal prayer.
With a guitar fire-storm that raged like primo Stones, this Manchester crew declared their intent on "Rock 'N' Roll Star," a bold declaration released amid alt-rock's cult-of-the-anti-star culture, and only months after Kurt Cobain's suicide. All bluster, bravado and borrowed Beatle-isms (not to mention Bowie and T-Rex bites), it soars from hook to juicy hook. And when Liam's snarl slips up into falsetto for the titular line of "Live Forever," it's clear that – on record, anyway – that this crew would.
A landmark of Seventies hard rock, from the not-so-mean streets of Swampscott, Massachusetts. Tom Scholz, an MIT-educated Polaroid engineer, spent years in his basement studio, devising the perfect sonic formula. He found it, which is why Boston has remained in constant radio rotation ever since. The guitars feel epic, yet delicate and intimate in emo moments like "Something About You" and "Peace of Mind." In "More Than a Feeling," Scholz built a cathedral to young-adult male romantic yearning, with every second scientifically crafted for maximum impact – right down to Sib Hashian's climactic drum fills in the final fade-out. Come back, Mary Ann – come back!
When the members of Television materialized in New York, at the dawn of punk, they played an incongruous, soaring amalgam of genres: the noirish howl of the Velvet Underground, brainy art rock, the double-helix guitar sculpture of Quicksilver Messenger Service. As exhilarating in its lyrical ambitions as the Ramones' debut was in its brutal simplicity, Marquee Moon's singular vision still amazes. "Friction," "Venus" and the mighty title track are jagged, desperate and beautiful all at once. As for punk credentials, don't forget the cryptic electricity and strangled existentialism of guitarist Tom Verlaine's voice and songwriting.
From the git-go, these shaggy folks from deepest Jacksonville, Florida played hard, lived harder and shot from the hip, all three guitars blazing in music that blew past the Mason-Dixon line to become America's next top boogie-rock. Discovered and produced by from essential mid-Sixties Dylan sideman Al Kooper, Skynyrd offered taut rockers including "Poison Whiskey" and the perpetual lighter (well, now iPhone) waving anthem "Freebird." Perhaps the ultimate Southern rock band and this record aged shockingly well; just ask the Drive-By Truckers.
They would get bigger, but they never sounded fresher. From Sting's smoothly syncopated bass to Andy Summer's prog-rock guitar and Stewart Copeland's precision drumming, the Police were post-punks who could play their instruments, absorbing reggae and jazz into the spare, bouncy sound of their debut album, a record that didn't sound quite like anything before it. The risque "Roxanne," "Next to You" and "So Lonely" proved that Sting was already a top-notch pop songwriter and these songs are in the DNA of everyone from No Doubt to U2.
"Madmen, drummers, bummers, and Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat" begins the future Boss, going on to unspool a sound and a cast of characters from a New Jersey seaside town that would change the landscape of rock & roll. "Growin' Up" was a creation myth of a kid inventing himself on stages, "For You" anticipates the screen-door slam and lets-blow-this-town chivalry of "Born to Run," and "Spirit in the Night" launches the indomitable soul of Clarence Clemons and his horn. The beginning of one helluva ride.
Sub Pop, 2003
Released 20 years after synth-pop was left for dead and just after "electronica" had been written off amid an indie-rock revival, this 2003 gem was created by Death Cab For Cutie singer Ben Gibbard, who was just hitting his stride, with EDM maestro Jimmy "Dntel" Tamborello. Full of skittering fractal beats and buoyed by cameo vocals from Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis, this emotional travelogue achieved a one-off perfection Gibbard's main crew never quite managed. A million-some copies later, it's a blueprint for electronic pop; just ask that Owl City kid.
When it came out, Weezer's debut was merely a cool, quirky power-pop album with a couple of hit singles: "Buddy Holly" and "Undone (The Sweater Song)." But Rivers Cuomo's band became a major influence the young sad-sack punkers who today claim Weezer as one of emo's pioneers. Mixing winking deadpan delivery with serious hooks, guarded sensitivity and a deep disinterest in alt-rock's then-roiling culture wars, they came up with a record that's aged much better than a lot of the serious indie-rock of the time – denizens of which dismissed the Weez as a bad, major-label joke. Well, who's smirking now?
