Where There Were No Doors

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

20 Best Debut Albums In The World Ever

Elsewhere on the web, a discussion has begun regarding the best debut albums of all time. It's an interesting topic as it would seem to exclude quite a few of the musicians and bands that make it into most Top-10 / Top-1000 lists.

I'm a huge fan of The Beatles for instance and although I love the vibrancy and charm of Please Please Me, I wouldn't put it into my Top-20 debut albums list. At least not if we're judging the albums by their individual merit, rather than the promise they show or the cultural earthquake they foreshadow. And although Prince's debut (For You) contains some glorious songs and demonstrates the man's incredible mastery of the studio and multi-instrumentalism, it doesn't really have the consistency of a great album (arguably it wasn't until his third, 1980's Dirty Mind, that he really hit his stride).

There are also some technical issues when compiling a list like this. Do you include the debut solo albums of people who have made records in the past as part of a band? And - importantly - can Space Oddity be considered Bowie's debut, given the existence of the Deram tracks?

I have decided to answer both those questions "Yes". Because to respond "No" would remove a bunch of the finest debut albums of all time from my list. So, without further ado...

The 20 Best Debut Albums In The World Ever

  1. The Smiths - The Smiths (1984)
    I'd be surprised if there's a serious music-head of my generation who wouldn't acknowledge the right of The Smiths to top a chart like this (even if said music-head were to choose someone else themselves). Featuring a half dozen of the best tracks they ever did and not a duff one amongst the rest, this album - following hard on the heels of some fine singles - announced the arrival of one of the world's best lyricists as well as musically influencing an entire generation. Personal high point: Still Ill
  2. Debut - Björk (1993)
    Björk of course was fairly well known as the singer from The Sugarcubes prior to her solo work. But with Debut she abandoned some of the convention and restriction that working in a band - however groovy - inevitably brings. Sometimes that's not always a great thing (it's hard to argue, for instance, that any member of The Beatles worked better outside the group than within) but for Björk it provided the creative freedom to produce a gloriously idiosyncratic album that was both stunning in its own right as well as just hinting at the greatness to come. Personal high point: Venus as a Boy
  3. '77 - Talking Heads (1977)
    David Byrne is one of the musical giants in my life. His solo work continues to excite and inspire me to this day, but it's almost certainly as the frontman for Talking Heads that he's best known. An art-rock band that found a home in the New York punk scene, TH were the perfect blend of intelligence and raw energy... spikey and inyerface but with a subtlety that was to elevate them far beyond their roots. Personal high point: Don't Worry About the Government
  4. Space Oddity - David Bowie (1969)
    As mentioned earlier, this was - arguably - not Bowie's debut album at all (1967's David Bowie on Deram UK would qualify as that if we're being pedantic), and it wasn't even until the 1972 re-release that it gained the title "Space Oddity" having been originally put out in 1969 as "Man of Words / Man of Music". All the same, there are plenty of Bowie-heads who would agree that this was the album that really defined the starting point of Bowie's career as we've come to know it. There's a distinct 'hippy' quality to Space Oddity which is a comparatively acoustic affair that closes with the ultimate flower-child anthem, "Memory of a Free Festival". All the same, Bowie's intellect, wit and darkness seep through into almost every song. Personal high point: Letter to Hermione
  5. Here Come the Warm Jets - Brian Eno (1974)
    Looking at the line-up, this appears for all intents and purposes to be a Roxy Music album with the addition of the godlike Robert Fripp and without the rapidly lounging Ferry. But in practice it starkly reveals the reasons why Eno chose to leave Roxy Music and the creative shadow of Bryan Ferry... and the radically different musical directions both were moving. Here Come the Warm Jets builds on and expands the experimentalism of earlier Roxy albums at a time when Ferry was moving towards the mainstream. It's glam, it's raucous and it refuses to conform. Personal high point: Driving Me Backwards
  6. Soulmining - The The (1983)
