Instant Classics: Great Debut Albums

06/25/2016

Instant Classics: Great Debut Albums

–Joe Lund

In most instances a band reaches its full potential only after recording at least an album or two. Occasionally, however, a group unleashes a masterpiece right out of the chute. Below are ten instances where a band’s debut album became a classic.

Are You Experienced? (1967)  – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

This landmark album, more than any other, expanded the possibilities for the electric guitar’s place in rock and roll. In a 1987 interview, engineer Eddie Kramer said Hendrix’s talents as an orchestrator were fundamental to the album’s sonic richness. “Before his death,” Kramer said, “he was interested in experimenting, incorporating horns and other instruments in his sound. The ideas expressed on the first two albums were testing the waters, seeing how far he could take this idea of orchestration.”

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Black Sabbath (1970) – Black Sabbath

Novelist William Burroughs may have coined the phrase “heavy metal,” but it was Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut that gave the term its signature sound. Filled with thunderous bass lines, sledgehammer percussion and menacing guitar riffs, the album forged a template for Sabbath’s exploration of the darker side of riff-driven hard rock. “It’s just pure power, really,” guitarist Tony Iommi observed, in 2000. “It’s hard to come across on record with a real power, you know? Not so much these days, but it was years ago.”

 

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The Doors (1967) – The Doors

Recorded in just two weeks, The Doors’ eponymous debut constituted one of those rare instances in which a new band emerged with a distinct sound, a clear aesthetic, and phenomenal band chemistry. Stylistically, the album ranged from primal blues to beer-hall cabaret to carnival-esque pop. In 2011, guitarist Robby Krieger talked about the band’s legacy. “Each album has a lot of good stuff on it and that’s why I think The Doors are still happening today,” he said. “A lot of groups have maybe one or two good songs on a record, but we just wouldn’t give up until every song was how we wanted it.”

 

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Never Mind The Bollocks (1977) — The Sex Pistols

Rebellious, aggressive, and anarchic, The Sex Pistols’ first album kicked rock and roll out of the doldrums it had fallen into during the mid ‘70s. Guitarist Steve Jones, in particular, gave new meaning to punk guitar ferociousness. “It’s a pure record,” he later said, addressing the record’s longstanding impact. “It was done without any agenda. We were just young guys who had these songs, and it comes across that it was a real piece of art, instead of doing an album just to sell records.”

 

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The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) – The Velvet Underground

Artists as diverse as Sonic Youth, David Bowie, and R.E.M. might never have existed were it not for the pioneering influence of The Velvet Underground. The band’s brilliant debut was extraordinarily diverse, ranging from discordant sonic maelstroms (“European Son”) to breathtakingly balladry (“I’ll Be Your Mirror”). Twenty years after the album was made, founding member John Cale reflected on its merits. “We had this opportunity to do something revolutionary,” he said, “to combine avant-garde and rock and roll, to do something symphonic.”

 

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The Clash (1977) — The Clash

Although it landed in British record stores six months prior to the release of The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, The Clash’s debut album became available in the U.S. only after import copies started flying off the shelves. Besides the obvious influence of the Ramones, the album drew from vintage reggae artists like Desmond Dekker and Junior Murvin, presaging stylistic directions that would later become more evident. “I like the first Clash album the best,” guitarist Mick Jones said, in 2006. “It’s kind of pure … raw. We were struggling with our instruments, and it made it more alive.”

 

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The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) – Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd’s landmark debut captured the essence of rock’s psychedelic era in ways that even the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s couldn’t match. “Astronomy Domine,” the opening song, framed technicolor imagery in a cacophonous, beautifully structured sonic swirl. Similarly, the instrumental opus, “Interstellar Overdrive,” weaved seemingly random guitar, organ, and bass noodlings into a musical fabric that took on the flavor of a cosmic jam. For the less lengthy songs, the-leader Syd Barrett wrote melodies that sounded as if they were channeled through a character out of “Alice In Wonderland.”

 

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Led Zeppelin (1969) – Led Zeppelin

No one could have predicted the extent to which Led Zeppelin’s debut would impact rock and roll for decades to come. Working from a template first put forth by vintage blues artists, Jimmy Page combined sophisticated production talents with an extraordinary gift for riff-making. “I think most great riffs have already been written, and Jimmy Page probably wrote most of them,” KISS’s Paul Stanley said, in 2012. “Granted, much of what Led Zeppelin did was based on Blind Boy Fuller, Robert Johnson, Hubert Sumlin, you name it–but they took those things and skewed them in a way that created a signature.

 

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