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Readers’ Poll: The Ten Greatest Debut Albums

Picks include Pearl Jam’s ‘Ten,’ the Killers’ ‘Hot Fuss’ and ‘The Doors’

pearl jam

Paul Bergen/Redferns

The Rolling Stone editors recently selected their list of the 100 Best Debut Albums of All Time. Like any list, it sparked some controversy. Many readers felt that Led Zeppelin and Pearl Jam's first discs were ranked too low, and the absence of King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King angered many readers. We figured the best way to respond was to allow the readers to create their own list. The response was overwhelming. Click through to see the results. 

the killers

Courtesy Island Records

9. The Killers, ‘Hot Fuss’

When the Killers dropped Hot Fuss in the summer of 2004, the best-selling stars in music were Usher, Hoobastank, OutKast and Beyoncé. Few people imagined that a quartet from Las Vegas obsessed with Duran Duran and New Order would release the most beloved album of the year. Their debut single, "Mr. Brightside," took off in England first, and soon connected with the rest of the world. It's a perfect three-and-a-half minute blast of jealously, lust, guitars and synths. It seemed impossible to top, until the follow-up single, "Somebody Told Me," hit radio a few months later. By then it was clear they weren't a one-hit wonder; frontman Brandon Flowers became a rock god almost overnight, and their concerts became massive dance parties. The world was ready for a new Depeche Mode, and the Killers were more than happy to fill that role. 

nirvana

Courtesy Sub Pop

8. Nirvana, ‘Bleach’

Nirvana's Bleach didn't usher in a musical revolution when it hit shelves in the summer of 1989. This was the era of Paula Abdul, Mötley Crüe and Bobby Brown, and there wasn't anything resembling a mainstream audience for gritty songs like "Negative Creep" and "Blew." But the group was hardly aiming for MTV. Though they disliked the term "grunge," they were a key part of a Seattle underground music scene that had yet to be detected by the masses. "For a few years in Seattle, it was the Summer of Love, and it was so great," Cobain told Rolling Stone shortly before his death.  "To be able to just jump out on top of the crowd with my guitar and be held up and pushed to the back of the room, and then brought back with no harm done to me – it was a celebration of something that no one could put their finger on." They cut Bleach in just 30 hours. Despite very warm reviews, it didn't find much of an audience. It took the success of Nevermind a couple years later for fans to go back and realize they had missed out an on absolute classic. 

jimi hendrix

Courtesy Track Records

7. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ‘Are You Experienced’

Nobody had ever heard anyone quite like Jimi Hendrix when Are You Experienced was unleashed in May of 1967. Produced by former Animals bassist Chas Chandler, the disc was 40 minutes of almost superhuman guitar virtuosity, blistering psychedelia and hooks that would soon burrow under the skin of rock fans all across the planet. The tracklisting almost reads like a greatest hits set: "Purple Haze," "Hey Joe," "Fire," "The Wind Cries Mary" and "Are You Experienced?" And he was just getting started.  

the strokes

Courtesy RCA

6. The Strokes, ‘Is This It’

People have been writing obituaries for rock & roll for the last 60 years, but by 2001 it seemed like it might finally be dead for real. It was the height of the teen pop movement, and the popular rock bands were Staind, Limp Bizkit, Crazy Town, Creed and Korn. Two years earlier, Woodstock '99 devolved into a fiery orgy of pointless, shirtless white male rage. Things were grim, and five uber-privileged New York hipsters hardly seemed like the guys to turn things around.

