10. Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden
“I hate the production on this. It’s wrong,” Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris has said on more than one occasion. But the fact remains that the band’s self-titled debut was to become a cornerstone for much that happened in metal during the subsequent few years.
Iron Maiden was an audacious debut: raw, fiery, subtly progressive and delivered with utmost passion and power, its songs are all established classics and its finest moments – the exhilarating Prowler, the monumental Phantom Of The Opera, the spine-tingling Remember Tomorrow – are as good as anything Maiden have ever recorded. As Steve Harris has often noted, the production is a little flat, but that hasn’t stopped millions of people from banging their heads to Running Free and perennial set closer Iron Maiden, that’s for chuffing sure.
"It album didn’t have enough of the fire and the anger that we had in our playing," says Steve Harris. "We used to laugh about the producer (Will Malone) sitting there with his feet up on the desk, smoking a big cigar and reading Country Life – because he didn’t do fuck all else. So in the end we would just ignore him. It was still a good album, it just didn’t sound as ferocious as we did when we played live.”
9. Big Country – The Crossing
Ex-Skids guitarist Stuart Adamson’s new band at times sounded like a Scottish Thin Lizzy. A unique guitar sound (‘bagpipe guitars,’ scoffed the critics), some of the best rock drumming in years, and a collection of rousing and epic songs made the band contenders alongside U2 and Simple Minds.
Although remembered most for prompting cries of “the guitars sound like bagpipes!”, Big Country’s first album was a stirring blend of windswept bombast and infectious hooks, typified by the chart-bothering oomph of singles Fields Of Fire, In A Big Country and Chance.
“The music I felt wasn’t like the music I had grown up hearing, or rather, not like any one of them," wrote singer Stuart Adamson. "It was all of them jumbled up and drawn into something I could understand as mine. I found that I could play this music and connect the guitar directly into my heart. I found others who could make the same connection, who could see the music as well as play it.
“The sound made pictures. It spread out wide landscapes. Great dramas were played out under turbulent skies. There was romance and reality, truth and dare. People being people, no heroes, just you and me, like it always was.”
8. Thunder – Back Street Symphony
After Terraplane failed, most of that band regrouped as Thunder. The result was somewhere between Whitesnake and Def Leppard. “What we’ve done is what we could never do with Terraplane,” said guitarist Luke Morley. Produced (brilliantly, as it happened) by Duran Duran’s Andy Taylor, BST is packed full of Brit rock anthems including Dirty Love, the title track and the epic ballad Love Walked In.
7. King Crimson - In The Court Of The Crimson King
Their debut has left an indelible mark on the prog genre. There’s an eerie beauty about the title track and Epitaph that reflects the way Crimson could capture emotion in the small detail of their musical excellence.
Skating away from the usual blues inclinations of the time, the band bring together disparate idioms such as jazz and folk, and give the results their own virtuosic sheen. This records shines with a brightness that makes it one of the most outstanding albums of the era. The care and vision marked out Crimson as occupying their own musical dimension. Nothing else sounds like this.
“When it was all finished there was a sort of glow of satisfaction – and relief,” lyricist Pete Sinfield remembers. “There was a feeling of, ‘Gosh, we’ve done something and it sounds really rather good, and we’re quite proud of this bit, and that bit’. By any standards, there are parts of that album that shine out. And I think it has a timelessness to it as well – which I can tell you by the royalty statements even today.”
6. Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath
For metal fans, this is the holy grail. Yet despite the unquestioned legendary stature of the album, it was done in something of a rush, as Tony Iommi recalls: “We were on our way to Europe to play some shows, and literally stopped off at the studio to do this before catching the ferry. We recorded it in one day.”
Sabbath’s debut was released on Friday February 13, 1970 – a symbolic date. The title track and N.I.B. were the most potent examples of Sabbath’s elemental power. But elsewhere are traces of blues and psychedelia. As Rick Rubin says: “Sabbath was always a groovy, soulful band.” The reviews were, in Tony Iommi’s recollection, “awful”. Rolling Stone mocked both the music and the occult imagery, declaring the album “a shuck… like Vanilla Fudge playing doggerel tribute to Aleister Crowley.” But in America, Black Sabbath sold a million. In the UK, it made the Top 10. And over time it would be acknowledged as a landmark album in the evolution of heavy metal.
5. The Wildhearts – Earth Vs The Wildhearts
After a handful of acclaimed Wildhearts EPs that saw him escape the shadow of his former band The Quireboys with almost distasteful haste, Ginger and The Wildhearts’ debut album was as blunt as a mallet and as warm as summer sunshine. Sceptical at best, it allowed Ginger to rage and rail against all manner of topics, but mainly he saved his most theatrical sneers for affairs of the heart. This sugar-coated (musically it was all layered vocal harmonies and crunching guitar chords) cynicism was at its best on songs like Loveshit and My Baby Is A Headfuck, but, hey, when you’ve loved and lost like Ginger has…
Outrageously confident and bursting with dazzling riffs and memorable singalong melodies, The Wildhearts’ debut sounded like all your favourite rock’n’roll bands playing at once. An exuberant snapshot of a band in love with music and life, songs like Greetings From Shitsville and Everlone were fresh and timeless. Z Brit-rock masterpiece.