    Like Space Oddity (above), it would be prefectly valid for someone to object to Soulmining being described as the debut album from Matt Johnson's The The. Two years previously 4AD had put out Johnson's Burning Blue Soul under the singer's own name (it was later re-released as an official The The album). All the same, Soulmining can claim to be the first album originally released under the "The The" moniker. This album probably has more of my emotional baggage attached to it than any other. It kept me sane through some of the darkest moments of my teens and early 20s with the gritty despair tempered by such lines as "Death is not the answer / for your soul may burn in hell". Cheery stuff! Interestingly the album also contains a piano-solo which (in my view) single-handedly justifies Jools Holland's otherwise questionable career. Personal high point: I've Been Waitin' for Tomorrow (All of My Life)
  7. Memories of a Colour - Stina Nordenstam (1991)
    Stina Nordenstam is a relatively unknown singer / songwriter / producer from Scandanavia. Comparisons are often made with Björk, and while that's fair enough to some degree, it also does her an injustice by failing to recognise the sheer originality of her work. Her fragile, almost broken, voice seems to haunt her dark and claustrophobic music... she dwells within her music rather than singing over the top of it. This debut album contains some of her more accessible and commercial-sounding songs (though she's never exactly had "commercial success" to any great extent - possibly partly due to the fact that she never performs live) but at the same time nobody could think of Memories of a Colour as a commercial or mainstream album featuring - as it does - several examples of the dark and brooding atmosphere that defines her later work. Personal high point: Soon After Christmas
  8. Deep in the Heart of Nowhere - Bob Geldof (1986)
    Saint Sir Bob of Geldof is probably better known these days as a political activist than a musician. But that doesn't detract from the great music he has created over the years. Deep In The Heart of Nowhere was Geldof's first album post-Boomtown Rats and the first new music he released after Live Aid (it's also the single-most underrated album of the decade). It's a dark, introspective and sometimes challenging album which was a huge departure from the post-punk jangle of The Rats and brought Geldof closer (in tone and spirit) to early Van Morrison. Now and then the music is a little too "of it's time" - the mid-80s, but that never overshadows the depth of feeling contained in the songs and the gloriously ragged voice of Geldof himself. Personal high point: Pulled Apart by Horses
  9. Marquee Moon - Television (1977)
    Easily one of the best albums of the decade, it's perhaps no surprise that Television never managed to really emerge from its shadow and what followed sounded like a pale imitation of this explosive debut. In many ways, Television are the Orson Welles of music; creating an early masterpiece which couldn't help but be a millstone round their necks and led to the band breaking up prematurely after only their second studio album. Nonetheless, Marquee Moon isn't an album illustrating wasted potential... because it's all there, wrapped up in this sublime slice of punky new-wave guitar poprock. Personal high point: Marquee Moon
  10. Horses - Patti Smith (1975)
    This album gave birth to the American new wave, and deserves a place in all our hearts for that alone... would Marquee Moon have sounded anything like it did without Smith's arrival on the scene? Would Talking Heads have been able to carve out a place for themselves among the New York punks if Smith's imaginative and penetrating lyrics hadn't brought an intellectualism to the American scene that was not only missing - but positively discouraged for some time - in British punk (it later arrived of course, with the more political punk bands that followed). But Horses was not only culturally transformative, it's also one of Smith's best albums (which says a lot given the amazing quality of her work over the years). It opens with a reinterpretation of Van Morrison's Gloria that's possibly the finest opening track of a debut album ever, and the quality never drops. Literate, beautiful, violent, tragic and filled with enough inspiration and energy to justify most careers. Personal high point: Birdland or Gloria
  11. Maxinquaye - Tricky (1995)
  12. Jane's Addiction - Jane's Addiction (1987)
  13. Piper at the Gates of Dawn - Pink Floyd (1967)
  14. Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) - The Wu-Tang Clan (1993)
  15. The Lion and the Cobra - Sinéad O'Connor (1987)
  16. Surfer Rosa - The Pixies (1988)
  17. Three Imaginary Boys - The Cure (1979)
  18. Viva Hate - Morrissey (1988)
  19. Original Pirate Material - The Streets (2002)
  20. Private Revolution - World Party (1987)