Truth be told, they really didn't. The Strokes' debut album Is This It was never a monster seller in America and crap rock bands kept on chugging along, but that doesn't mean Is This It didn't leave a huge mark. "Last Nite" has become the "American Girl" for a new generation, and countless kids dug out their parents' Velvet Underground and Ramones records after getting into the Strokes. Had they kept their shit together, the Strokes had a chance to truly take over the world. Drugs, ego and infighting robbed them of momentum at a crucial time, but Is This It will always stand as one of the most important albums of the 21st century. 

the doors

Courtesy Elektra Records

5. The Doors, ‘The Doors’

Few bands in history exploded right out of the gate quite like the Doors. Their first two singles were "Break On Through (To the Other Side)" and "Light My Fire." The latter song hit Number One in America and even got them a spot on the Ed Sullivan show. Less than a year earlier they were playing in a garage. Jim Morrison's refusal to censor his lyrics for the broadcast made him a hero to young rock fans, even though it earned the band a bad reputation they were never able to shake. They cut their first album in a mere six days, and it hit stores just four days into 1967. The album wraps up with the 12-minute psychedelic freakout "The End." Success and excess would soon crush the Doors, and they were never quite as perfect as they were at the very beginning. 

van halen

Courtesy Warner Brothers Records

4. Van Halen, ‘Van Halen’

Van Halen have spent the past four decades trying to live up to the incredible promise of their first album. They occasionally came close, but it's a mighty high hill to climb. Simply put, every song on their debut is nearly perfect. The first four songs are "Runnin' With the Devil," "Eruption," "You Really Got Me" and "Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love." That would be more than enough to make for a classic album, but flip it over and you have "Jamie's Cryin'," "Atomic Punk" and "Ice Cream Man." Eddie is playing at the absolute top of his game, and David Lee Roth has never been quite this charming and funny. In fact, the album is so strong that the outtakes were enough to form the foundation of their most recent album, A Different Kind of Truth

boston

Courtesy Epic Records

3. Boston, ‘Boston’

When guitarist Tom Scholz began recording the first Boston album in his Massachusetts basement in 1975, he couldn't possibly have imagined what was about to happen to his life. The rock critical establishment dismissed his homemade creation as an "American synthesis of Led Zeppelin and Yes," but rock fans absolutely loved it. The album has gone platinum 17 times over, and singles "More Than a Feeling" and "Peace of Mind" have been playing steadily on rock radio for the past 35 years. Follow-up albums failed to connect in quite the same way and the critics never came around, but Boston retains a huge following and can still draw crowds, even after the tragic suicide of Brad Delp in 2007. 

led zeppelin

Courtesy Atlantic Records

2. Led Zeppelin, ‘Led Zeppelin’

Led Zeppelin had a lot of hype to live up to with their 1969 debut album. They were collectively known as the best session players in England, and Atlantic Records relentlessly promoted the album in the press. This was the era of the supergroup, and many were skeptical about whether or not Led Zeppelin was the real deal. All doubts were erased once fans heard the actual music. "Dazed and Confused," "Good Times Bad Times" and "Communication Breakdown" were unlike anything else on the charts at the time. The Jeff Beck Group were good, but Led Zeppelin were operating on a higher level. Many critics hated this album, and others claimed they used traditional songs without proper credit, but that's an argument for another time and place. 

guns n roses pearl jam

Courtesy Geffen Records; Courtesy Epic Records

1. (tie) Pearl Jam, ‘Ten’; Guns N Roses, ‘Appetite for Destruction’

This poll had a huge response, and it ended in a perfect tie. That makes a lot of sense. It's impossible to pick between Ten and Appetite for Destruction. The two discs arrived only four years apart, but it seems like two radically different eras. Guns N' Roses made every hair metal group of the time seem like a bunch of pathetic whiners, while Pearl Jam's Ten stood out in a huge field of amazing alternative rock albums. Both groups boast amazingly unique singers and killer guitar duos. Both albums are flawless from start to finish, lacking even a single sub-par track. Both albums put a huge spotlight on people that weren't quite ready for that degree of fame and adulation.

The pressure quickly tore Guns N' Roses apart and drove some to drugs and madness, while Pearl Jam managed to survive by moving far away from the spotlight. They didn't try to top it by booking stadium tours, releasing two albums on the same day and filming crazily ambitious videos. Pearl Jam basically did the exact opposite of everything Guns N' Roses did, and that's why they're still around and Guns N' Roses are a pathetic shell of their former glorious selves. It's impossible to top a record as huge as Appetite for Destruction or Ten. Pearl Jam were smart enough not to try. 

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