Rolling Stone Magazine - The 100 Best Debut Albums Of All Time

By puck-san puck-san
updated over 3 years ago

  1. Beastie Boys - Licensed To Ill

    Beastie Boys
    Def Jam 1986

    A statement so powerful, so fully-realized, that the Beastie Boys spent the rest of their careers living it down. Licensed to Ill created a new way for middle America to rock – with thundering combination of hip-hop beats, metal riffs and exuberant smart-aleck rhymes – even as it picked up the flag from Run-DMC and delivered rap music irrevocably into the Heartland. It would become hip-hop's first Number One album, and one of the best-selling rap album of all time. Mike D, Ad-Rock, and MCA grew out of the record's frat boy sexual politics and party hearty world view, but head-smacking hits like "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)" and "Rhymin' & Stealin'", like the AC/DC and Led Zeppelin songs that were the Beasties' early touchstones, keep getting discovered by new generations of hell-raisers. It's the definition of the debut album that takes over the world: the shock of the new, with an impact that extends for decades.

  2. Ramones - Ramones

    The Ramones
    Sire 1976

    "Our early songs came out of our real feelings of alienation, isolation, frustration – the feelings everybody feels between seventeen and seventy-five," said singer Joey Ramone. Clocking in at just under twenty-nine minutes, Ramones is a complete rejection of the spangled artifice of 1970s rock and ground zero for the punk-rock revolution. The songs were fast and anti-social, just like the band: "Beat on the Brat," "Blitzkrieg Bop," "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue." Guitarist Johnny Ramone refused to play solos – his jackhammer chords became the lingua franca of punk – and the whole record cost just over $6000 to make. But Joey's leather-tender plea "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" showed that even punks need love.

  3. The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced

    Jimi Hendrix Experience
    Reprise 1967

    Every idea we have of the guitarist as groundbreaking individual artist comes from this record. It's what Britain sounded like in late 1966 and early 1967: ablaze with rainbow blues, orchestral guitar feedback and the personal cosmic vision of black American émigré Jimi Hendrix. Hendrixs incendiary guitar was historic in itself, the luminescent sum of his chitlin-circuit labors with Little Richard and the Isley Brothers and his melodic exploitation of amp howl. But it was the pictorial heat of songs like "Manic Depression" and "The Wind Cries Mary" that established the transcendent promise of psychedelia. Hendrix made soul music for inner space. "It's a collection of free feeling and imagination," he said of the album. "Imagination is very important."

  4. Guns N' Roses - Appetite For Destruction

    Guns N' Roses
    Geffen 1987

    The biggest-selling debut album of the Eighties and the biggest hard-rock game-changer since Led Zeppelin IV, Appetite features a lot more than the yowl of Indiana-bred W. Axl Rose. Guitarist Slash gave the band blues emotion and punk energy, while the rhythm section brought the funk on hits such as "Welcome to the Jungle." When all the elements came together, as in the final two minutes of "Paradise City," G N' R left all other Eighties metal bands in the dust, and they knew it too. "A lot of rock bands are too fucking wimpy to have any sentiment or any emotion," Rose said. "Unless they're in pain."

  5. The Velvet Underground & Nico (3) - The Velvet Underground & Nico

    The Velvet Underground
    MGM/Verve 1967

    Much of what we take for granted in rock would not exist without this New York band or its debut, The Velvet Underground and Nico: the androgynous sexuality of glam; punk's raw noir; the blackened-riff howl of grunge and noise rock. It is a record of fearless breadth and lyric depth. Singer-songwriter Lou Reed documented carnal desire and drug addiction with a pop wisdom he learned as a song-factory composer for Pickwick Records. Multi-instrumentalist John Cale introduced the power of pulse and drone (from his work in early minimalism); guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker played with tribal force; Nico, a German vocalist briefly added to the band by manager Andy Warhol, brought an icy femininity to the heated ennui in Reed's songs. Rejected as nihilistic by the love crowd in '67, the Banana Album (so named for its Warhol-designed cover), is the most prophetic rock album ever made.

  6. N.W.A* - Straight Outta Compton

    Priority 1988

    This was the start of gangsta rap as well as the launching pad for the careers of Ice Cube, Eazy-E and Dr. Dre. While Public Enemy were hip-hop's political revolutionaries, N.W.A. celebrated the thug life. (A collection of Dre-produced tracks for N.W.A. and other artists had been released in 1987 under the name N.W.A. and the Posse, but this was their first real album.) "Do I look like a motherfucking role model?" Ice Cube asks on "Gangsta Gangsta": "To a kid looking up to me, life ain't nothing but bitches and money." Ice Cube's rage, combined with Dr. Dre's police-siren street beats, combined for a truly fearsome sound on "Express Yourself," "A Bitch Iz a Bitch" and "Straight Outta Compton." But it was the protest "Fuck Tha Police" that earned the crew its biggest honor: a threatening letter from the FBI.

