Obviously, this is no “ultimate” list and there are numerous other debuts that have shone very brightly. But here’s a list of 10 bands/artists who made a massive breakthrough with their first full-length recordings.
In true “Battle Of The Fans” style, it’s up to you to agree/disagree and make the case for your own favorites. Please comment!
In no particular order, let’s commence with…
Please Please Me (1963)
Fifty years on, The Beatles’ debut album still sounds fresh. Yes, they soon accelerated their art at an incredible pace and Please Please Me will only be a few fans’ fave Fabs album. But Please Please Me set the template for ‘60s groups and what many guitar bands have since gone on to emulate. It boasts great singing, stinging guitar work, superb solo/group harmonies and simply classic songs. From choice covers (“Twist and Shout”) to legendary originals (“I Saw Her Standing There”), it’s a benchmark of rock’n’roll. Know a man who doesn’t like The Beatles? You’ve found a man who doesn’t like music.
FM radio rock got “invented” in the ‘70s and few could compete with Boston. Masterminded by Gibson Les Paul Goldtop-toting devotee Tom Scholz, Boston had everything from superbly rich production to impeccable singing, from anthemic tunes to scorching solos. “More Than a Feeling” remains a staple of radio to this day, but the whole Boston debut – including “Peace of Mind,” “Foreplay/Long Time,” and “Let Me Take You Home Tonight” is a slam-dunk of FM rock craft. Later releases repeated Boston’s formula, but they arguably never got better than this first album.
Black Sabbath (1970)
Recorded in just a day for just £600, Sabbath’s debut redefined the word “heavy.” The title track remains one of the most startling opening tracks ever recorded, “The Wizard,” “Warning” and others heralded a new age of guitar stylings. Forty-three years on, Tony Iommi remains the riffmeister and Sabbath’s forthcoming 13 album is apparently trying to recapture their debut’s heavy, heaaavy vibe. Black Sabbath remains an album against which all metal is judged.
Foo Fighters (1995)
Where the hell did this come from? Dave Grohl may now be a guitar/frontman star, but when Kurt Cobain died he was “only” the back-of-room drummer in Nirvana with a sole writing credit to his name (a b-side called “Marigold.”) But Grohl stepped forward and has never looked back – even when he plays drums at the back now, he tends to be the star of the show. Foo Fighters’ debut is rough, mainly from home demos Grohl made on his own, but the bidding war from labels to sign Foo Fighters was justified as DG has flourished into one of the most lauded album-craftsmen of the last 20 years. “This Is a Call”? Who’d have thought it, but it truly was.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Are You Experienced (1967)
One of the most stunning debuts ever, Are You Experienced fused pop, blues, rock and soul into a new voodoo soup. The tracklisting alone is scary. “Foxy Lady,” “Manic Depression,” “Third Stone from the Sun,” “Red House,” “The Wind Cries Mary…” Add Jimi’s own ground-breaking guitar playing and writing and you had something special. As The Who’s Pete Townshend noted, “When Jimi started to play, something changed: colors changed, everything changed.”
Van Halen I (1978)
Just as Jimi changed the late-‘60s, so did Eddie Van Halen in the late-‘70s. Van Halen were never a complex band, with party-hearty heavy rock their stock in trade. But EVH’s guitar was a game-changer. His liquid tapping techniques (even if he wasn’t the first) astonished and his riffs and songs set a template for the “hair metal” to come in the ‘80s. Dextrous and dumb, and also clever and stupid, Van Halen I redefined goodtime metal and the world of guitar.
Led Zeppelin (1969)
Like many 1960s Brits, Zeppelin were absorbed by U.S. blues. But few had played it like this. Taking the likes of Cream, The Yardbirds and Jeff Beck to extremes, this is mostly about battering rhythms and heavy riffiosity from Jimmy Page. But there is light, too, in the folky “black Mountain Side,” “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” and more. Meanwhile, “Communication Breakdown” sometimes sounds like proto-punk. An early masterclass in how so-called “heavy rock” could turn any which way it chooses.
The Sex Pistols
Never Mind the Bollocks (1977)
Never Mind… was the band’s only “proper” album but it literally caused riots. “They can’t play,” said some critics of the day but even a cursory listen proved the Pistols could. Many shops banned it. With its roaring energy of guitars from Steve Jones and Johnny Rotten’s nihilistic wailing this remains a punk 101. Ask Green Day. Ranting, sarcastic, hateful and daring, it remains a spectacular debut and an early goodbye. Much of the music was written by early bassist Glen Matlock, but the other Pistols fired him. One reason given by Jones? Matlock liked The Beatles. Ha!
Appetite for Destruction (1987)
Guns N’Roses fused punk attitude with the debauched swagger of Aerosmith. But there was an inner nastiness to Axl Rose’s lyrics which made its own mark against the likes of Van Halen - Appetite was certainly not “party metal.” But it would never have worked were it not for the intertwining guitars of Slash and Izzy Stradlin, whose interplay spits out riffs and solos as good as anything by The Rolling Stones. Their debut revels in great guitar playing, and it remains an album Guns never bettered. Or did they? Either way, it was a massive influence on ‘90s hard rock… even if its makers weren’t speaking much anymore by then.
Definitely Maybe (1994)
A massive soufflé of rock guitar overspill. Leader Noel Gallagher once said he wanted Oasis’s debut Definitely Maybe to sound like The Beatles, The Sex Pistols and Nirvana all at once, and he pretty much achieved it. It took three separate recording sessions to get Definitely Maybe right. The eventual solution? Turn everything up to 11. Highly melodic yet punishingly loud, Definitely Maybe changed U.K. music, bringing guitars back into vogue. At the time it sounded like a “Greatest Hits” in waiting. To some, it still does.
But that’s just 10 debut albums. You’ll know better, so have your say below…