I’m not saying these are the best debut albums ever, although I think a few of them certainly qualify. There are too many great debut albums to make such a claim, therefore, any list of “best” first albums would be subjective. The albums here are excellent albums, not only for their own merit, but for their place in music history. I could make a few more lists like this one and not have trouble coming up with albums to fill them.
Kiss (Kiss) – The first Kiss album is amazing. One look at the track list and you’ll see nothing but songs the band has played in concert from day one. Most of them are still played live today. The album is a virtual “best of,” and it’s only their first. Kiss isn’t happy with the production, but the songs stand the test of time. Cold Gin, Strutter, Nothin’ to Lose, Black Diamond, Firehouse, and Deuce are just some of the classics on this album.
Boston (Boston) – You’d be hard pressed to find a slicker, or more iconic, debut album than the self-titled first album by Boston. Eddie Kramer, the legendary producer, was faced with the decision of producing Kiss Alive or the first Boston album. He struggled with the decision, but after listening to the demo for the first Boston album, he basically said it was great as is and there was nothing he could add to it. Tom Scholz, Boston’s leader, is known for his pristine production, and it shows here. Almost the entire album has been in classic rock radio heavy rotation since it came out. Long Time, Peace of Mind, More than a Feeling, Rock & Roll Band, Let Me Take You Home Tonight, and Smokin’ set the bar.
Van Halen (Van Halen) – Any guitarist understands this album. Eddie Van Halen came on the scene and lit a fire. Gene Simmons (Kiss) heard the songs and produced a demo. Songs from the album are still staples of classic rock radio. Runnin with the Devil, Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love, Jamie’s Cryin’, a cover of the Kinks’ You Really Got Me, and the groundbreaking guitar solo Eruption are all on this first album. Solid an still kick ass.
Appetite for Destruction (Guns N’ Roses) – I bought this album because I was going to see Ace Frehley and Y&T in concert. Guns N’ Roses was supposed to be the opener for them. I wanted to hear the record before I went. I was blown away by the album, but the Guns N’ Roses never showed. Faster Pussycat did instead, and I loved them too (another great debut album). Appetite for Destruction, however, stuck. Great album. Listening to it, I thought they were the next classic rock band that would last forever, and they could have been, but you all know the story. Still, songs like Welcome to the Jungle, Sweet Child o’ Mine, Paradise City, Mr, Brownstone, Nightrain, and It’s So Easy make a lasting impression.
Night Songs (Cinderella) – Something about the mix of this album didn’t sit right when I first heard it (I think it’s been fixed since), but the songs knocked me out. Tom Keifer, Cinderella’s songwriter and front man, has since become one of my favorite songwriters. He’s brilliant. Shake Me, Night Songs, Somebody Save Me, Nobody’s Fool, Nothin’ for Nothin’, Push, Push, and Back Home Again are just some of the great tracks here. Jon Bon Jovi recognized the talent of Cinderella right away and pushed for them to get a deal. Cinderella have only recorded four studio albums and two live albums (as well as some compilations), but those few albums are gems.
Mechanical Resonance (Tesla) – This album, in my opinion, tends to get overlooked as a fantastic debut album. It’s a bombastic production with ear-splitting sound. Seriously, I feel like my ears smoke when I listen to it. Modern Day Cowboy and Little Suzi were the huge hits, but lots of the songs got massive airplay and are well known. Tracks like Gettin’ Better, We’re No Good Together, Cover Queen, Love Me, and EZ Come EZ Go make Tesla’s first album one of the best first albums I’ve ever heard. Listen to it and you’ll hear what I mean.
Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd (Lynyrd Skynyrd) – It’s amazing when you realize the hits this band had were all recorded on their first five albums, one of which was released after the plane crash that killed most of the band members, including singer Ronnie Van Zant. This first record reads like a greatest hits package. I Ain’t the One, Tuesday’s Gone, Gimme Three Steps, and Simple Man open up the album, and if that isn’t enough, the closing number is Freebird, with a couple cool tracks rounding it out in between. One of the undisputed classics rock, both the band and the album.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers) – I’ve always loved this album. It’s a kick ass platter full of the types of iconic songs Tom Petty would produce throughout his career. Not only are Breakdown, American Girl, and Strangered in the Night from this album, there’s the UK hit Anything That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll and the uptempo Rockin’ Around (With You). Initially the album was only successful in the UK, but the American record-buying public eventually figured out this was a fine first effort indeed.
Blizzard of Ozz (Ozzy Osbourne) – While I prefer the follow-up album Diary of a Madman, there’s no denying the importance of Blizzard of Oz, not only to Ozzy’s career, but as a standard for all metal albums that followed in the 80s. Featuring a young guitarist (Randy Rhoads) who set new standards for metal guitarists before he was killed in a freak plane accident, and songs like I don’t Know, Crazy Train, Goodbye to Romance, Suicide Solution, and Mr. Crowley, Ozzy’s debut solo effort made a mark. After years singing in Black Sabbath and the release of a powerful first solo album, it can be reasonably argued that Ozzy is the father of modern metal. Blizzard of Oz is a point in his favor.
Yourself or Someone Like You (Matchbox Twenty) – Yeah, I know this album sort of stands out from the others in the list. It’s a much later album, and more of an indie/alternative rock thing than a classic rock or metal thing. It doesn’t matter. Rob Thomas is one of the finest songwriters around, and this debut Matchbox Twenty album proves it. The songs on this record have great hooks and melodies, and the lyrics and stories are filled with love, anger, laughter, and tears. Genuine, heartfelt, human stuff. Real World, Long Day, 3 A.M., Push, Back 2 Good, Girl Like That, and the haunting ballad Hang are just some of the masterpieces on Yourself or Someone Like You. This is truly one of the best albums ever.
Check out my follow up post to this one that looks at the follow up albums to these debut albums. It’s called Ten Dynamite Debut Album Follow Ups. Confused yet?