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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.

Kendrick Lamar, good kid m.A.A.d city
86

‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’

Kendrick Lamar
Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope, 2012

The last thing hip-hop was expecting in 2012 was a record like Kendrick Lamar's debut: a mainstream triumph by a leftfield star, a classic album that built on narratives not punchlines or braggadocio, a cracked lens view of one of rap's sacred terrains, Compton, California. In good kid, m.A.A.d city, Lamar sets spiritual yearnings and moral dilemmas against a stark backdrop of gang violence and police brutality. When Lamar does unleash a hair-raising boast – "I pray my dick get big as the Eiffel Tower/So I can fuck the world for 72 hours" – the triumphalism feels well-earned.

rage against the machine
85

‘Rage Against the Machine’

Rage Against the Machine
Epic, 1992

"I believe in this band's ability to bridge the gap between entertainment and activism," declared Zack de la Rocha, whose radical politics found sympathetic muscle in Tom Morello's howling one-guitar army. On songs like "Killing in the Name" and "Bullet in the Head" Morello's effects-soaked guitar sounded like a DJ scratch, an air raid siren and Led Zeppelin all at once and hardcore punk vet de la Rocha's righteous voice was louder than a bomb: "They say jump/ you say how high" They spawned a million rap-rock imitators but blaming them for Limp Bizkit it like blaming sunshine for garden weeds.

Whitney Houston, Whitney Houston
84

‘Whitney Houston’

Whitney Houston
Arista, 1985

The blockbuster debut of the 21-year-old Whitney, a great pop singer with the voice of a great soul singer. She could do steamy R&B like "You Give Good Love," she could do bubble-pop electro-boogie like "How Will I Know," she could do Hollywood schlock like "The Greatest Love Of All." And – this was the confusing part – she sang them all like they meant the same thing, which to her they did. Whitney had bigger triumphs ahead of her – she hit her creative peaks as a full-grown woman. But the vocal firepower of her debut changed the way pop voices emoted for the next 15 years.

Eric B and Rakim
83

‘Paid In Full’

Erik B. and Rakim
4th and Broadway/Island 1987

Laid-back and diamond-sharp, Rakim was the finest rapper of the Eighties, and this album is a big reason why. Paid in Full was one of the first hip-hop records to fully embrace Seventies funk samples on stone classics such as "I Know You Got Soul" and the title track. But it was Rakim's impossibly cool voice and seemingly effortless flow that stunned listeners, along with the fearlessness of lines like: "It's been a long time, I shouldn't have left you/Without a strong rhyme to step to/ Think of how many weak shows you slept through."

Congos, Heart of the Congos
82

‘Heart of the Congos’

The Congos
Black Ark, 1977

With all due respect to the Wailers, this 1977 set by the vocal duo of "Ashanti" Roydel Johnson and Cedric Myton is probably the most psychedelic and spiritually potent roots reggae set ever made, and the greatest achievement of famed Jamaican producer Lee "Scratch" Perry. Unearthly harmonies bob in a whirlpool of echo and reverb alongside lowing cyber-cattle and other sound effects as the men sing of Jah, Africa, and the Bible, making art that's as much religious ritual – and mind-altering substance – as it is music. Which is exactly the point.

Gang of Four, Entertainment!
81

‘Entertainment!’

Gang of Four
Warner Bros., 1979

The Clash and the Sex Pistols had raged at rock's corporate structure but Marxist punks the Gang of Four dug into "the dirt behind the daydream" of capitalism without sounding like pallid grad students. In fact, Entertainment!'s mix of punk fury and funk attack was a revelation. Andy Gill's staccato guitar hits played perfectly off of singer-lyricist Jon King's bleat. The stiff, jerky aggression of songs such as "Damaged Goods," "Anthrax" and "I Found That Essence Rare" influenced everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to the whole DFA Records dance-rock scene.

The Byrds, Mr. Tambourine Man
80

‘Mr. Tambourine Man’

The Byrds
Columbia, 1965

"Wow, man, you can even dance to that!" said Bob Dylan when he heard the Byrds' heavily harmonized, electric twelve-string treatments of his material. The Byrds' tender-but-tough debut defined folk rock with Pete Seeger and Dylan covers, Los Angeles studio savvy and punchy, ringing guitars. Its influence on generations of "jangly" rock and roll makes it one of the Sixties most visionary albums and while the Dylan songs got most of the ink, their originals ("I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better") were just as great.

elvis
79

‘Elvis Presley’

Elvis Presley
RCA, 1956

In November 1955, RCA Records bought Presley's contract, singles and unreleased master tapes from Sun Records for $35,000. His first full-length album came out six months later, with tracks drawn from both the Sun sessions and from further recording at RCA's studios in New York and Nashville. "There wasn't any pressure," guitarist Scotty Moore said of the first RCA sessions. "They were just bigger studios with different equipment. We basically just went in and did the same thing we always did." On tracks such as "Blue Suede Shoes," that meant revved-up country music with the sexiest voice anyone had ever heard.