After blowing minds as the house band at the Whisky-a-Go-Go, where they were fired for playing the Oedipal drama "The End," the Doors were ready to unleash their organ-driven rock on the world. "On each song we had tried every possible arrangement," drummer John Densmore said, "so we felt the whole album was tight." "Break On Through (to the Other Side)," "Twentieth-Century Fox" and "Crystal Ship" are pop-art songs that were beyond Top Forty attention spans. But the Doors hit pay dirt by editing one of their jam songs for airplay: "Light My Fire," written by guitarist Robby Krieger when Jim Morrison told everybody in the band to write a song with universal imagery.
So what if they were from Vegas, not the U.K., and the year was 2004, not 1983? The Killers were determined to be Duran Duran anyway. Hot Fuss was a blast of irresistible synth grooves and lyrics about sex, dancing, jealousy and gender-bending, delivered by Brandon Flowers in the world's greatest bad British accent. "All These Things That I've Done" was the roof-raiser, building to the magnificently dippy chorus, "I got soul but I'm not a soldier!" "Mr. Brightside" and "Smile Like You Mean It" will always sound great in sleazy rock bars at 2 A.M. Best line: "I take my twist with a shout."
De La Soul
Tommy Boy 1989
At the end of the Eighties, De La Soul rolled out a new style called "D.A.I.S.Y. Age," which stood for "Da Inner Sound, Y'All." They led the Native Tongues posse – no gold chains, just samples, skits, jokes and beats. This happily sprawling album is the sound of middle class pals pushing rap's possibilities by expanding its subject matter and sonic makeup; their ingenious producer Prince Paul bit everyone from P-Funk to Hall and Oates and Johnny Cash. And on tracks like "Eye Know" and "Me, Myself, and I" De La Soul presented an optimistic eclecticism that served as a buoyant alternative to the rap scene's swaggering conformity.
Go! Discs 1994
Portishead used some of the same building blocks as fellow Bristol, England, trip-hoppers Massive Attack – woozy break beats, jazzy samples, live guitar, girl singer/guy programmer dynamic – but Beth Gibbon's brooding, pop-cabaret vocals showed to the world that you could feel real pain over a slow-dissolve groove. Dummy had a lot in common with the creepy beatscapes of the Wu-Tang Clan's RZA but its depth-charge emotional power also evoked Forties noir and late-night, last-cigarette balladry. When Gibbons' sings "nobody loves me…it's true/Not like you do," against the fragile, cold-storage Lalo Schifrin sample of "Sour Times," she's a Billie Holiday for the chillout room.
Now this was one strange Brit-pop success story: Where were the fashion statements and model girlfriends? It turned out that all the Monkeys needed to conquer the world was scrappy, lager-fueled tunes about being young and bored in a bleak steel town. Alex Turner sang about waiting all week for Saturday night, only to strike out with the same local girls he bombed with last week. Thanks to Turner's big bag of creaky melodies and the band's snaggletoothed guitar attack, even America couldn't resist pub-punk gems like the raging, sexy "I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor." It’s the fastest selling debut album by a band in the history of the UK, quite an achievement if you consider their competition.
East Coast hip-hop made a return in 1993, thanks to a nine-man troupe of Staten Island, New York, MCs with a fascination for Hong Kong martial-arts mythology and producer RZA's love of menacing atmospherics. Hip-hop had been harder, but it had rarely been this dirty. Steeped in dusty soul samples and spine-crawling pianos, the RZA's epochal beats seem to hang suspended in billows of weed smoke, the perfect lush, menacing ambient for the project-stairwell grandstanding of Raekwon, GZA, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, et al. As the Nineties progressed, the Wu would infect the rest of hip-hop and R&B like an unshakable virus.
Warner Bros. 1979
The debut by the B-52's sounds like a bunch of high school friends cramming all their running jokes, goofy sounds and private nicknames into a New Wave record. "We never thought it would get past our circle of friends in Athens [Georgia]," vocalist Fred Schneider told Rolling Stone. It turned out nobody could resist the band's campy, arty funk, or the eccentric squeals and bouffant hairdos of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson. (Playing organ, Pierson also defined the band's sound.) They played toy instruments, and their thrift-store image was as inventive and colorful as their music – which, with "Rock Lobster," was pretty inventive and colorful.