  7. Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols

    The Sex Pistols
    Warner Bros. 1977

    "If the sessions had gone the way I wanted, it would have been unlistenable for most people," Johnny Rotten said. "I guess it's the very nature of music: If you want people to listen, you're going to have to compromise." But few heard it that way at the time; The Pistols' only studio album terrified a whole nation into scared submission. It sounds like a rejection of everything rock & roll – and the world itself – had to offer. True, the music was less shocking than Rotten himself, who sang about abortions, anarchy and hatred on "Bodies" and "Anarchy in the U.K." But Never Mind . . . is the Sermon on the Mount of U.K. punk – and its echoes are everywhere.

  8. The Strokes - Is This It

    The Strokes
    RCA 2001

    Few bands have packaged themselves as brilliantly as the Strokes on their debut. Before Is This It even came out, New York's mod ragamuffins were overnight sensations, jumping from Avenue A to press hysteria and the inevitable backlash, all inside a year. Julian Casablancas, guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr., bassist Nikolai Fraiture and drummer Fabrizio Moretti were primed for star time, updating the propulsion of the Velvet Underground and the jangle of Seventies punk with Casablancas' acidic dispatches from last night's wreckage. They inspired a ragged revolt in Britain, led by the Libertines and Arctic Monkeys, and reverberated back home with the Kings of Leon. And for the bristling half-hour of Is This It, New York's shadows sounded vicious and exciting again.

  9. The Band - Music From Big Pink

    The Band
    Capitol, 1968

    Every rootsy rock guy ever owes something to this record, a bold embrace of American tradition and down-to-earth simplicity released into an era of protest and psychedelia. "Big Pink" was a pink house in Woodstock, New York, where the Band – Dylan's '65-66 backup band on tour – moved to be near Dylan after his motorcycle accident. While he recuperated, the Band backed him on the demos later known as The Basement Tapes and made its own debut. Dylan offered to play on the album; the Band said no thanks. "We didn't want to just ride his shirttail," drummer Levon Helm said. Dylan contributed "I Shall Be Released" and co-wrote two other tunes. But it was the rustic beauty of the Band's music and the incisive drama of its own reflections on family and obligations, such as "The Weight," that made Big Pink an instant homespun classic.

  10. Patti Smith - Horses

    Patti Smith
    Arista 1975

    From its first defiant line, "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine," the opening shot in a bold reinvention of Van Morrison's garage-rock classic "Gloria," Smith's debut album was a declaration of committed mutiny, a statement of faith in the transfigurative powers of rock & roll. Horses made her the queen of punk, but Smith cared more for the poetry in rock. She sought the visions and passions that connected Keith Richards and Rimbaud – and found them, with the intuitive assistance of a killing band (pianist Richard Sohl, guitarist Lenny Kaye, bassist Ivan Kral and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty) and her friend Robert Mapplethorpe, who shot the cover portrait.

  11. Nas - Illmatic

    Columbia, 1994

    Nas was only 20 when he released his debut but he was already a master in the art of storytelling. Nobody captured the creeping menace of life on the streets like this lyrical prodigy from New York's Queensbridge projects. With spotless beats from Large Professor, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and lyrical assists from Q-Tip, the album has a no-bullshit concision that fits its stark subject matter, and quotable lines like "I never sleep, 'cause sleep is the cousin of death," got Nas tagged as the next Rakim. Everyone was on point. Even guest rapper AZ, who never had much of a career, delivered like Domino's on "Life's a Bitch": "We were beginners in the hood as Five Percenters/But something musta got in us, cuz all of us turned to sinners." It was the dawn of a hard new era.

  12. The Clash - The Clash

    The Clash
    Epic 1979

    "I haven't got any illusions about anything," Joe Strummer said. "Having said that, I still want to try to change things." That youthful ambition bursts through The Clash, a machine-gun blast of shockingly great songs about unemployment ("Career Opportunities"), race ("White Riot") and the Clash themselves ("Clash City Rockers"). Most of the guitar was played by Mick Jones, because Strummer considered studio technique insufficiently punk. The American release was delayed two years and replaced some of the U.K. tracks with recent singles, including "Complete Control" – a complaint about exactly that sort of record-company shenanigans. Still, both UK and US versions distill their radical vision with a crystal clarity.

