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100 Best Debut Albums of All Time

From the Beatles to Nas and beyond

It was 50 years ago that the Beatles‘ released their first album, Please Please Me. 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.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell
59

‘Fever to Tell’

Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Interscope, 2003

Ladies and gentlemen, Karen O! The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' debut introduced the world outside New York to the beer-swilling frontwoman, who sounded like she'd eaten Pat Benatar for breakfast while rocking out to Siouxsie and the Banshees. The gorgeous ballad "Maps" was the surprise hit, but most of the album found O spitting fiery slogans – "We're all gonna burn in hell!" – like a crazed art-school diva. With Nick Zinner dishing thick, badass riffs and Brian Chase laying down thudding drums, this was vicious garage punk that put fear into the hearts of bass players everywhere.


Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine
58

‘Pretty Hate Machine’

Nine Inch Nails
TVT, 1989

When Trent Reznor made Pretty Hate Machine, he was just another New Wave synth dork who failed to hit the big time during the Eighties gold rush. His big claim to fame was playing back-up to Michael J. Fox and Joan Jett in the flop flick Light of Day. But in his studio fantasies, he became an industrial demon lord, barking commands over mechanical stun-beats: "Bow down before the one you serve / You're gonna get what you deserve!" With "Head Like a Hole," "Terrible Lie" and "Kinda I Want To," Reznor was the king of the goth dance floor.

MGMT, Oracular Spectacular
57

‘Oracular Spectacular’

MGMT
Columbia, 2008

Two hipster geeks from Wesleyan plug in their rad vintage keyboards, pick out some fetching headbands and compose a suite of damn-near-perfect synthesized heartache. The songs on Oracular Spectacular get even better if you tune in close to the vocals – but you don't have to figure out a single word of "Kids" to feel the poignant kick of that massive nine-note keyboard hook. The whole album is an odd collection of Seventies psychedelic love-bead sensibility and Eighties New Wave cool.

Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago
56

‘For Emma, Forever Ago’

Bon Iver
Jagjaguwar, 2008

Justin Vernon sulked out of exotic Eau Claire, Wisconsin to become the indie bard of the late 2000s. At core, Emma is the sound of a dude sitting in a woodland cabin with an acoustic guitar singing in slurred falsetto about… well, it's hard to parse what, exactly. But the gist is unmistakable: gorgeously tuneful, and at times hallucinogenic melancholy, dressed in shimmering drones and vocal harmonies, anticipating a folk-rock renaissance that kindled kindred spirits like Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear.


Missy Elliott, Supa Dupa Fly
55

‘Supa Dupa Fly’

Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott
The Goldmine/Elektra, 1997

No album summed up the glories of Nineties radio as perfectly as Supa Dupa Fly, the spaced-out avant-funk bomb that introduced Missy as the don of Virginia Beach. With her partner in crime, Timbaland, Missy claimed hip-hop and R&B as her personal playground, with a voice that dripped soul whether she was singing, rapping, or just chanting the words "beep beep" wherever she could fit them in. Missy struts her stuff in hits like "The Rain," "Sock It 2 Me" and the hysterical "Izzy Izzy Ahh," conquering the world and getting her vroom on. Years later, Supa Dupa Fly still sounds futuristic.

Metallica, Kill 'Em All
54

‘Kill ‘Em All’

Metallica
Megaforce/Elektra, 1983

Check out that awesome band picture on the back cover – these guys looked nothing like Eighties rock stars. Instead, they looked like four shaggy headbanger kids with nothing going for them except the fervor of true believers. Yet that was enough to change the world. Metallica might have taken inspiration from U.K. bands like Iron Maiden or Diamond Head, but they channeled it all into something new and distinctive, in the speedy thrash riffs of "Hit the Lights – and that's exactly what it sounds like.

The New York Dolls
53

‘New York Dolls’

New York Dolls
Mercury, 1973

"Could you make it with Frankenstein?" these glammed-out proto-punks asked, not kidding at all, baby. Produced by Todd Rundgren, the fast, cheap and out of control New York Dolls cooked down the Stones' decadent blues, the Crystals' street-tough sassiness and the Velvet Underground's torrid noise into songs like "Personality Crisis," "Trash" and "Bad Girl." They dressed like hookers but they single-bootedly kicked low-life New York swagger into a new era, with a hunger and intensity that no British glitter-rock prima donna could match. Rock still hasn't gotten over it.

U2, Boy
52

‘Boy’

U2
Island, 1980

Too ingenious for punk, too unironic for New Wave, U2 arrived on Boy as big-time dreamers with the ambition to back it up; it was the first time anyone had the guts to think post-punk could have the mass and scope of arena-rock (the band's original choice for producer, before going with Steve Lillywhite, was Martin Hannett, of Joy Division fame). The Dublin foursome boasted Bono's flag-waving voice and Dave "the Edge" Evans' echoey, effects-laden guitar, as well as anthemic songs such as the club favorite "I Will Follow." Every part of every arrangement is played for exhilarating impact. Pretty soon, they'd have plenty of followers of their own.

the smiths
51

‘The Smiths’

The Smiths
Sire, 1984

Sexual frustration, long sighs, an Oscar Wilde fetish, the Velvets and Stones and girl groups and movie worship – it's all there on the Smiths' insanely original debut. The groundbreaking sound was equal parts Morrissey's morose wit and Johnny Marr's guitar chime. Moz trudges through England's cheerless marshes in "Still Ill" and "This Charming Man" and sings about child murder on Suffer Little Children" He was a whole new kind of rock star (one who sang things like "For the good life is out there somewhere/ So stay on my arm, you little charmer/ But I know my luck too well"), and he transformed the iconography of UK pop forever.

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