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20 Terrible Debut Albums by Great Artists

David Bowie, Billy Joel and 18 more iconic artists who made a bad first impression

David Bowie

David Bowie performing on stage at the Aylesbury Friars on January 29, 1972. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Michael Putland/Getty Images

Rome wasn’t built in a day and, chances are, neither was your favorite artist. Not everyone can be the Ramones and emerge fully formed, making a first impression that lasts a lifetime. From Rock & Roll Hall of Famers to Nineties alterna-heroes, here’s 20 artists that prove that slow and steady can win the race — even after a false start.

Y Kant Tori Read, 'Y Kant Tori Read'

Y Kant Tori Read, ‘Y Kant Tori Read’ (1988)

The 1988 album by Tori Amos' synthpop band is a cautionary tale. An album that remains out of print to this day, it's a classic example of how major label trend-chasing can result in artists being stuck in niches where they don't fit. Amos's then-nascent songwriting ability is all but obscured by the maximalist production and Matt Sorum's crashing drums, with instantly dated electronics creating a mass of clutter. However, the still-out-of-print Y Kant Tori Read was essential to the breakthrough Amos had on her minimalist, nakedly emotional LP Little Earthquakes. "There was a part of me that really wanted to be a rock chick … and I failed at it," Amos told the Washington Post in 1992. "But I had to crack before I was willing to strip … I could not have written Little Earthquakes without skinning my knees." Maura Johnston

Kid Rock

Kid Rock, ‘Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast’ (1990)

Though a lot of white kids in the Eighties loved hip-hop, not many of them got to release an album on Jive a few weeks before they turned 20 – and judging by Kid Rock's debut, Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast, that's probably for the best. Despite production from D-Nice and Too $hort, Kid Rock's debut LP is so insistently generic its like he tossed everything current about hip-hop in 1990 into a giant colander and sifted out all the individuality. If he hadn't successfully reinvented himself six years later, the Detroit kid with a high top fade might only be remembered as part of a historical footnote: A college radio station played the unedited version of lead single "Yo-Da-Lin in the Valley" (on which the Kid brags about his oral sex skills) and got hit with a record $23,700 fine by the FCC. Keith Harris

Blur, 'Leisure'

Blur, ‘Leisure’ (1991)

After Food Records convinced their new signees to change their name from Seymour to Blur, the group delivered about an EP's worth of decent Nineties alternative rock on their full-length debut. Leisure has but flashes of the band's dissonant pop on lyrically bland singles "She's So High," "There's No Other Way" and "Bang" — all of which subsequently arrived in the first three slots of the album's retooled U.S. tracklisting. The reshuffling further amplified side two's irrelevance: There's the amateur shoegaze stab of "Birthday," the half-assed Smiths retread "Fool" and several other underdeveloped concepts bereft of the rich, Ray Davies-esque storytelling that arrived on 1993's Modern Life Is Rubbish. Singer Damon Albarn has called Leisure awful, and said in the 2010 Blur documentary No Distance Left to Run: "Thank God that was a time when you could still make a record that wasn't right and not become discarded the next minute." Reed Fischer

Mobb Deep, Juvenile Hell (1993)

Mobb Deep, ‘Juvenile Hell’ (1993)

Originally known as the Poetical Prophets, Havoc and Prodigy gained notice in 1991 through The Source magazine's "Unsigned Hype" column. They earned a deal with 4th and Broadway, just in time for the teenagers to catch wreck as part of the short-lived kiddie rappers fad. But compared to Kris Kross and Da Youngstas, Mobb Deep's tales of growing up sounded horrifying. Peer pressure means getting drunk and toting burners on the block, "Locked Up in Spofford" details a stint in the notorious juvenile detention center and, on "Hit It From the Back," the duo celebrate rough sex as Prodigy crows, "Fuck love makin'." Unfortunately, the duo didn't illustrate their hard-bitten street tales with memorable choruses, and the album's production is boilerplate boom-bap. There's little of the enigmatic menace and indelible hooks that would make their next album The Infamous a classic. Undeterred, Havoc blamed Juvenile Hell's failure on the label. "They didn't push our shit," he told Rap Pages in 1995. "We had mad potential — that's why when we got dropped, we got picked up real quick." Mosi Reeves

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