Warner Bros. 1978
The strutting frontman as spandex-clad love machine, the finger-flying guitar hero, the kegstand rhythm section: Van Halen was the ultimate party band and their debut feels like the Eighties arriving two years ahead of schedule. Tunes like the fist pumping "Runnin' With the Devil," the muscular "Atomic Punk," a thunderous cover of "You Really Got Me" and "Ain’t Talkin' 'Bout Love" put the show-biz swagger back in hard rock, and Eddie Van Halen's jaw-dropping technique raised the bar for six-string pyrotechnics, particularly on "Eruption," the solo that launched a thousand dudes messing around at Guitar Center.
A rap album? The idea was esoteric back in 1984, but the debut full-length by Joseph "Run" Simmons, Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels, and D.J. Jason "Jam Master J" Mizell changed that—and transformed American pop culture. Songs like "Sucker M.C.s" and "Hard Times" jettisoned the party-hearty disco bounce of early rap for blunt, blasting beats and rhymes. It was music that had the swagger, the attitude—the volume—of rock and roll; on "Rock Box," Run-D.M.C. even had the audacity to toss in a wailing heavy metal guitar. "Our DJ's better than all these bands," they rapped, a boast that turned out to be a prophecy.
Pavement were the quintessential American independent rock band, and this is the quintessential indie-rock album. The playing is loose-limbed, the production laid-back and primitive, the lyrics quirky and playful, the melodies sweet and seductive. But the sound is as intense as the white noise of the Velvet Underground. Recorded on the super-cheap in Brooklyn and in their thirtysomething drummer's Stockton, California studio, Slanted and Enchanted is one of the most influential rock albums of the 1990s; its fuzzy recording style can be heard in the music of Nirvana, Liz Phair, Beck, the Strokes and the White Stripes.
Vampire Weekend came out of Columbia University in the late 2000s, showing a pronounced affinity for boat shoes and button-downs as well as an intimate knowledge of African guitar music. Their debut backed up massive press buzz with suavely seductive pop-rock songs about college campuses and trysts with Benetton-wearing ladies. Ezra Koenig's Paul Simon-esque melodies were as refined as his education, floating over bright keyboards and Afropop-tinged grooves. Koenig had a term for VW's music: Upper West Side Soweto. However you label the sound, it was manna for Brooklyn-y boys and Molly Ringwald girls all over the world and helped fuel a discovery of global sounds in indie-pop.
The Notorious B.I.G.
Bad Boy 1994
"At the time I was making the album," B.I.G. told Rolling Stone in 1995, "I was just waking up every morning, hustling, cutting school, looking out for my moms, the police, stickup kids; just risking my life every day on the street selling drugs, you know what I'm saying?" B.I.G. (a.k.a. Biggie Smalls) took all that gritty life experience and crammed it into Ready to Die, the best record by the greatest rapper who ever lived and hip-hop's finest debut by a stretch. "Big Poppa" is the hit sex jam; on "Things Done Changed" and "Everyday Struggle," he relates gangsta tales in a voice as thick as his waistline. "I'm definitely a writer," Biggie said. "I don't even know how to freestyle."
Is there a more brilliantly icky – let alone unlikely hit-making – leadoff track in history than "Blister In The Sun"? A trio of Milwaukee nerds using little more than guitar, standup bass, and a snare drum, the Femmes did big-box string-band busker-pop years before Marcus Mumford was a rumble in his parents' pants. And they did it with a wickedly tragic sense of humor. When Gordon Gano whines "Why can't I get just one fuck?!" on "Add It Up," you hear the voice of every pimply, frustrated teenage dude since time began. Unsurprisingly, it (eventually) went platinum.
Costello on the fuel for his debut: "I spent a lot of time with just a big jar of instant coffee and the first Clash album, listening to it over and over." The music doesn't have the savage attack of the Clash – it's more pub rock than punk rock – but the songs are full of punk's verbal bite, particularly "Waiting for the End of the World" ("Dear Lord, I sincerely hope you're coming/'Cause you really started something"). The album's opening lines – "Now that your picture's in the paper being rhythmically admired" – and the poisoned-valentine ballad "Alison" established Costello as one of the sharpest, and nastiest, lyricists of his generation. He pretty much reinvented the Dylan-esque singer-songwriter in his own nerd-avenger image.
