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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.

wire
69

‘Pink Flag’

Wire
Harvest 1977

Wire were the sharpest, most inventive malcontents in the UK punk class of '77, knocking out two-chord blasts of primal blurt that made the Sex Pistols sound like Traffic. Pink Flag seemed to reimagine rock itself from the basement up — from the surging, war-torn "Reuters" to the static-cling power-pop of "Ex Lion Tamer" and the lovely, skeletal romanticism of "Fragile." It became one of the most influential indie-rock albums ever and one of the most covered records of all time — Minor Threat and Elastica did "12XU," R.E.M. did "Strange," Spoon did "Lowdown," the New Bomb Turks did "Mr. Suit," fIREHOSE did "Mannequin" and on and on.

talking heads
68

‘Talking Heads: 77′

Talking Heads
Sire, 1977

The Heads dressed like they were interning at the IRS and embraced a tightly wound normality as rebellion. "For a long time, I felt, 'Well, fuck everybody,' " David Byrne told Punk magazine in 1976. "Well, now I want to be accepted." The result was an ingeniously constricted but upbeat sound and lyrics so normal they sounded borderline crazy: "I see the laws made in Washington, D.C. / I think of the ones I consider my favorites / I think of the people that are working for me." The chilling "Psycho Killer," on the other hand, was just plain crazy-crazy.

50 Cent, Get Rich or Die Tryin’
67

‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’

50 Cent
Interscope, 2003

In Fiddy's hands, the thug life was not merely a lifestyle – it was a code, an ethos, a Zen path to showbiz glory. When Dr. Dre and Eminem unleashed him in 2003, America couldn't get enough of the ripped, tatted, bullet-riddled stud. 50's debut was full of dark, nickel-plated songs where he played up his hardcore image, but he also had no shame making songs for the ladies: With hits like "In Da Club," he packed dance floors at discos and bar mitzvahs alike. Fun fact: Get Rich or Die Tryin' went nine-times platinum, making 50 the first rapper to sell a million for each time he had gotten shot.

The Stooges
66

‘The Stooges’

The Stooges
Elektra, 1969

Fueled by "a little marijuana and a lotta alienation," the Stooges gave the lie to hippie idealism, playing with a savagery that unsettled even the most blasé clubgoers. The band was signed to Elektra, despite label head Jac Holzman's misgivings that "the Stooges could barely play their instruments. How were we going to get this on record?" Ex-Velvet Underground member John Cale produced a primitive debut wherein, amid Ron Asheton's wah-wah blurts, Iggy Stooge (né James Osterberg) snarled seminal punk classics such as "I Wanna Be Your Dog," "No Fun" and "1969." The record stiffed, but it undeniably gave birth to punk rock.

Liz Phair
65

‘Exile In Guyville’

Liz Phair
Matador, 1993

It was pretty much impossible to hang around a cool girl's dorm room in the mid 1990s and not see this indie-rock landmark on the CD shelf. A studio expansion of Phair's homemade Girlysound tape, Exile was a stunning double album that sounded like its songs had gone from her firecracker brainstem straight to tape with the only slightest guitar-drums mediation. The barebones songcraft caused as much of a stir as her frank sex talk on "Flower" and "Glory." But it's the lacerating honesty of tracks such as "Divorce Song" that sticks, and "Fuck and Run" is one of the saddest songs ever written about dreaming of romance and settling for less.

english beat
64

‘I Just Can’t Stop It’

The English Beat
I.R.S., 1980

They called themselves the Beat, and they lived up to the moniker: no other UK ska-revival act had their knack for festive rhythm. I Just Can't Stop It showed they were a great dance band, with the ragamuffin toasting of Ranking Roger and sweet saxophone lines of graybeard horn-maestro Saxa floating atop the incessant beat. But they were also a razor-sharp pop group. Lead singer Dave Wakeling wrote deft melodies and lyrics that cast a sharp, cold eye on romance and Thatcher-era politics. The album title doubles as a party-credo and – if you listen to words of the torrid "Mirror in the Bathroom" – a lampoon of preening pretty boys.

Cyndi Lauper, She’s So Unusual
63

‘She’s So Unusual’

Cyndi Lauper
Epic/Legacy, 1983

Lauper's first band had broken up, she had filed for bankruptcy, and she was singing in a Japanese restaurant. Then this debut album of exuberant, razor-sharp dance pop became the first by a female performer to score four Top Five hits, including "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and "Time After Time." The Queens-bred singer looked like a punked up Betty Boop and her sound was admirably elastic – from here cover of Prince's "When You Were Mine" to the reggae tinged "Witness" to an amazing take on the Brains' "Money Changes Everything," which sounds at once like a pissed off song about careerist jerks and a anthem of pure now's-my-time ambition.


Roxy Music, Roxy Music
62

‘Roxy Music’

Roxy Music
Reprise, 1972

In England in the early Seventies, there was nerdy art-rock and sexy glam-rock and rarely did the twain meet. Until this record, that is. Roxy Music mixed future-shock experimentalism in the form of Brian Eno's synth-doodles with Old-world charm in the form of Bryan Ferry's tuxedoed croon. "2HB," an ode to Humphrey Bogart, looked back to the grace of vintage Hollywood, while the storming electro-glitz of "Virginia Plain" proved they could write wham-bam hits and translucent cyber-rock like "Ladytron" laid the cloud-car highway to Radiohead and beyond.

Libertines
61

‘Up the Bracket’

The Libertines
Rough Trade, 2002

Before he became famous for all the wrong reasons, Pete Doherty led the Libertines to gutter-punk glory on the band's 2002 debut. Produced by Mick Jones of the ClashUp the Bracket (the title was British slang for a punch in the throat) was a blur of slurred harmonies, budget-guitar grime and songs that always seemed like they might disintegrate or careen off the tracks. It could have been a mess, but thanks to Doherty and Carl Barat's giant stash of swishy, Kinksian hooks, the album was as off-handedly tuneful as it was trashy – music that felt like a slightly dodgy, ultimately thrilling night on the town.

Fiona Apple, Tidal
60

‘Tidal’

Fiona Apple
Columbia, 1996

In the age of Alanis and Jewel, the airwaves were crawling with troubled ingénues singing tragic ballads about their haunted eyes, but Fiona Apple stood out as a bad, bad girl. Apple was still in her teens when she made Tidal, but the New York art waif's husky voice and jazzy piano gave her confessions a surprisingly adult tone. She also came up with a knockdown theme song in "Criminal," the tale of a young woman who's been careless with a delicate man and even more careless with her delicate self. Tidal was just the beginning – and Apple has kept topping herself artistically ever since.

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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