Home Music Music Lists

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.

The Strokes, Is This It
8

‘Is This It’

The Strokes
RCA 2001

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
7

‘Never Mind the Bollocks’

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.

NWA
6

‘Straight Outta Compton’

N.W.A.
Priority 1988

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.

Velvet Underground and Nico
5

‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’

The Velvet Underground
MGM/Verve 1967

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 and Roses
4

‘Appetite for Destruction’

Guns N' Roses
Geffen 1987

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
3

‘Are You Experienced’

Jimi Hendrix Experience
Reprise 1967

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."

the ramones
2

‘The Ramones’

The Ramones
Sire 1976

"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.

beastie boys
1

‘Licensed to Ill’

Beastie Boys
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.

Show Comments