This breathtaking 1979 set was to punk what The Velvet Underground & Nico was to psychedelia – a reveal of the seething dark underbelly of a cultural movement. Produced by Martin Hannett, who makes the band sound like they're performing in a meat cooler, it introduces Ian Curtis, who wails the Manchester existential blues with a despair so powerful, it somehow transcends hopelessness (when he sings "I've got the spirit," on the amazing Arctic-chunnel of an album-opener "Disorder," it's as thrilling as it is blood-chilling). A model for countless brooding rock bands to come.
Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam 2004
He was already a Hall of Fame-worthy beatmaker—the inventor of "Chipmunk Soul"—but Kanye West wanted to rap, and in 2004 Jay-Z, West's mentor and Roc-A-Fella Records major domo, let the guy record his debut. The result was hip-hop like no one had heard it before: riotous gospel ("Jesus Walks"), wild boudoir music ("Slow Jamz"), tear-jerking family drama ("Family Business"). It was a sound that combined, as Kanye put it, "a Benz and a backpack," fretting over materialism even as it reveled in it. All this, plus "Through the Wire," the greatest song ever rapped through a jaw that was wired shut.
"We wanted to have this kind of timeless record," guitarist Peter Buck said of R.E.M.'s debut, and this "technically limited" band (according to producer Don Dixon) did just that. Buck was a rock scholar who had worked in a record store; singer Michael Stipe unspooled his lyrics as if they constituted some new secret language. Murmur is full of ringing guitar and mystery. The lyrics and the melodies seem buried, almost subliminal, and even the songs with something approximating hooks, such as "Radio Free Europe" and "Sitting Still," resist clarity. Murmur was a founding document of alternative rock, released just as Gen X was heading off to college.
The Beatles recorded 10 of the 14 songs on their British debut album at EMI’s Abbey Road studio in just over 12 hours on February 11th, 1963. For productivity alone, it’s one of the greatest first albums in rock. The Beatles had already invented a bracing new sound for a rock band – an assault of thrumming energy and impeccable vocal harmonies – and they nailed it using the covers and originals in their live repertoire: the Shirelles‘ “Boys” and Arthur Alexander’s “Anna”; the Lennon–McCartney burners “There’s a Place” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” John Lennon finished up by shredding what was left of his vocal cords on two takes of “Twist and Shout.”
No band has ever knocked out a debut so packed with straight-to-car-radio classics. "We used to joke that the first album should be called TheCars' Greatest Hits," said guitarist Elliot Easton. The Cars was arty and punchy enough to be part of Boston's New Wave scene and yet so catchy that nearly every track ("My Best Friend's Girl," "Just What I Needed") was like a brilliant single. The very idea that cool refinement and feathered-hair heartland appeal could exist together was minted here. Bands from Weezer to the Strokes to Fountains of Wayne are unthinkable without this album's example.
Loss, love, forced coming-of-age and fragile generational hope: Arcade Fire's debut touched on all these themes as it defined the independent rock of the '00s. The Montreal band made symphonic rock that truly rocked, using accordions and strings as central elements rather than merely as accessories, with a rhythm section that never let up. Songs like "Wake Up," "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" and "Rebellion (Lies)" were simultaneously outsize and deeply personal, like the best pop. But for all its sad realism – "I like the peace in the backseat," sings Régine Chassagne at the album's end, knowing the sense of security is utterly false – this was music that still found solace, and purpose, in communal celebration.
"The studio was like a psychiatrist's couch for me," Jay-Z told Rolling Stone, and his debut is full of a hustler's dreams and laments. It established Jay as one of his generation's premier rappers and includes the lyrically brilliant "22 Twos" and a filthy guest appearance from a sixteen-year-old Foxy Brown on "Ain't No Nigga." But the centerpiece might be the still-amazing "Brooklyn's Finest," a duet between Jay and the Notorious B.I.G., two titans on their way to redefining their artform. Not yet the bubbly-poppin' party man, the Jay-Z of Reasonable Doubt is a corner-boy inventing new levels of lyrical dexterity. Once it dropped, hip-hop's center of gravity had fully shifted from the West Coast back to the East.
