After extensive “research” for this article, I’ve come to the conclusion that often a band’s first record is its best. It’s been said that rock bands take years to write their first album, but normally only months to create the second. That means these earlier songs have been tried and tested live and are just begging to be laid down on wax. Debut records capture the raw essence of young, hungry bands. You can almost visualize the recording session of
“Appetite For Destruction”: a young, debaucherous band camped out in the studio, drinking Jack Daniels, snorting blow and desperately laying down their tales of depravity with a perplexed producer.
Sometimes albums are largely ignored at the time of their release, then recognized for their influence much later on (see “The Stooges,” “Surfer Rosa” and “The Velvet Underground & Nico”). Sometimes the recordings are rough, created on limited budgets on indie labels (see “Slanted and Enchanted”). Sometimes new genres are invented (see “Ramones”).
1. The Velvet Underground — The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) Although widely ignored upon its initial release, the Velvets debut has gone on to be one of the most influential and critically acclaimed records in the history of rock. Musically, the Velvets didn’t stray much from the pop/rock sound of their time. It was the gritty lyrical content, depicting street life, hookers and hard drug use, that really set them apart. That and their unattainably cool/hip image aided by their association with Andy Warhol and downtown New York chic.
2. The Stooges — The Stooges (1969) Iggy and the Asheton brothers were so under-prepared for the recording of their debut album, several songs had to be whipped out the night before tracking. Along with the MC5, The Stooges were a dirty, rough, loud rock band out of Detroit. Their attitude, vicious live performance and simple, driving songs served as a blueprint for all punk rock that followed.
3. Ramones — Ramones (1976) Clocking in at less than 30 minutes, the boys from Queens invented a genre by blasting out short bursts about their boring lives in suburbia. “Ramones” stands as one of the simplest, honest, coolest, if not slightly ignorant, rock albums ever recorded.
4. The Clash — The Clash (1977) The Clash would go to achieve more success later in their career, but it was their 1977 debut that defined punk rock and a whole generation of restless British youth.
5. Television — Marquee Moon (1977) Another record that was sadly overlooked (except critically) at the time of its release. Television emerged from the CBGB’s scene, but differed slightly from the other acts based on their musical virtuosity. Because of this, “Marquee Moon” is considered one of the first “post-punk” records.
6. Metallica — Kill ‘Em All (1983) A frantic, desperate release from a band that came to define heavy metal in the ‘80s. “Kill ‘Em All” featured technical, driving guitar riffs mostly at breakneck speeds showcasing the band’s punk influence.
7. Guns N’ Roses — Appetite For Destruction (1987) Straight out of the late-’80s sleazy Sunset Strip scene, GNR unleashed this beast of a recording on an unsuspecting public. “Appetite” is a rough, raw motherfucker that rips your face clean off. From Axl recording the sounds of a groupie (drummer Steven Adler’s girlfriend Adriana Smith) getting screwed on “Rocket Queen” to lyrics about heroin (“Mr. Brownstone”) and cheap wine (“Nightrain”), “Appetite” stands as a document to the debauchery of the L.A. rock ‘n’ roll underground.
8. Pixies — Surfer Rosa (1988) Frank Black and company invent 1990s indie rock — in the late ‘80s. Recorded by the notoriously low-fi Steve Albini, “Surfer Rosa” displays an eclectic mix of musical styles, from the epic ballad of “Where is My Mind?” to the jangly guitar-pop of “Broken Face” and “Break My Body.” The album also features often bizarre lyrical content sung in both English and Spanish. “Where is My Mind?” and “Bone Machine” feature surrealistic content, while “Gigantic” appears to be an ode to a well hung man. Classic!
9. De La Soul — 3 Feet High and Rising (1989) Up until “3 Feet High and Rising”, rap music took itself much more seriously. Gone were the grim tales of street life, hustlin’ and drugs. Suddenly three suburban youths were busting rhymes about peace, love and their insecurities regarding their personal appearances.
10. Pavement — Slanted and Enchanted (1992) If there was ever a band that sounded like they didn’t care, it was Pavement — especially on “Slanted and Enchanted”. The music is loose, playful and fun. Even the production quality sounds like an afterthought. It’s as if S. Malkmus and the boys could barely be bothered with playing music, for that would go against their slacker/loser reputation.