Everybody's got to start somewhere, and some start faster than others.
Rock's best debut albums are a catalogue of brilliance, albums made by artists with momentum and belief, by musicians with something to say and the means to say it.
Some bands start at full speed. It was obvious Led Zeppelin were fully-formed from the opening bars of Good Times Bad Times, Van Halen's debut took an entire genre off on a bewildering new tangent, and Guns N' Roses never bettered Appetite For Destruction.
Then there are those who didn't get it right out of the box, whose debut albums are uncertain, half-baked, or downright awful.
Here are 10 examples.
Judas Priest - Rocka Rolla
Judas Priest’s debut album was more about hinting at their potential than clicking into the higher gear that the band would later use to conquer the world. Rocka Rolla is enjoyable enough, with its faint whiff of progressive hard rock and its warm, analogue tones, but it’s a patchy affair and never comes close to the grandeur and grit of the classics.
The band were clearly feeling their way. Even on the title track, the opening riff is super-hokey and the whole thing sounds timid and forced. Everybody sing: "Rocka rolla woman for a rocka rolla man..." Or perhaps not.
Scorpions - Lonesome Crow
The debut Scorpions album is a bit of a curio. It’s the only one they made with Michael Schenker as a full-time member. And, despite his youth – he was just 16 at the time – some of his solos here are remarkable.
But overall, you can tell this was a very young band searching for a direction. This is very psychedelic, and it doesn’t really suit the band’s burgeoning talents. However, In Search Of The Peace Of Mind is impressive, and overall the album has musical value.
Jethro Tull - This Was
Controversial, maybe, to place the band’s first record on a list like this, but This Was merely hints at the band Jethro Tull would become.
It’s a record bossed by the guitarist Mick Abrahams, a revered R&B and hard blues player who would go on to form Blodwyn Pig, and as such offers a view of the road not taken.
A three-week dalliance with Tony Iommi followed, before the comforting arrival of the future and Martin Barre.
Alice Cooper - Pretties For You
While it officially counts as the first Alice Cooper band album, there are very few glimpses of the make-up smeared, gore-dripping heavy rock freakshow to come.
It’s oddball psychedelia was influenced by Syd-era Pink Floyd, and while it fit in well with its labelmates on the Frank Zappa’s Straight Records, it’s just not very good. Pretties’ best and most cohesive track, eventually became enduring Alice hit Elected.
Marilyn Manson - Portrait Of An American Family
This is the Manson band at their silliest and spookiest. A damning critique of a talk show-obsessed, sofa-ridden USA, Portrait of an American Family antagonises and exposes the hopes, fears and overbearing hypocrisy of Manson’s home country.
Lunchbox, Get Your Gunn, Wrapped In Plastic and Dope Hat are the catchiest of the lot, sharing wacky, stomping hooks with the likes of Jack Off Jill et al. Samples are pulled from serial killer testimonials, children’s stories and even The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, creating an oxymoronic melting pot of themes that Manson would dip into with later records.
The raw vocals, hokey samples and the nihilistic Trent Reznor production job could all be used as excuses as to why Portrait… isn’t heralded as a modern classic. The real reason? It isn’t the finished article.
Pantera - Metal Magic
Woah, hold on there! Yes, this is the same Pantera we’re talking about – the ones who released Vulgar Display Of Power – though the chances are that many fans won’t be too aware of Pantera’s debut album, nor the following three or four Pantera releases.
Metal Magic – housed in what must rate as one of the most cliched of metal album covers (painted by a friend of the band) – is pure glam metal, slightly rockier than that which stalked Sunset Boulevard, but not by much. The likes of Ride My Rocket (yes, really), Nothin’ On (But The Radio) and Rock Out will leave most Pantera fans open-mouthed in horror and confusion.
Of course, in 1983 the band were still teenagers, and fronted by Terry Glaze, a rock singer in a far slicker vein than Phil Anselmo, all too young to know any better. More laughter inducing than vomit producing, it must be said.
Genesis - From Genesis To Revelation
With the patronage of former pupil-turned-producer Jonathan King (yes, that one), Charterhouse students Garden Wall changed their name to Genesis and recorded their debut album, From Genesis To Revelation, in August 1968.
King had had a pop hit in 1965 with Everyone’s Gone To The Moon, and he wasn't interested in the band's more ambitious plans. “We wanted to be original,” said Mike Rutherford, “but Jonathan didn’t like our sort of originality."
The result? From Genesis To Revelation is fascinating as an historical curiosity, but not much more. Owing much to fey 60s pop, folk and psychedelia, it’s for Genesis cultists and completists only.
AC/DC - High Voltage (Australian edition)
On the original High Voltage – released in the Australian market in 1975 – AC/DC were very young indeed. And it shows. They sound like a timid impersonation of the band they'd become, with no Phil Rudd to power things along and the best song a lively cover of Big Joe Williams' Baby Please Don’t Go.
When AC/DC's label eventually cherry-picked songs from the band’s two Australia-only albums (High Voltage was followed the same year by T.N.T.) to create a brand new nine-track ‘compilation’ for the international market, only two songs – Little Lover and She’s Got Balls – made it in from High Voltage. Nuff said.
Ministry - With Sympathy
Ministry's debut (and the follow-up, Twitch) are creatively shrivelled prunes compared to the rest of Ministry’s discography. Al Jourgensen’s fake British accent and the slightly funky, synthpop tones peppering singles like Revenge and I Wanted To Tell Her are fine, but it’s completely disassociated with the Ministry we know and love.
Uncle Al had a shitty time making it, but his one good memory remains with a former Beatle; Paul McCartney was recording next door, so the two ended up playing Asteroids. Still doesn’t make With Sympathy any better, mind.
Dream Theater - When Dream And Day Unite (1989)
Dream Theater haven’t made a consistently poor album, but their debut is by far their weakest. Recorded three years after they formed, it suffers from three main drawbacks: a muddy production (by Rush associate Terry Date), relatively rudimentary songwriting and compositional skills (certainly compared to what came later), and the high-pitched yelps of original singer Charlie Dominci, who left the band soon afterwards.
In the plus column were future live favourites A Fortune In Lies and The Killing Hand, and the instrumental The Ytse Jam, all of which pointed towards future greatness.