After years of knocking around Ohio and England, writing record reviews and hanging with the Sex Pistols, Chrissie Hynde put together a band as tough as her attitude. The Pretenders' perfect debut is filled with no-nonsense New Wave rock like "Mystery Achievement" – plus a cover of "Stop Your Sobbing," by the Kinks' Ray Davies (three years later, the father of Hynde's child). The biggest hit was "Brass in Pocket," a song of ambition and seduction. Hynde, however, wasn't so sure about the song's success. "I was embarrassed by it," she said. "I hated it so much that if I was in Woolworth's and they started playing it, I'd have to run out of the store."
"I haven't got any illusions about anything," Joe Strummer said. "Having said that, I still want to try to change things." That youthful ambition bursts through The Clash, a machine-gun blast of shockingly great songs about unemployment ("Career Opportunities"), race ("White Riot") and the Clash themselves ("Clash City Rockers"). Most of the guitar was played by Mick Jones, because Strummer considered studio technique insufficiently punk. The American release was delayed two years and replaced some of the U.K. tracks with recent singles, including "Complete Control" – a complaint about exactly that sort of record-company shenanigans. Still, both UK and US versions distill their radical vision with a crystal clarity.
Nas was only 20 when he released his debut but he was already a master in the art of storytelling. Nobody captured the creeping menace of life on the streets like this lyrical prodigy from New York's Queensbridge projects. With spotless beats from Large Professor, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and lyrical assists from Q-Tip, the album has a no-bullshit concision that fits its stark subject matter, and quotable lines like "I never sleep, 'cause sleep is the cousin of death," got Nas tagged as the next Rakim. Everyone was on point. Even guest rapper AZ, who never had much of a career, delivered like Domino's on "Life's a Bitch": "We were beginners in the hood as Five Percenters/But something musta got in us, cuz all of us turned to sinners." It was the dawn of a hard new era.
From its first defiant line, "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine," the opening shot in a bold reinvention of Van Morrison's garage-rock classic "Gloria," Smith's debut album was a declaration of committed mutiny, a statement of faith in the transfigurative powers of rock & roll. Horses made her the queen of punk, but Smith cared more for the poetry in rock. She sought the visions and passions that connected Keith Richards and Rimbaud – and found them, with the intuitive assistance of a killing band (pianist Richard Sohl, guitarist Lenny Kaye, bassist Ivan Kral and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty) and her friend Robert Mapplethorpe, who shot the cover portrait.
Every rootsy rock guy ever owes something to this record, a bold embrace of American tradition and down-to-earth simplicity released into an era of protest and psychedelia. "Big Pink" was a pink house in Woodstock, New York, where the Band – Dylan's '65-66 backup band on tour – moved to be near Dylan after his motorcycle accident. While he recuperated, the Band backed him on the demos later known as The Basement Tapes and made its own debut. Dylan offered to play on the album; the Band said no thanks. "We didn't want to just ride his shirttail," drummer Levon Helm said. Dylan contributed "I Shall Be Released" and co-wrote two other tunes. But it was the rustic beauty of the Band's music and the incisive drama of its own reflections on family and obligations, such as "The Weight," that made Big Pink an instant homespun classic.
Few bands have packaged themselves as brilliantly as the Strokes on their debut. Before Is This It even came out, New York's mod ragamuffins were overnight sensations, jumping from Avenue A to press hysteria and the inevitable backlash, all inside a year. Julian Casablancas, guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr., bassist Nikolai Fraiture and drummer Fabrizio Moretti were primed for star time, updating the propulsion of the Velvet Underground and the jangle of Seventies punk with Casablancas' acidic dispatches from last night's wreckage. They inspired a ragged revolt in Britain, led by the Libertines and Arctic Monkeys, and reverberated back home with the Kings of Leon. And for the bristling half-hour of Is This It, New York's shadows sounded vicious and exciting again.
The Sex Pistols
Warner Bros. 1977
"If the sessions had gone the way I wanted, it would have been unlistenable for most people," Johnny Rotten said. "I guess it's the very nature of music: If you want people to listen, you're going to have to compromise." But few heard it that way at the time; The Pistols' only studio album terrified a whole nation into scared submission. It sounds like a rejection of everything rock & roll – and the world itself – had to offer. True, the music was less shocking than Rotten himself, who sang about abortions, anarchy and hatred on "Bodies" and "Anarchy in the U.K." But Never Mind . . . is the Sermon on the Mount of U.K. punk – and its echoes are everywhere.