  13. Pretenders* - Pretenders

    The Pretenders
    Sire 1980

    After years of knocking around Ohio and England, writing record reviews and hanging with the Sex Pistols, Chrissie Hynde put together a band as tough as her attitude. The Pretenders' perfect debut is filled with no-nonsense New Wave rock like "Mystery Achievement" – plus a cover of "Stop Your Sobbing," by the Kinks' Ray Davies (three years later, the father of Hynde's child). The biggest hit was "Brass in Pocket," a song of ambition and seduction. Hynde, however, wasn't so sure about the song's success. "I was embarrassed by it," she said. "I hated it so much that if I was in Woolworth's and they started playing it, I'd have to run out of the store."

  14. Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt

    Roc-A-Fella 1996

    "The studio was like a psychiatrist's couch for me," Jay-Z told Rolling Stone, and his debut is full of a hustler's dreams and laments. It established Jay as one of his generation's premier rappers and includes the lyrically brilliant "22 Twos" and a filthy guest appearance from a sixteen-year-old Foxy Brown on "Ain't No Nigga." But the centerpiece might be the still-amazing "Brooklyn's Finest," a duet between Jay and the Notorious B.I.G., two titans on their way to redefining their artform. Not yet the bubbly-poppin' party man, the Jay-Z of Reasonable Doubt is a corner-boy inventing new levels of lyrical dexterity. Once it dropped, hip-hop's center of gravity had fully shifted from the West Coast back to the East.

  15. Arcade Fire - Funeral

    Arcade Fire
    Merge 2004

    Loss, love, forced coming-of-age and fragile generational hope: Arcade Fire's debut touched on all these themes as it defined the independent rock of the '00s. The Montreal band made symphonic rock that truly rocked, using accordions and strings as central elements rather than merely as accessories, with a rhythm section that never let up. Songs like "Wake Up," "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" and "Rebellion (Lies)" were simultaneously outsize and deeply personal, like the best pop. But for all its sad realism – "I like the peace in the backseat," sings Régine Chassagne at the album's end, knowing the sense of security is utterly false – this was music that still found solace, and purpose, in communal celebration.

  16. The Cars - The Cars

    The Cars
    Elektra 1978

    No band has ever knocked out a debut so packed with straight-to-car-radio classics. "We used to joke that the first album should be called TheCars' Greatest Hits," said guitarist Elliot Easton. The Cars was arty and punchy enough to be part of Boston's New Wave scene and yet so catchy that nearly every track ("My Best Friend's Girl," "Just What I Needed") was like a brilliant single. The very idea that cool refinement and feathered-hair heartland appeal could exist together was minted here. Bands from Weezer to the Strokes to Fountains of Wayne are unthinkable without this album's example.

  17. The Beatles - Please Please Me

    The Beatles
    Parlophone, 1963

    The Beatles recorded ten of the fourteen songs on their British debut album at EMI's Abbey Road studio in just over twelve hours on February 11th, 1963. For productivity alone, it's one of the greatest first albums in rock. The Beatles had already invented a bracing new sound for a rock band – an assault of thrumming energy and impeccable vocal harmonies – and they nailed it using the covers and originals in their live repertoire: the Shirelles' "Boys" and Arthur Alexander's "Anna"; the Lennon-McCartney burners "There's a Place" and "I Saw Her Standing There." John Lennon finished up by shredding what was left of his vocal cords on two takes of "Twist and Shout."

  18. R.E.M. - Murmur

    I.R.S. 1983

    "We wanted to have this kind of timeless record," guitarist Peter Buck said of R.E.M.'s debut, and this "technically limited" band (according to producer Don Dixon) did just that. Buck was a rock scholar who had worked in a record store; singer Michael Stipe unspooled his lyrics as if they constituted some new secret language. Murmur is full of ringing guitar and mystery. The lyrics and the melodies seem buried, almost subliminal, and even the songs with something approximating hooks, such as "Radio Free Europe" and "Sitting Still," resist clarity. Murmur was a founding document of alternative rock, released just as Gen X was heading off to college.

