To have something important to say and to know how to say it – that’s the art of succeeding with your debut album. Some debut albums have such an important message that they change the world forever. Some of them are just incredibly well executed, burning with the energy of a new artist who finally got to find their name on people’s record shelves. In this list, we’re taking a look at ten incredible debut rock albums – some which should be crucial for any rock fan, and some that are just damn good!
#10. Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley (1956)
If there was ever a debut rock album worth mentioning, it’s got to be Elvis Presley’s 1956 RCA Victor debut, comprised of material from various sessions recorded between 1954 and 1956 in RCA’s Nashville- and New York studios, as well as from the famous Sun Studio sessions in Memphis. Yes, it gets sleepy at times. But when Elvis and his excellent band – with Scotty Moore on electric guitar – rock out to Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes,” Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman,” Dorothy LaBostrie and Richard Wayne Penniman’s “Tutti Frutti,” and Rose Marie McCoy and Charles Singleton’s “Tryin’ to Get to You,” you will soon have an idea to why the record was distributed simply as Rock ‘n’ Roll in the U.K.
#9. The Mothers of Invention – Freak Out! (1966)
It was obvious from the beginning that Frank Zappa was destined to become an outsider in pop culture. With lyrics such as, “Mr. America try to hide // the product of your savage pie,” he clearly established himself as a spokesperson for alternative-thinking intellectuals who could sympathize with neither the capitalistic monster of the “Great American Society” nor the phony far-leftist of the hippie movement. Freak Out! was the first double album released by a minor artist, following Bob Dylan’s folk rock centerpiece Blonde on Blonde by just one week. The double album format gave plenty of room for Zappa to show off his excellent instrumental skills, with ground-breaking guitar solos appearing everywhere, most notably in “Hungry Freaks Daddy” and “Motherly Love.”
#8. Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced? (1967)
Halfway through a Cream show in London in 1966, Jimi Hendrix asked Eric Clapton if he could join the stage and play a version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor.” Clapton thought it was a fun idea and agreed, and the rest is history. “He played just about every style you could think of, and not in a flashy way. He walked off, and my life was never the same again,” Clapton later recalled in an interview. The guitar genius from Seattle was paired with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell and the Jimi Hendrix Experience was formed. Catapulted by a literally fiery debut performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, their debut album went straight to number five on the Billboard chart. We all know the classics: “Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” and “Foxey Lady,” but Jimi’s physical and incredibly passionate guitar playing – often described as if his guitar would be an extended part of himself – made every song a wonderful journey through traditional electric blues, early heavy metal, and psychedelic rock.
#7. Queen – Queen (1973)
When Queen released their self-titled debut album in 1973, critics compared them to Led Zeppelin, believing them to be the future of British heavy metal. In retrospect, that statement sounds almost absurd, but listening to Queen will surely give you an idea of why anyone would think so. “Son and Daughter,” with its queer-themed lyrics, is the most obvious piece of heavy blues rock here, and “Doin’ Alright” leaps abruptly from ‘70s pop-rock to loud, dirty hard rock. Brian May’s guitar effects on “Great King Rat” made critics believe it was played on a keyboard, and drummer Roger Taylor’s “Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll” shows that Queen probably would have ended up sounding a little like Slade without Freddie Mercury’s influence. As it turned out, however, it was the tracks “My Fairy King” and “Liar” that would lead Queen’s way into the glam rock era, but their debut remains one of the most spectacular hard rock debuts of the 1970s.
#6. New York Dolls – New York Dolls (1973)
When famous music writer Robert Christgau declared New York Dolls the “best hard rock band in the country and maybe in the world right now,” he wasn’t kidding. With instant proto-punk classics like “Personality Crisis,” “Looking for a Kiss,” and “Trash,” the band would go on to inspire not only punk rock, but also groups like Kiss, Mötley Crue, and Guns ‘n Roses. Produced by pop craftsman Todd Rundgren – who wasn’t particularly fond of the group but knew how to capture their sound in a studio – the Dolls shocked the audience with vulgar lyrics about horny American soldiers in Vietnam as well as about having sex with Frankenstein, while dressing as transexuals on the album cover at a time where homosexuality was far from accepted in society. Perhaps not surprisingly, the album was a commercial disaster and in Creem Magazine’s reader’s poll, it earned the band awards in the categories of both “Best New Group of the Year” and “Worst Group of the Year.” It wouldn’t take long until the band disbanded, much to the increasing heroin addiction of the members, but their legacy lives on as one of the most important rock bands of the ‘70s.