The Stone Roses
78

‘The Stone Roses’

The Stone Roses
Silvertone, 1989

Before Oasis, Blur and their kin "invented" Britpop, there was the self-titled 1989 debut by the Stone Roses, who rose from Manchester's ecstasy-addled proto-rave scene with a sound that reaffirmed the glory of chiming, heady UK rock & roll. If they owed something to the sugar-smeared tunefulness of U.S. peers like R.E.M., their day-glo attack owed nothing to indie-rock coyness. The album's manifesto, after all, is titled "I Wanna Be Adored" – a line that in fact sounds a lot like "I wanna be your dog" when they sing it. Which is appropriate: The Stooges were punks who wanted to be adored, too.

Drake, Thank Me Later
77

‘Thank Me Later’

Drake
Young Money/Cash Money/Universal Motown, 2010

A Canadian Afro-Jewish former teen television star who raps about the malaise of macking over dourly down-tempo ambient beats? It didn't quite sound like the recipe for an instant hip-hop landmark (nor for a commercial blockbuster), but with his 2010 debut, Drake remade rap—and for that matter, pop—in his own woozy image. Thank Me Later was a classic album-album, built to be listened to straight through, with chief producers Noah "40" Shebib and Boi-1da providing a sustained mood of swank sluggishness, and Drake's raps mixing bravado and blues—a party-hearty crown prince with a depressive side. Of course, he's also a punchline champ: "I'm busy getting rich, I don't want trouble/I made enough for two niggas, boy—stunt double."

Devo, Are We Not Men
76

‘Are We Not Men? We Are Devo!’

Devo
Warner Brothers, 1978

Most bands try to go for a hot new sound on their debut album. Devo did them all one better with a hot new philosophy – impressing the gospel of societal "devolution" on a Seventies America that definitely needed to hear it. Billing themselves as "suburban robots here to entertain corporate life forms," they played tight, torrid music that contorted the assembly line pulse of their native Akron, Ohio on songs like "Jocko Homo," "Uncontrollable Urge" and a version of "Satisfaction" that stripped the Stones original down to its corroded chassis.

The Go-Gos, Beauty and the Beat
75

‘Beauty and the Beat’

The Go-Go's
A&M/I.R.S., 1981

The most popular girl group of the New Wave surfed to the top of the charts with this hooky debut. Everyone knows "We Got the Beat" and "Our Lips Our Sealed," exuberant songs that livened up the Top Forty, but the entire album welds punkish spirit to party-minded pop – from the L.A. anthem "This Town" to splashy power-pop like "Skidmarks on My Heart" and "Can't Stop The World." It's a beachscape of catty girls and pretty boys, and an image of Southern California that's just as indelible as anything by the Eagles or Doors.

The xx, xx
74

‘xx’

The xx
XL/Young Turks, 2009

Pop was in a maximalist phase, all pummeling Eurodance beats and rococo production flourishes, when these London indie rockers arrived with a radically different musical message: less can be much, much more. Songs like "Crystallized" and "Islands" are masterpieces of minimalism – songs built around simple chord progressions, delicate guitar and keyboard ostinatos, the gentle rub of Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim's his-and-hers croons. It's beautiful music, an exercise in restraint, in the artful use of space and silence. It's also funky (check the bonus track cover of Aaliyah's "Hot Like Fire") and, against all odds, sexy – booty call music for the blog-rock set.

Norah Jones, Come Away with Me
73

‘Come Away with Me’

Norah Jones
Blue Note, 2002

Maybe the most surprising blockbuster of the 21st century, at 10 million-plus copies sold and counting, this sultry set made easy-listening music actually worth listening to. The magic is mainly in Jones' sexy, silky tone and effortless phrasing – it's not surprising her previous efforts included diva turns on downtempo EDM jams. But the song selection, including Hank Williams' "Cold Cold Heart" and Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You" alongside gems from a new generation of craftsmen, was also first-rate, while the arrangements balanced smoky jazz and soft pop without turning to abstraction or schmaltz. The result splits the difference between a languid kiss and a juicy bong hit.