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 Police, Outlandos d’Amour
38

‘Outlandos d’Amour’

The Police
A&M, 1978

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.

Bruce Springsteen, Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ
37

‘Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.’

Bruce Springsteen
Columbia, 1973

"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.

Postal Service, Give Up
36

‘Give Up’

Postal Service
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.

Weezer, Weezer The Blue Album
35

‘Weezer’

Weezer
DGC 1994

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?

the doors
34

‘The Doors’

The Doors
Elektra 1967

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.

The Killers, Hot Fuss
33

‘Hot Fuss’

The Killers
Island, 2004

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
32

‘Three Feet High And Rising’

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.

Portishead, Dummy
31

‘Dummy’

Portishead
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.

Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say That’s What I’m Not
30

‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’

Arctic Monkeys
Domino 2006

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.

Wu Tang
29

‘Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’

Wu-Tang Clan
Loud/RCA, 1993

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.

b-52s
28

‘B-52s’

The B-52's
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.