The debut album, by it’s very definition is a crucial album for any act, as it’s success or failure will inevitably dictate their future success. Sure, the act may have scored a few hit singles, or maybe had a few well-received EPs, or even a mini-album, but it’s that crucial full length debut which counts.
Every now and again, a debut album arrives which makes a permanent change to the musical landscape, or is so good that no matter what the act does after, it will always dwell in the shadow of their debut.
Here then are fifteen debut albums which were so impressive, that the acts that produced them have spent the rest of their careers trying to better them.
The Band – Music From Big Pink
An obvious choice perhaps, but it’s impossible to overplay Music From Big Pink’s influence. It took rock back to basics and encouraged rock royalty to strip away the excess from their own work. It takes one thing to influence those that follow you, but it’s another thing entirely to influence established artists.
Steely Dan – Can’t Buy a Thrill
Of course, Steely Dan would later establish themselves as jazz rock behemoths, but that would be to massively undersell their astoundingly accessible debut. Where later they would try and distance themselves from pop music, on Can’t Buy a Thrill they would prove to be one of the great pop rock bands of all time.
Tom Waits – Closing Time
Tom Waits has released many brilliant albums down the decades, but his debut was by comparison a relatively straight forward singer songwriter affair. Some would assume that this would equate to a rather plain album, but it’s a wonderfully consistent collection of tunes and in “I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You” and “Martha”, two of the most heartbreaking tunes ever recorded.
Alan Hull – Pipe Dream
Having made his name with North East folk rockers, Lindisfarne, Alan Hull struck out on his own as a solo artist. Pipedream is a slow-burning album that lodges itself into your subconscious over a period of time and remains one of the hidden gems on the 70s singer songwriter movement.
The Ramones – The Ramones
Some would argue that The Stooges and New York Dolls got there before and that the Sex Pistols had the wider impact, but you can’t argue that The Ramones debut is Punk’s greatest set text. It comes in, does its stuff and then leaves before you have chance to realise that all it’s song are one idea repeated several times over. What an idea though!
Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes
No other band’s debut album has overshadowed their subsequent releases in quite the same way as Violent Femmes’ has. It’s a killer album that the band would spend their rest of their career struggling to match, indeed it could be argued that American alt-rock has still to escape it’s influence.
The Pixies – Surfer Rosa
Another pillar of alternative / indie rock whose influence is still being felt today. While The Pixies would continue to make impressive music throughout their career, their Steve Albini assisted debut has a raw energy to it that later producer Gil Norton would reign in on later albums.
The Wonder Stuff – The Eight Legged Groove Machine
While both The Smiths and Stone Roses are accepted as the foundations of what would later be known as Britpop, listening back to The Stuffies’ debut, it’s effectively a blueprint for a sound that countless lesser acts would borrow without giving due credit to its architects. Far superior than the music it influenced.
The Soundtrack of Our Lives – Welcome to the Infant Freebase
Although the Swedish rockers first three albums are all worthy of investigation, their debut is their most enduring work and is stuffed with the type of retro rocking tunes that UK guitar acts at the time were desperately trying to write. Worthy of investigation by anyone who likes their rock loud and proud.
Mansun – Attack of the Grey Lantern
The debut album by Chester’s finest is shockingly ambitious when you compare it to those of any other band that were classed as Britpop. Although the follow up would find the band increasing their ambition, they would never again write an album as accessible as Attack of the Grey Lantern.
Mull Historical Society – Loss
A heady blend of indie pop and power pop given a potent production polish, Loss is one of the great albums of the early 21st century. Colin Macintyre has continued to put out albums under his own name and his Mull Historical Society pseudonym which are worthy of investigation, but it’s Loss that remains the shining jewel in his output.
Fiery Furnaces – Gallowsbird’s Bark
Apparently Gallowsbird’s Bark was little more than a number of demos strung together and given a release. The fact that The Fiery Furnaces’ later work is so laden with ambition backs this up. Where Gallowsbird’s Bark scores above The Fiery Furnaces’ subsequent albums is its focus and more simple and direct material – “Tropical Ice-Land” remains their most enduring song.
Arcade Fire – Funeral
A game changer in terms of indie music, Funeral was a fully realised album that announced the arrival of a major new talent in the music industry. Arcade Fire have of course continued to release brilliant albums, but it was Funeral’s element of surprise that still marks it apart from the band’s other albums.
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
Of course, nu-folk had been around for years before Fleet Foxes debut, but arguably no one had updated Crosby, Stills and Nash for the 21st century as well as this. A fully rounded album, it appealed to not only indie kids, but also the more mature music fans that had been waiting for an album like this since the mid-70s.
John Grant – Queen of Denmark
A shockingly intimate and personal album that makes the listener feel more like a voyeur than anything else, The Queen of Denmark is an utterly unique listen. Much of the credit needs to go to Midlake, who convinced Grant to end his self-imposed exile away from the music business and acted as his backing band on his debut solo album. A deeply effecting listen, it’s effectively the measuring stick that all debut albums are now measured against.