Here is a list of ten debut albums that were instant classics. Possibly an albatross around the neck of some, for others a portent of a career of the highest standards. But in all cases, totally brilliant.
Formed in Aylesbury in 1979 Marillion had been honing their craft playing live, initially local to themselves in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire before releasing, in 1983 on EMI records, this debut. Critically acclaimed the album was praised for both it’s musical excellence and the lyrics of lead singer Fish that lived up to the expectations that the band had engineered. Add to that the fabulous art work of Mark Wilkinson for whom this was the start of career long association with Fish, Script is almost the perfect package and is both a perfect homage to the progressive music that so influenced it and as a trailblazer for the neo-progressive bands that followed in Marillion’s footsteps.
Every now and then comes along a debut album that not only introduces a new band to the world but also creates a whole new sound, a fresh new genre. On the 13th of February 1970 one such perfect storm was released as Black Sabbath released their eponymous debut that heralded in doom laden, deeply dark and satanic heavy metal. What makes this album all the more remarkable was that it was recorded in about 12 hours, featuring the band playing their live set, lead singer Ozzy Osbourne in a separated singing booth, with limited over dubs or re-recordings. This is an album that has had many imitators but very few that have reached this highwater mark.
Like Sabbath guitarist Toni Iommi, Seattle born blues maestro, Jimi Hendrix, was a left handed guitarist who blew the world of music apart with his unique abilities. Having worked as a session musician with the likes of Little Richard, Hendrix, after spending time in the US Army, was ‘found’ by Animals bassist Chas Chandler and brought over to London. Teaming up with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell the Experience teamed blues with the burgeoning psychedelic scene, typified by the likes of The Beatles and Pink Floyd to create a total mind mess of improvisation and acid fuelled flights of guitar driven fantasy.
There is a select group of British songwriters who have defined our popular music culture. Ray Davies, David Bowie, Paul McCartney and Richard Thompson all spring to mind. However, by the time of the turn of the century, despite some notable exceptions, there was a flaccidness in the music coming from the UK. That was until The Arctic Monkey’s exploded out of Sheffield with their song writing front man Alex Turner breathing new life into guitar based rock that found itself as equally at home in clubs, stadiums, festivals or on chart radio.
If the Arctic Monkeys and Alex Turner became the archetypal sound of 21st century northern guitar music then the 1980’s belonged to a band from the other side of the Pennines. Hailing from Manchester and pairing the jangling guitar playing of Johnny Marr, the rhythm section of Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce and the enigmatic and poetic front man Morrisey, The Smith’s created, in the post-punk landscape, songs of beautiful misery. Reminiscent of the depressed industrial world of Thatcher’s Britain The Smiths gave a voice to a depressed, disillusioned and disaffected youth with an influence that is still felt to this day.
After leaving the band The Czars John Grant has created a body of solo works of great quality. Full of self knowing black humour and heart wrenching electro-rock Grant’s albums are emotional tour de forces. Starting with the Queen of Denmark, with its evocative title track being an immense stand out Grant set the bar high. The fact he surpassed it with Pale Green Ghosts is even more remarkable.
Released when Kate Bush was only 19 years old many of the songs on this album had been written when she was much younger. ‘Found’ by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour Bush showed a maturity that marked this debut album as a highly impressive first showing. Coupling a theatritical desire with movement and dance Bush struck a charismatic and powerful figure, strengthened by the wonderous songs on this album.
Although a shy and retiring performer Nick Drake was a songwriter, guitarist and singer of rare talent crafting ethereal and beautiful songs that were complimented by both his playing and the orchestration and arrangements of his childhood Robert Kirby. Produced by Joe Boyd and featuring guest performances from the likes of Richard Thompson of Fairport Convention and the double bass of Pentangle’s Danny Thompson Five Leaves Left is a sumptuous album that deserved greater success than which it originally received. Drake only recorded three studio albums before his untimely death at the age of 26 only finding acclaim and success years later.
By the mid 1980’s country music had become somewhat of a parody of itself, all a bit too Las Vegas and middle of the road. However, revitalised by a burgeoning punk scene whose attitude seemingly resonated with bands such as REM and Jason and the Scorchers, a new band of country renegades began to take back Nashville typified by 1986’s Guitar Town released by Steve Earle. An album full of proper country songs but played with an attitude, Guitar Town kick started the country revival that we see to this day continued by Earle himself and the many great country acts that have followed in his wake.
Not so much a debut album as an entire studio output, Never Mind The Bollocks is probably not even the best punk album. But what it is, is the Punk album. Right from the opening jackboot marching of Holidays In The Sun, this is an album that snarls, threatens and frightens. This is an album that is violent, angry and nasty. This is an album that, in its gobbing nihilism, hit a zeitgeist of disaffected youth, that smashed through the greyness of growing up in 1970’s Britain and which stuck two fingers up and the generations that went before and told them an almighty fuck you.
Ten great debut albums. But what about you – any other first releases that should join the list?