Debut albums. Get them right, and their impact can change the world. Some mark the starting point for even greater things to come, others make such a lasting impression their legacy becomes an almost unbearable burden on the shoulders of its creators.
Many bands have got it very right on their first attempt; defining eras, inspiring generations, or simply becoming cult classics for an instantly dedicated fanbase. Here, we’ve sorted through the long-list of enduringly classic debuts to present 25 of our own essentials, all of which have left an indelible mark on the musical landscape.
When you’ve been through our rundown, leave a comment below letting us know which debuts you keep going back to time after time, and which records not included on our list you feel deserve a mention.
In equal parts quirky, melodic and bonkers, The Coral’s debut album is a study in a group of musicians seriously enjoying themselves; as a result, there wasn’t a band in 2002 you wanted to be in more.
24: Beastie Boys – ‘Licensed To Ill’
Its hook heavy blend of embryonic New York rap and crunchy 80s rock helped to introduce an underground world to the mainstream, and set the Beastie Boys on the long road from archetypal outsiders to Hall Of Fame luminaries.
23: Talking Heads – ‘Talking Heads: 77’
Post-punk straight lines, married with some equally elusive, bookishly bright lyrics, hints at the world Talking Heads would go on to explore, while remaining one of their most accessible records.
22: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – ‘B.R.M.C.’
An absolute stomper of a garage rock debut, bursting at the seams with huge, fuzzy bass, ground shattering riffage and era-defining anthems. Tracks such as ‘Love Burns’ and ‘Spread Your Love’ remain some of this century’s best rock singles.
The blend of genre and influence makes for a loopy, hypnotic experience, lulling the listener into a trance which you awake from days later, finding the repeat button in a far worse state than it was before.
20: Kings Of Leon – ‘Youth & Young Manhood’
Ah it used to be so promising. Before becoming engulfed in a bubble of clichés, Caleb Followill’s gritty Southern tongue told us with wit and affection of his people, and in doing so opened a window onto his world.
19: The Pogues – ‘Red Roses For Me’
A traditionally Irish inspired punk riot, the salt of the earth storytelling Shane MacGowan applies to tracks such as ‘Streams Of Whiskey’ are early examples of why he is one of his generation’s best (and most underrated) songwriters.
18: The Streets – ‘Original Pirate Material’
Forget what came after, ‘Original Pirate Material’ is a witty, inspired journey through working class life which perhaps more than any other will come to define what is was to be young in the early part of the 21st century.
17: Leonard Cohen – ‘Songs Of Leonard Cohen’
There’s room to drive a bus through it. Understated folk and stunning melody give space for emotion to breathe, complementing a lonely, troubadour spirit at the heart of the album and which has come to define Cohen’s long career.
16: Arctic Monkeys – ‘Whatever People Say I Am…’
The razor-sharp tongue of Alex Turner, coupled with an ear for short, sharp mass-friendly tunes which permeate the record, gave British music a much needed size-12 kick up the arse back in 2006.
15: Elvis Presley – ‘Elvis Presley’
In bringing the music of black America to the masses, Elvis introduced rock n roll to the world – and changed it forever. Anyone wandering a stage today with a guitar strapped around a shoulder can trace their origins back to this record.
In putting their own mark on 60s Jamaican ska, Jerry Dammers’ 2 Tone label became the most important of the era, while the album was both a reflection on, and antidote to, an often troubled period of Britain history.
13: Television – ‘Marquee Moon’
Despite being released at the height of New York punk, ‘Marquee Moon’s classy musicianship sets it apart from those contemporaries, while the scope and imagination of the title track is stunning, reigned in prog.
12: The Band – ‘Music From Big Pink’
A beautifully textured exponent of Americana, The Band emerged from the shadow of Bob Dylan in 1968 with an album which comfortably rivals anything from Dylan’s own canon, and which is one of the seminal Sixties records.
11: Led Zeppelin – ‘Led Zeppelin’
Led Zeppelin would tread many musical paths during their career, but the stretched-out blues which defines their first record displays one of the greatest rock bands jamming with delight through their first love.
10: The Libertines – ‘Up The Bracket’
Before everything else, this is why people cared – and still do. The impact was almost immediate, the burn out just as quick. In the smouldering ashes of their demise, a debut fit to stand along side the very best was left behind.
9: Joy Division – ‘Unknown Pleasures’
A labour of love for both the band and their Factory boss Tony Wilson, producer Martin Hannett skillfully captures the brooding atmosphere of one of the UK’s most emotionally charged bands, while the sleeve is a prime example of Factory’s iconic eye for art.
8: The Strokes – ‘Is This It?’
Following on from the brilliant ‘Modern Age’ EP, virtually overnight ‘Is This It?’ saved us from the tyranny of nu-metal, taking everything back to its barest form and reminding everyone just how urgent and exciting rock really can be.
7: Velvet Underground – ‘Velvet Underground & Nico’
So far ahead of its time we’re still catching up, the experimental tendencies, controversial subject matter and haunting sound alienated many at the time, but now see it rightfully revered as one of the most boundary-pushing records ever.
Somehow gloriously uplifting in the face of what is often dark territory, ‘Funeral’ brims with the sound of a band finding joy in the dankest corners of existence as a shared musicianship brings an orchestral touch to melancholic rock.
In dark, downtown Manhattan clubs, on a budget that would now barely afford a burger and chips in a studio canteen, the Ramones honed an album that in less than half an hour rewrote an entire future.
Frontman Lee Mavers might have hated it, but after producer Steve Lillywhite made sense of the many hours of tapes, he’d pulled together one of the greatest collections of subtle British songwriting ever amassed.
3: Sex Pistols – ‘Never Mind The Bollocks…’
Less a debut album, more a single statement and a belated bookend to the story of a band who in a lifespan of just 26 months had shocked, amazed and inspired in equal measure, changing the face of British music forever.
2: The Stone Roses – ‘The Stone Roses’
In bringing together the worlds of rock and house on the most consistent display of songwriting ever, The Stone Roses proved themselves to be the brightest lights of a Madchester scene they’d purposefully stayed on the periphery of.
Right from the opening lick and trademark Liam Gallagher snarl which begins ‘Rock n Roll Star’, Oasis’ debut album exudes power, intensity and youthful arrogance to a degree not matched before or since.