Note: I had hoped to put YouTube videos on here for each song, but I got the WMG No-Embed Cockblock. I hate that. So instead, I created links to take you to YouTube’s page in a separate window. How does that prevent piracy again?? Anyhoo…
I love debut albums because there is a certain “force to be reckoned with” feeling about them. They feel young, fresh and relentless. They are a snapshot of an artist’s potential before the world gets its grubby little hands on them and ruins them. Certainly, some artists still put out great stuff after their debut, but for many, the first album is the best in the collection. The five albums below are debuts that were released in my lifetime that I particularly love. A strong argument can be made that each of the albums are the best in that artist’s catalog.
What are your favorite debut albums? Post them in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you!
The Cars: The Cars (1978)
I’ve always seen The Cars as a band who never quite fit the mold of new wave the way other bands did; they weren’t overly top 40 like Blondie (at least not until Shake it Up), and they weren’t overly esoteric like early Talking Heads or Devo. Sure, their debut album has at least six out of 9 tracks still in regular radio rotation, but when those songs come on they sound like nothing else. They are a little Roxy Music, a little Velvet Underground, a pinch of stadium anthem.
The Cars was recorded in a mere 12 days with the legendary Roy Thomas Baker at the helm as producer. When listening to the demos and rejected tracks for the album, the listener realizes how perilously close this debut came to being “just another 70s rock album.” Instead, we get this great mixture of songs that created a classic.
I chose “Bye Bye Love” for the “representative” song off the album, because I see it as the quintessential Cars song. Although it was never released as a single, it’s both poppy and rock, intelligent and poetic, combining the perfect mixture of guitar and synth. “Bye Bye Love” gives the listener a sneak peak into the future greatness of their second album, Candy-O.
Van Halen: Van Halen (1978)
When I listen to this album, I wonder how people reacted to it when it came out. It opens with “Running With the Devil,” which is mainstream enough, but then you have “Eruption.” When people heard it the first time, did they feel like they were listening to a person who was about to become a legend? Was it the kind of thing where they’d play it for their friends and say, “you have got to listen to this!” See, my music memories began when all of the Eddie wannabes started to come out of the woodwork. Van Halen is my 2nd-favorite band (next to The Cars), yet I take Eddie’s style for granted, because his imitators almost drown him out.
After “Eruption,” they bring us “You Really Got Me.” The party begins, and doesn’t let up until many albums later. I love the “live” sound on this album, and it’s one of Michael Anthony’s better albums for the bass. As in, you can actually hear the bass on this one. What I love about Van Halen and the Roth-era stuff, is they give you the loud, fun crowd-pleasers, but they always include something a little playful and Vaudevillian. On their debut, they have the double-entendre “Ice Cream Man,” and the doo wop section of “I’m the One.” I know a lot of people who hate Van Halen, and I get it – they are at their worst, a bunch of misogynist, slovenly, juvenile, drunken cavemen. That’s normally something I’d get really mad about, but I’m too busy dancing and banging my head to care.
Devo: Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)
1978 was a good year for music. I actually didn’t discover this album until recently – I came across “Uncontrollable Urge” and was surprised that this fun, mosh-worthy song came from the guys who did “Whip It.” The entire album is high-energy, weird and kinda ballsy. Let’s face it, who would take a rock classic like “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and completely deconstruct it?
Are We Not Men is not some organic, natural act of God. It is dissonant, detatched, quirky, high-tech punk that came to us via transmogrifier.
When selecting a song from YouTube to go with this link, it came down to “Satisfaction” or “Uncontrollable Urge.” If you have to choose one, go with “Satisfaction,” because if you haven’t heard it before, you should. You’ll probably hate it, but I love it. If you can listen to both, check out “Uncontrollable Urge” – I’m linking it to a great live performance of it. I think he had to play the rest of the concert in his tight whities, judging by other clips I’ve watched…
Guns N Roses: Appetite for Destruction (1987)
Guns N Roses reminds me of Junior High – it seemed like one or two people knew of them around the start of 7th grade, and then overnight everyone had a GNR concert shirt. Their success somehow ushered in the hair metal heyday, even though they weren’t a “hair” band themselves, and their music was miles above their contemporaries.
When I bought Appetite for Destruction and put it in my tape player, I felt like I was doing something bad. The album was raw, angry and celebrated all the things Nancy Reagan told me to say no to. My eyes widened listening to “It’s So Easy.” When the album closed with “Rocket Queen,” I turned my radio down just below “1” so my parents wouldn’t hear the dirty, audio pornography I was listening to. Up to that point they were pretty cool with not intervening with my choice in music, but if any song could change that, it was “Rocket Queen.”
When selecting a song from this album, I chose “Welcome to the Jungle”. It was their first single, although it didn’t really take off until after “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” I feel it best represents the craziness that is Appetite. Plus? We get to see Axl’s short-lived Aqua Net days in the video.
Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes (1992)
In my senior year of high school, I remember flipping through the channels and landing on VH1. A red-headed female piano was singing an unusual song. Her mannerisms were very feminine and very sexual. I felt captivated – I remember thinking it was cool in a world of Billy Joel and Elton John, there was this woman kicking ass on the piano on my TV. I’d never seen that before. Yet, she was so…odd.
I didn’t think about Tori Amos much again until my Freshman year of college. Little Earthquakes became the soundtrack to a year of my life, a life that became very difficult due to severe depression and a lack of self-esteem. There were moments I hated myself, and Little Earthquakes was a dose of brutal honesty and compassion with every listen. Songs like “Leather” and “Winter” spoke to a part of me I was afraid to acknowledge. Tori sang about the things ladies weren’t supposed to sing about, and in doing so, she made it all a little less shameful.
When I was selecting songs for this blog, I came across this performance of “Silent All These Years.” I have listened to this song a hundred times easily, yet this time it made me tear up a little.
So, those are my five – what are your favorites?