  19. Kanye West - The College Dropout

    Kanye West
    Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam 2004

    He was already a Hall of Fame-worthy beatmaker—the inventor of "Chipmunk Soul"—but Kanye West wanted to rap, and in 2004 Jay-Z, West's mentor and Roc-A-Fella Records major domo, let the guy record his debut. The result was hip-hop like no one had heard it before: riotous gospel ("Jesus Walks"), wild boudoir music ("Slow Jamz"), tear-jerking family drama ("Family Business"). It was a sound that combined, as Kanye put it, "a Benz and a backpack," fretting over materialism even as it reveled in it. All this, plus "Through the Wire," the greatest song ever rapped through a jaw that was wired shut.

  20. Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures

    Joy Division
    Factory, 1979

    This breathtaking 1979 set was to punk what The Velvet Underground & Nico was to psychedelia – a reveal of the seething dark underbelly of a cultural movement. Produced by Martin Hannett, who makes the band sound like they're performing in a meat cooler, it introduces Ian Curtis, who wails the Manchester existential blues with a despair so powerful, it somehow transcends hopelessness (when he sings "I've got the spirit," on the amazing Arctic-chunnel of an album-opener "Disorder," it's as thrilling as it is blood-chilling). A model for countless brooding rock bands to come.

  21. Elvis Costello - My Aim Is True

    Elvis Costello
    Columbia 1977

    Costello on the fuel for his debut: "I spent a lot of time with just a big jar of instant coffee and the first Clash album, listening to it over and over." The music doesn't have the savage attack of the Clash – it's more pub rock than punk rock – but the songs are full of punk's verbal bite, particularly "Waiting for the End of the World" ("Dear Lord, I sincerely hope you're coming/'Cause you really started something"). The album's opening lines – "Now that your picture's in the paper being rhythmically admired" – and the poisoned-valentine ballad "Alison" established Costello as one of the sharpest, and nastiest, lyricists of his generation. He pretty much reinvented the Dylan-esque singer-songwriter in his own nerd-avenger image.

  22. Violent Femmes - Violent Femmes

    Violent Femmes
    Slash, 1983

    Is there a more brilliantly icky – let alone unlikely hit-making – leadoff track in history than "Blister In The Sun"? A trio of Milwaukee nerds using little more than guitar, standup bass, and a snare drum, the Femmes did big-box string-band busker-pop years before Marcus Mumford was a rumble in his parents' pants. And they did it with a wickedly tragic sense of humor. When Gordon Gano whines "Why can't I get just one fuck?!" on "Add It Up," you hear the voice of every pimply, frustrated teenage dude since time began. Unsurprisingly, it (eventually) went platinum.

  23. The Notorious B.I.G.* - Ready To Die

    The Notorious B.I.G.
    Bad Boy 1994

    "At the time I was making the album," B.I.G. told Rolling Stone in 1995, "I was just waking up every morning, hustling, cutting school, looking out for my moms, the police, stickup kids; just risking my life every day on the street selling drugs, you know what I'm saying?" B.I.G. (a.k.a. Biggie Smalls) took all that gritty life experience and crammed it into Ready to Die, the best record by the greatest rapper who ever lived and hip-hop's finest debut by a stretch. "Big Poppa" is the hit sex jam; on "Things Done Changed" and "Everyday Struggle," he relates gangsta tales in a voice as thick as his waistline. "I'm definitely a writer," Biggie said. "I don't even know how to freestyle."

  24. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

    Vampire Weekend
    XL, 2008

    Vampire Weekend came out of Columbia University in the late 2000s, showing a pronounced affinity for boat shoes and button-downs as well as an intimate knowledge of African guitar music. Their debut backed up massive press buzz with suavely seductive pop-rock songs about college campuses and trysts with Benetton-wearing ladies. Ezra Koenig's Paul Simon-esque melodies were as refined as his education, floating over bright keyboards and Afropop-tinged grooves. Koenig had a term for VW's music: Upper West Side Soweto. However you label the sound, it was manna for Brooklyn-y boys and Molly Ringwald girls all over the world and helped fuel a discovery of global sounds in indie-pop.

  25. Pavement - Slanted And Enchanted

    Matador 1992

    Pavement were the quintessential American independent rock band, and this is the quintessential indie-rock album. The playing is loose-limbed, the production laid-back and primitive, the lyrics quirky and playful, the melodies sweet and seductive. But the sound is as intense as the white noise of the Velvet Underground. Recorded on the super-cheap in Brooklyn and in their thirtysomething drummer's Stockton, California studio, Slanted and Enchanted is one of the most influential rock albums of the 1990s; its fuzzy recording style can be heard in the music of Nirvana, Liz Phair, Beck, the Strokes and the White Stripes.