This was the start of gangsta rap as well as the launching pad for the careers of Ice Cube, Eazy-E and Dr. Dre. While Public Enemy were hip-hop's political revolutionaries, N.W.A. celebrated the thug life. (A collection of Dre-produced tracks for N.W.A. and other artists had been released in 1987 under the name N.W.A. and the Posse, but this was their first real album.) "Do I look like a motherfucking role model?" Ice Cube asks on "Gangsta Gangsta": "To a kid looking up to me, life ain't nothing but bitches and money." Ice Cube's rage, combined with Dr. Dre's police-siren street beats, combined for a truly fearsome sound on "Express Yourself," "A Bitch Iz a Bitch" and "Straight Outta Compton." But it was the protest "Fuck Tha Police" that earned the crew its biggest honor: a threatening letter from the FBI.
The Velvet Underground
Much of what we take for granted in rock would not exist without this New York band or its debut, The Velvet Underground and Nico: the androgynous sexuality of glam; punk's raw noir; the blackened-riff howl of grunge and noise rock. It is a record of fearless breadth and lyric depth. Singer-songwriter Lou Reed documented carnal desire and drug addiction with a pop wisdom he learned as a song-factory composer for Pickwick Records. Multi-instrumentalist John Cale introduced the power of pulse and drone (from his work in early minimalism); guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker played with tribal force; Nico, a German vocalist brieﬂy added to the band by manager Andy Warhol, brought an icy femininity to the heated ennui in Reed's songs. Rejected as nihilistic by the love crowd in '67, the Banana Album (so named for its Warhol-designed cover), is the most prophetic rock album ever made.
Guns N' Roses
The biggest-selling debut album of the Eighties and the biggest hard-rock game-changer since Led Zeppelin IV, Appetite features a lot more than the yowl of Indiana-bred W. Axl Rose. Guitarist Slash gave the band blues emotion and punk energy, while the rhythm section brought the funk on hits such as "Welcome to the Jungle." When all the elements came together, as in the final two minutes of "Paradise City," G N' R left all other Eighties metal bands in the dust, and they knew it too. "A lot of rock bands are too fucking wimpy to have any sentiment or any emotion," Rose said. "Unless they're in pain."
Jimi Hendrix Experience
Every idea we have of the guitarist as groundbreaking individual artist comes from this record. It's what Britain sounded like in late 1966 and early 1967: ablaze with rainbow blues, orchestral guitar feedback and the personal cosmic vision of black American émigré Jimi Hendrix. Hendrixs incendiary guitar was historic in itself, the luminescent sum of his chitlin-circuit labors with Little Richard and the Isley Brothers and his melodic exploitation of amp howl. But it was the pictorial heat of songs like "Manic Depression" and "The Wind Cries Mary" that established the transcendent promise of psychedelia. Hendrix made soul music for inner space. "It's a collection of free feeling and imagination," he said of the album. "Imagination is very important."
"Our early songs came out of our real feelings of alienation, isolation, frustration – the feelings everybody feels between seventeen and seventy-five," said singer Joey Ramone. Clocking in at just under twenty-nine minutes, Ramones is a complete rejection of the spangled artifice of 1970s rock and ground zero for the punk-rock revolution. The songs were fast and anti-social, just like the band: "Beat on the Brat," "Blitzkrieg Bop," "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue." Guitarist Johnny Ramone refused to play solos – his jackhammer chords became the lingua franca of punk – and the whole record cost just over $6000 to make. But Joey's leather-tender plea "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" showed that even punks need love.
Def Jam 1986
A statement so powerful, so fully-realized, that the Beastie Boys spent the rest of their careers living it down. Licensed to Ill created a new way for middle America to rock – with thundering combination of hip-hop beats, metal riffs and exuberant smart-aleck rhymes – even as it picked up the flag from Run-DMC and delivered rap music irrevocably into the Heartland. It would become hip-hop's first Number One album, and one of the best-selling rap album of all time. Mike D, Ad-Rock, and MCA grew out of the record's frat boy sexual politics and party hearty world view, but head-smacking hits like "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)" and "Rhymin' & Stealin'", like the AC/DC and Led Zeppelin songs that were the Beasties' early touchstones, keep getting discovered by new generations of hell-raisers. It's the definition of the debut album that takes over the world: the shock of the new, with an impact that extends for decades.