100 Best Debut Albums of All Time – Rolling Stone
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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.

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.

van halen
27

‘Van Halen’

Van Halen
Warner Bros. 1978

The strutting frontman as spandex-clad love machine, the finger-flying guitar hero, the kegstand rhythm section: Van Halen was the ultimate party band and their debut feels like the Eighties arriving two years ahead of schedule. Tunes like the fist pumping "Runnin' With the Devil," the muscular "Atomic Punk," a thunderous cover of "You Really Got Me" and "Ain’t Talkin' 'Bout Love" put the show-biz swagger back in hard rock, and Eddie Van Halen's jaw-dropping technique raised the bar for six-string pyrotechnics, particularly on "Eruption," the solo that launched a thousand dudes messing around at Guitar Center.

Run-DMC
26

‘Run-DMC’

Run-D.M.C.
Profile/Arista 1984

A rap album? The idea was esoteric back in 1984, but the debut full-length by Joseph "Run" Simmons, Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels, and D.J. Jason "Jam Master J" Mizell changed that—and transformed American pop culture. Songs like "Sucker M.C.s" and "Hard Times" jettisoned the party-hearty disco bounce of early rap for blunt, blasting beats and rhymes. It was music that had the swagger, the attitude—the volume—of rock and roll; on "Rock Box," Run-D.M.C. even had the audacity to toss in a wailing heavy metal guitar. "Our DJ's better than all these bands," they rapped, a boast that turned out to be a prophecy.

Pavement
25

‘Slanted and Enchanted’

Pavement
Matador 1992

Pavement were the quintessential American independent rock band, and this is the quintessential indie-rock album. The playing is loose-limbed, the production laid-back and primitive, the lyrics quirky and playful, the melodies sweet and seductive. But the sound is as intense as the white noise of the Velvet Underground. Recorded on the super-cheap in Brooklyn and in their thirtysomething drummer's Stockton, California studio, Slanted and Enchanted is one of the most influential rock albums of the 1990s; its fuzzy recording style can be heard in the music of Nirvana, Liz Phair, Beck, the Strokes and the White Stripes.

Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend
24

‘Vampire Weekend’

Vampire Weekend
XL, 2008

Vampire Weekend came out of Columbia University in the late 2000s, showing a pronounced affinity for boat shoes and button-downs as well as an intimate knowledge of African guitar music. Their debut backed up massive press buzz with suavely seductive pop-rock songs about college campuses and trysts with Benetton-wearing ladies. Ezra Koenig's Paul Simon-esque melodies were as refined as his education, floating over bright keyboards and Afropop-tinged grooves. Koenig had a term for VW's music: Upper West Side Soweto. However you label the sound, it was manna for Brooklyn-y boys and Molly Ringwald girls all over the world and helped fuel a discovery of global sounds in indie-pop.