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Instant Classics: 10 Great Debut Rock Albums

01.24.2013

In most instances a band reaches its full potential only after recording at least an album or two. Every once in a while, however, a group unleashes a masterpiece right out of the chute. Below are ten instances where a band’s debut album became a classic.

Appetite for Destruction (1987) – Guns N’ Roses

Guns N’ Roses didn’t invent hard rock, but the group’s debut found the band assimilating the genre’s essential ingredients in expert fashion. Combining the swagger of late ’60s Stones and vintage Aerosmith with the menace of punk and a trash-glam aesthetic, GNR injected a much-needed dose of ’70s-style rebellion into the frothy pop metal of the ’80s. “It's a very honest record,” Slash told Fuse TV, in 2012. “I would never have thought in a million years that it was going to be as successful as it became. Obviously, I thought we were a great band, I thought the songs were great, and I always stood behind that ….”



Black Sabbath
(1970) – Black Sabbath

The novelist William Burroughs may have coined the phrase “heavy metal,” but it was Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut that gave the term its signature sound. Filled with thunderous bass lines, sledgehammer percussion and menacing guitar riffs, the album forged a template for Sabbath’s exploration of the darker side of riff-driven hard rock. In a 2000 interview with Cosmik.com, Tony Iommi reflected on that sound. “It's just pure power, really,” he said. “My term, ‘heavy,’ comes more when I'm on stage. It's hard to come across on record with a real power, you know? Not so much these days, but it was years ago, it was hard to get that power out.”



Are You Experienced?
(1967)  – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

This album, more than any other, unleashed the limitless possibilities for the place of the electric guitar in rock and roll. In a 1987 interview, engineer Eddie Kramer said Hendrix’s talents as an orchestrator were fundamental to the album’s sonic richness. “Before his death,” Kramer told Guitar Player, “he was interested in experimenting, incorporating horns and other instruments in his sound. The ideas expressed on the first two albums were testing the waters, seeing how far he could take this idea of orchestration.”



Definitely Maybe
(1994) – Oasis

No band better fused the melodic glory of traditional British pop with raucous guitar underpinnings than Oasis did on their landmark debut. Speaking to London’s The Guardian in 1994, just prior to the album’s release, Noel Gallagher described Oasis’s sound. “[It’s] all the best bits of every band that anyone's ever liked,” he said. “We sound like all the important bands. People slag us off and say we sound like The Beatles, T-Rex, the Stones, The Jam, Sex Pistols -- but it's better than sounding like Spandau Ballet. In 20 years' time, Definitely Maybe will still be in the shops, and that's what it's about.”



The Doors
(1967) – The Doors

Recorded in just two weeks, The Doors’ eponymous debut constituted one of those rare instances in which a new band emerged with a distinct sound, a clear musical aesthetic and a group chemistry that bordered on preternatural. Stylistically, the album ranged from primal blues to beer-hall cabaret to carnival-esque pop. Guitarist Robby Krieger spoke with Gibson.com in 2011 about the band’s legacy. “Each album has a lot of good stuff on it and that’s why I think The Doors are still happening today,” he said. “A lot of groups have maybe one or two good songs on a record, but we just wouldn’t give up until every song was how we wanted it.”



Never Mind The Bollocks
(1977) -- The Sex Pistols

Rebellious, aggressive and, yes, anarchic, The Sex Pistols’ first album kicked rock and roll out of the doldrums it had fallen into during the mid ‘70s. With his ever-present Les Paul Custom, guitarist Steve Jones gave new meaning to punk guitar ferociousness. "It's a pure record,” Jones said, when asked by Digitalspy.com about Bollocks’ longstanding influence. “It was done without any agenda. We were just young guys who had these songs, and it comes across that it was a real piece of art, [instead of] doing an album just to sell records. There's a naivety to it as well."



The Velvet Underground & Nico
(1967) – The Velvet Underground

Such bands as Sonic Youth and R.E.M. – not to mention the music of David Bowie -- might never have existed were it not for the pioneering work of The Velvet Underground. Their brilliant debut ranged from discordant sonic maelstroms (“European Son”) to breathtakingly beautiful balladry (“I’ll Be Your Mirror”). Twenty years after the album was made, founding member John Cale reflected on its impact. “We had this opportunity to do something revolutionary,” he told Rolling Stone, “to combine avant-garde and rock and roll, to do something symphonic. No matter how borderline destructive everything was, there was a real excitement there for all of us.”



The Clash
(1977) -- The Clash

Though it landed in British record stores six months prior to the release of The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, The Clash’s debut album became available in the U.S. only after import copies started flying off the shelves. Besides the obvious influence of The Ramones, the album drew from vintage reggae artists like Desmond Dekker and Junior Murvin, presaging stylistic directions that would later become more evident. “I like the first Clash album the best,” guitarist Mick Jones told Gibson.com, in a 2006 interview. “It’s kind of pure. I played the [Les Pau] Junior through a big 4x12 cabinet … it’s kind of raw. We were struggling with our instruments, and it made it more alive.”



Please Please Me
(1963) -- The Beatles

The Beatles went on to make albums that were superior in content and execution, but few matched the visceral energy of their 1963 debut. Recorded in just 12 hours, the album captured the ebullient spirit the band generated during their performances at the legendary Cavern Club. “George Martin told them to play the best items from their stage act, just as if the Cavern audience was watching,” wrote Lennon biographer Philip Norman. “The result was a feat of stamina as impressive as anything from their Hamburg days.”



Led Zeppelin
(1969) – Led Zeppelin

No one could have predicted the extent to which this monumental debut would impact rock and roll for decades to come. Working from a raw template first put forth by vintage blues artists, Jimmy Page combined his sophisticated production talents with a gift for riff-making the likes of which had never been heard. “I think most great riffs have already been written, and Jimmy Page probably wrote most of them,” KISS’s Paul Stanley told Gibson.com, in 2012. “Granted, much of what Led Zeppelin did was based on Blind Boy Fuller, Robert Johnson, Hubert Sumlin, you name it -- but they took those things and skewed them in a way that created a signature.”

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