Anonymous iotar said...

The Pixies put out "Come on Pilgrim" before arriving in albini-produced style with "Surfer Rosa". Although to be fair CoP is normally regarded as a mini-album.

Bloody good one, as it happens!

17/8/05 08:59  
Blogger Jarndyce said...

Wot no Stone Roses? Dearie me. Are you mad, man?

17/8/05 12:28  
Blogger Phil said...

I was disappointed in The Smiths - the singles were uniformly wonderful, but for me the first album that worked as an album was The Queen is Dead. And 77 is a good album, but More Songs... was a huge step forward.

And so on. I'm clearly of a similar vintage to you, and would have expected our lists to overlap more than they do. (As well as Horses I'd nominate Faust, the Stone Roses, the Orb's album with the long title, Five leaves left, f# a# ∞, Pink flag, dubnobasswithmyheadman, World shut your mouth and Remember (Doll by Doll). Today, anyway.

17/8/05 12:38  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

To be completely honest, jardyce, The Stone Roses was on the long-list and would certainly make a Top-30. But on the day just happened to get crowded out of the Top-20. If I'd been compiling it next week, though, they might be in the Top-10. These things will always depend on current mood.

Take your point though.

iotar, Come on Pilgrim is excellent but is - as you mentioned - officially a mini-album, and even gets referred to as an EP by most discographies. Hence the choice of Surfer Rosa.

phil, jeeez - I'd completely forgotten that first album from The Orb. That'd be a Top-20 for sure. Shame they never really matched it. WSYM is a classic alright... again it made the long-list (I'm a bit of a Cope-head as it happens).

More Songs... is a better album than '77, and Fear Of Music better than that. And Remain In Light the best of them all (though subsequently Naked came close). But even so, '77 is one of my all-time favourite albums and an astonishing debut.

I can't believe you were disappointed with The Smiths though. It's a damn-near perfect album to my ears.

17/8/05 14:14  
Blogger Jarndyce said...

Fair enough. I should declare that you're dealing with someone who even liked the second Stone Roses album...

Also: Orbital, Blue Lines (tops Tricky, surely?), maybe Dummy, In Ribbons, Bleach...as you said, today anyway.

More recently, The Killers', Kasabian's and Sleepy Jackson's debuts up there, though not sure about top-20.

17/8/05 15:16  
Blogger L said...

some great picks there

19/8/05 03:32  
Blogger merrick said...

Rearrange the following four words into a glaring omission that kicks the shit out of, say, Three Imaginary Boys: 'The', 'Mind', 'Never' and 'Bollocks.

There is no way you can say Space Oddity is Bowie's debut, in what way wasn't it the 1967 eponymous Deram album?

On a point of info, Space Oddity was issued as Man Of Words / Man Of Music in North America, but in the UK it was - confusingly enough given the Deram album - issued eponymously.

22/8/05 17:48  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

Sorry merrick, but this is where I do my sacreligious bit... I am singularly underwhelmed by Never Mind The Bollocks. It didn't even make the long-list. Sorry, but there you have it.

22/8/05 17:53  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This list is a bit unsatisfying. There are some artists I've never even heard of. And where's The Velvet Underground, The Clash, The Ramones, Pearl Jam, Oasis, The Who, Joy Division, Bob Marley & The Wailers... with their beautiful and so important debut albums? Well, I guess, one can't satisfy everybody.

5/9/05 21:23  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

Anonymous (do please sign a name; even a false one) to expand upon the bands you listed...

The Velvet Underground - truly a fine and important debut. Unfortunately I made the mistake of rushing out to see them when they reformed in the early 90s and may never recover my respect for them. Of course that shouldn't affect my view of their original work, but it sadly does. That's the reason I refuse to go to reunion tours ever again (though I made an exception for Jane's Addiction it must be said). Apparently the current Pixies gigs are pretty amazing, but I just won't take the risk.

The Clash, The Ramones, The Who, Pearl Jam - Never a big fan of any of them to be honest, though The Ramones certainly had their moments.

Oasis - Surely you jest! I'd rather gnaw off my own limbs than listen all the way through an Oasis album. Bad pub rockers with whiney voices doing a dreadful Beatles impersonation. Screw that!

Joy Division, Bob Marley & The Wailers - both made the long-list, and both have albums in my Top 10 of all time (Rastaman Vibration and Closer respectively) but ultimately their debuts fell just outside the Top 20.

5/9/05 21:37  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

As an aside... the first gig I ever attended was The Wailers (post-Bob, sadly) in a tiny club in Athens, Greece. I got pretty damn high on the spliffs that were being passed around and realised immediately that attending a good gig is the best way to spend time with your clothes on.

Live music has been a passion of mine ever since.

5/9/05 22:43  
Blogger littlemissprincess_86 said...


"Marquee Moon" - good call, although I agree with your earlier respondent that "Ramones" was a serious omission.

As indeed are "Psychocandy" by The Jesus and Mary Chain, "3 Feet High and Rising" by De La Soul and "Is This It" by The Strokes.

7/9/05 01:24  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where is Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures? In all best albums ever (not debut) rankings even is very up compared to The Queen is Dead. And was the Joy Division's Debut

20/7/06 16:40  
Anonymous David said...

Don't worry Jim, the recent Pixies gigs, two of which I've been to were underwhelming. I would have the stone roses and arcade fire in there myself. Good list though....

31/10/06 22:33  
Anonymous cosmo said...

in the court of the crimson king - king crimson

7/12/07 09:29  
Anonymous Deaf Ear said...

This list is a bit biased towards Indie and Post...Besides any list that doesn't include 'Are You Experienced' in the top 10 needs to be taken with a block of salt.

19/12/07 14:52  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Led Zeppelin I

Jimi Hendrix - Are you experienced?

19/8/08 12:54  
Anonymous Nick said...

The Modern Lovers - Self Titled.

Give it a listen and tell me that isn't the birth of indie rock.

25/11/08 20:49  

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