4. Boston - Boston
Amazingly, Boston was mostly recorded in band mainman Tom Scholz’s basement in Massachusetts. Scholz had originally recorded demos of all the songs, and felt they were strong enough to be put out as they stood. The label disagreed. “The material had to be recorded in a ‘professional’ studio – in exactly the same way!” Scholz recalls. Maybe the label was right – the re-recorded album, Boston, sold almost 20 million copies.
During the making of his masterpiece, over five long years, Tom Scholz led a dual life. Between shifts as a design engineer for Polaroid, he’d be locked away in his home studio in Boston. “It was my escape from the world,” he said. But the music he created would find an audience of millions.
All but one track of Boston’s debut album was created in Scholz’s basement. It’s a classic, landmark album, immaculately crafted and full of great songs: Peace Of Mind, Smokin’, the epic Foreplay/Long Time and, greatest of all, More Than A Feeling, Boston’s definitive statement and one of the beautiful rock songs ever written.
3. Van Halen - Van Halen
Little did Van Halen realise that they were about to turn hard rock upside down. “We knew we had something,” says Michael Anthony. “But mostly we had this incredible guitar player in Eddie Van Halen and the best frontman around in David Lee Roth.” The result was an album that sounded totally different to anyone else, and bristled with attitude.
As one of the classic debut albums, this ten million seller is up there with Zep and Sabbath and Appetite For Destruction. Van Halen was like a bomb going off. With its short, punchy songs, technical flash, testosterone-charged swagger and sense of daring, it kick-started the ‘80s two years early. “We were not afraid of defying convention,” said David Lee Roth. “Everybody was ascending…” Eruption was Eddie’s volcanic showpiece. And the orthodox songs were equally explosive, from Runnin’ With The Devil through to frenetic closer On Fire. “More energy than an atomic reactor” boasted a Warner Bros ad. Classic Rock’s Geoff Barton, then reviewing for Sounds, called the album “senses-shattering”. It still is.
2. Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin I
Some musicologists might dismiss these early blues-rock compositions as grand-scale theft, but it’s not so much what Zep played as how they played it: faster, harder and hairier than anyone had dared before. “There just wasn’t anything like it at that time,” John Paul Jones has rightly said. “Jimmy’s production was very innovative. And when Robert roared in, the initial reaction from people was: ‘Where did you find him from?’ His vocal approach was fantastic.” With such timeless rock classics as Good Times Bad Times, Communication Breakdown and Dazed And Confused among its number, Led Zeppelin was the sound of a cultural levee breaking, savage young men captured at their hungriest.
Recorded over nine days, a total of just 30 hours in the studio, Led Zeppelin’s debut album was fully recorded and mixed at a total cost, including artwork, of £1,782. While the punk velocity of Communication Breakdown blazes and Good Times Bad Timesgrooves, there’s a dark, brooding ferocity brought to Willie Dixon blues staples You Shook Me and I Can’t Quit You Babe that transcends mere technique. Dazed And Confused provides Page with his broadest canvas for live extemporization, while How Many More Times defines the Zeppelin template of über rock pomp and power.
Opening with the rhythmic battering-ram that is Good Times Bad Times, the immediate impression you got from hearing Led Zeppelin for the first time was one of pure shocking power, its opening salvo summing up everything the name Led Zeppelin would quickly come to represent. A pop song credited to Page, Jones and Bonham built on a zinging, catchy chorus, explosive drums and – at exactly the right moment – a flurry of spitting guitar notes, it pointed the way forward for rock music in the 70s, towards heavy-duty riffage and mallet-swinging drums.
Strictly speaking, not the most original debut album. But as first steps go, Led Zeppelin was pretty sure footed. The gauntlet had been thrown. Jimmy Page was making his mark.
1. Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction
Guns N’ Roses recorded their debut album, Appetite For Destruction, with producer Mike Clink. Released in June 1987, it ultimately exploded like nothing ever had before it. By the end of 1988, it had sold in excess of ten million copies (today that figure stands at an impressive 18 million). Guns N’ Roses weren’t just the most dangerous band in the world. They were also the biggest. “We wanted to change the world,” says Steven Adler. “And we did.”
“Guns N’ Roses are one of the last great rock ‘n’ roll bands,” states Ben Bruce with no shortness of conviction. “Everything from their attitudes and love of rock ‘n’ roll to their huge, anthemic songs and classic riffs have left a huge impact and will continue to do so for years to come.”
From the roaring opener Welcome To The Jungle, through My Michelle to the closing Rocket Queen, every song is a bona fide classic and a rock’n’roll anthem. A record never bettered by the band themselves, and at 30 years old it still puts most rock bands to shame with its attitude, dexterity and hooks. You know every single word to every single song, even if you didn’t realise it.
If you want to get to the heart of the matter – and to the heart of Guns N’ Roses – just crank up Appetite For Destruction itself. It’s not just one of the greatest records ever released, it’s a document of a time, a place and a band that will never be repeated.