#5. Blondie – Blondie (1976)
Somewhat of a commercial and critical failure when it was released on Private Stock back in 1976, Blondie’s eponymous debut is often shadowed by their big breakthrough, 1978’s Parallel Lines. That’s a shame, considering the honest, playfully rock & rolling’ CBGB energy that takes us through tracks such as the opening “X Offender” – originally called “Sex Offender” – and the updated girl group sound that recalls the Shangri-Las on tracks like “In the Flesh” and “In the Sun.” But – as they would soon prove – Debbie Harry and her band were so much more than just an electrified retro trip back to the girl groups of the ‘60s. Songs like “Rip Her to Shreds” showed that Blondie had a place within the new wave, and today Blondie ranks among the finest work the band would ever come up with.
#4. The Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (1977)
As you have probably guessed by now, I’m trying so hard to include not only the most obvious “best debut albums” that you would find on any other “best debut albums” list. But not including the Sex Pistols’ revolutionary, provocative punk masterpiece would simply be… provocative? “As soon as Johnny Rotten starts anti-singing, everything that has gone on before is now deemed f*cking irrelevant,” Noel Gallagher once said about the way it all starts, with the sound of marching military boots opening the first track, “Holidays in the Sun.” Never mind the bollocks – the members of Sex Pistols weren’t bad musicians at all. Paul Cook’s relentless drumming and Steve Jones’ simplistic but effective guitar playing were the perfect backings to Johnny Rotten’s frenzied singing and political lyrics. Songs like “Anarchy in the UK” and “God Save the Queen” weren’t only catchy, they were aimed as a direct assault on society and its leaders. As a result, they were immediately banned from radio stations all over the world. Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols was the band’s only album, but its influence was immediate and violent. If there was ever a “dangerous” album – this is the one.
#3. Oasis – Definitely Maybe (1994)
No other debut album has ever opened with a more self-confident song than “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.” Then again, the world would soon be introduced to the Gallagher brothers. The picture of the ridiculously disorderly and scandalous brothers often threatens to take away just how great their first two albums were – and especially Definitely Maybe. Paying tribute to the great British rock bands that came before them, – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Smiths, and many more – Oasis never bothered with those accusing them of lacking an identity on their own. “The Beatles play guitars, we play guitars. The Beatles got hair; we’ve got hair. The Beatles got arms, we’ve got arms,” Liam Gallagher once responded to the comparisons. Truth is, that Definitely Maybe introduced rock & roll to a generation lost in hair metal and polished soft rock from people like Bryan Adams. Oasis was so much more than just “Live Forever” as the greasy blues jams of “Shakermaker” and “Cigarettes & Alcohol” proves.
#2. The Strokes – Is This It (2001)
There is something slightly underwhelming with how the Strokes’ debut album starts. The title track is a lazy slow-burner, quite hard to digest. “Is this it?” Julian Casablanca asks himself as the sticky guitar riff seems as if it’s stuck on repeat. Then suddenly, something happens. “The Modern Age” turns up not only the volume but the entire mood of the record. From that point on, it feels like you’re in a car that just keeps accelerating. When the solo comes in, you’re back to Tom Verlaine, you’re back to the CGBG, you’re dressed in leather jackets, and you have switched your beer for cigarettes. There is not a single bad track on Is This It. In fact, there’s not even a weak one. Thanks to that, the album keeps acceleration – from one great guitar riff to the next, from one muted vocal line about everything that goes on in the mind of a rich kid in punk uniform to another – all the way to the end, where Julian brilliantly asks us to “Take It or Leave It.” We took it.
#1. Amyl & the Sniffers – Amyl & the Sniffers (2019)
Chances are that some of you readers felt that I unfairly left out X-Ray Spex’s genius 1978 debut Germfree Adolescents from this list. I hear you – it could have been here. But instead, the newest addition to this list comes from this forceful Australian punk band, led by the blistering Amyl Taylor. While their 2021 follow-up Comfort to Me is an improvement in every single aspect, it’s lovely to hear the raw, unfiltered anger of a young woman who doesn’t give a shit about what anyone thinks of her. Amyl & the Sniffers combines the best from ‘70s punk rock, Bon Scott-era AC/DC, and heavy metal to create what NME described as “ludicrously good fun.” The highlight comes at the very end, as the band cuts off their sweaty 29-minute set with the excellent “Some Mutts (Can’t Be Muzzled).” Whoever said rock & roll is dead must’ve never heard about Amyl Taylor.