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10 bands whose debut album was their best 

10 bands whose best album was their first
(Image credit: Future)

Some bands take time to grow into their talent. You’d be literally insane, for instance, to pitch up on the proverbial desert island clutching the debut albums by Queen, Radiohead or David Bowie. But other bands are as perfect as they’ll ever be, right out of the blocks. 

Here are the ten rock‘n’roll rookies who nailed it on their first run-out.   

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Ramones - Ramones (1976) (opens in new tab)

Hey ho, let’s go. From the last-gang sleeve to a tracklisting rammed with two-minute rabbit punches, Ramones had the attention span of a six-year-old hopped up on tartrazine, and belters like Judy Is A Punk and Blitzkrieg Bop (opens in new tab) can still make you feel like one.

Of course, it’s unforgivably lazy to write off the rest of a 14-album catalogue that continued until 1995. But by the end of Ramones, there’s an argument that Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy (opens in new tab) had given us everything we needed from them. 

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Oasis - Definitely Maybe (1994) (opens in new tab)

What’s The Story had the stadium anthems, but Oasis’s debut (opens in new tab) had the hair, teeth and songs that sounded like the voice of God when you heard them in a provincial rat-hole.

Rock ‘N’ Roll Star set out the album’s mission statement – music as an escape hatch from the dole lines and drizzle of the Gallaghers’ native North – while songs like Supersonic, Slide Away and Live Forever were up in your face, spraying you with hooks, defying you not to love them. Even the planet-egoed Noel Gallagher admits it’s the best thing he’s ever done. 

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Van Halen - Van Halen (1978) (opens in new tab) 

There’s gold to be panned across all twelve albums – and a case that 1984 is the pound-for-pound peak. But when it comes to sheer shock of the new, it has to be Van Halen (opens in new tab)’s self-titled opening salvo.

The charging chug of Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love, the assault-rifle riff of I’m The One and the Cali strut of Jamie’s Cryin’ were moments to thrill, while Eddie’s tapping showcase on Eruption left no doubt the electric guitar had been forever changed. As the great magician goes to his grave, play it loud. 

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Rage Against The Machine - Rage Against The Machine (1992) (opens in new tab) 

Angry but articulate, heavy but hooky, Rage Against The Machine’s debut (opens in new tab) burnt brighter than the sleeve’s self-immolating Buddhist monk. It’s a rare album where every song lands, whether that’s teeth-kicking opener Bombtrack, Bullet In The Head’s incandescent kiss-off or the spittle-flecked Know Your Enemy: all songs driven equally by Tom Morello (opens in new tab)’s revolutionary punk-with-a-pedalboard guitar work and Zach de la Rocha’s tear-it-down vocals.

Refreshingly, Rage never lost it – but they never had it quite so emphatically again.

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Pearl Jam - Ten (1991) (opens in new tab)

This year’s Gigaton (opens in new tab) was just another reminder of the Seattleites’ strength in depth, and a band that has stayed more or less vital for three decades. But how could they ever top Ten (opens in new tab): a debut album that plays like a greatest hits, so front-to-back fantastic that the teens of ’91 might as well have prised the ‘skip’ button off their Sony Discman.

Granted, Alive has almost died from overexposure, but otherwise, take your pick, from the juddering magnificence of Even Flow to the beautifully bereft Black.

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Television - Marquee Moon (1977) (opens in new tab) 

The wiry charge of See No Evil and Friction confirmed the New Yorkers could mix it up with their punk brethren at CBGBs (opens in new tab). But the sprawling vision of Tom Verlaine ensured Television would be far more than three-chord smashers.

The most interesting moments on their debut are when the lineup lose themselves, in the centrepiece title track, say, with its addictively Eastern-sounding dovetailed guitars, or the slow-unfolding sadness of Torn Curtain. They’d never top it – although The Strokes had a good stab, decades later. 

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Linkin Park - Hybrid Theory (2000) (opens in new tab)

The critical kicking meted out to the nu-metal scene was often justified, but there’s no denying the rush of Linkin Park’s game-changing opener (opens in new tab). Twenty years later, you still hear exactly why the Californians notched up 27 million sales – the best-selling debut since Appetite For Destruction (opens in new tab), no less – with their smart mix of rap, metal, electronica and pop hooks that sent key single In The End soaring.

Sadly, neither does it take a degree in literary criticism to spot the troubled headspace of Chester Bennington on moments like Points Of Authority: the singer died by suicide in 2017. 

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Boston - Boston (1976) (opens in new tab)

While holding down a day job as a Polaroid design engineer, Tom Scholz laboured for five long years in his basement studio to craft Boston (opens in new tab): an almost-solo project he described as “my escape from the world”.

Later, he’d be bogged down by those same perfectionist tendencies, but here, they pay off in a run of glorious tunes – More Than A Feeling, Smokin’, Peace Of Mind, Foreplay/Long Time – that pretty much minted the definition of Adult Oriented Rock.

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MC5 - Kick Out The Jams (1969) (opens in new tab)

Punk before the marketing department got ahold of the term, the MC5 tore their hometown a new orifice with these sets from Detroit’s Grande Ballroom. The only live album on this list, even now, Kick Out The Jams (opens in new tab) drops you right into the melee, to be hit by the spit during the opening sermon (“Brothers and sisters! I wanna see a sea of hands out there! I want everybody to kick up some noise! I wanna hear a bit of revolution!”) and pummelled by Wayne Kramer’s impossibly exciting guitars.

Plus, unlike most punk albums, Jams got better with age: even the unrepentant motormouth Lester Bangs doubled-back on his Rolling Stone review (“Ridiculous, overbearing, pretentious”) and admitted the record had been on his turntable for months.   

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Guns N’ Roses - Appetite For Destruction (1987) (opens in new tab)

Big respect to the Illusion twins – and a little less to Spaghetti and Democracy – but Guns N' Roses (opens in new tab) were never better than when LA first coughed them up. As perfect as rock‘n’roll gets, Appetite caught it all in the bottle: the booze, strippers, squalor, intravenous drugs, boundless ambition and tunes to back it up.

Yes, obviously: the Sweet Child O' Mine (opens in new tab) riff. But even now, there are endless moments that thrill. The climbdown outro riff to It’s So Easy. Slash’s screamer solo in Mr Brownstone. The glorious gearshift that announces Rocket Queen’s calm after the storm. Appetite isn’t just GN’R’s best album, it’s probably the best debut ever – and arguably the greatest record of all time.   

Henry Yates
Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.