We asked you to vote for the greatest debut album of all time. And you voted in your thousands. Armies of fans gathered around the internet to vote for their favourite bands, and we put everything into a giant spreadsheet and pressed the button that ranked it all in order of popularity. Some of the results aren’t surprising. Its familiar faces are in familiar positions.
And some of the results are really surprising. There’s three albums in the Top 10 that – while fully deserving of their classic status – probably wouldn’t have appeared so high in the charts had fans of those bands not rallied rallied to place their votes in huge numbers. And we don’t mind that at all.
If we ran the same poll next week we’re sure we’d get different results, and again if we ran it the week after. We’re not claiming it’s definitive for a moment. But it is a great collection of classic albums, and a vivid reminder of the stunning brilliance with which so many of our favourite bands and artists kick-started their careers.
So, with that in mind here are the 100 best debut albums ever, as voted for by you.
100. Roxy Music - Roxy Music
Roxy Music’s debut appearance on TOTP performing Virginia Plain was as abrasively, thrillingly strange as Bowie doing Starman. That was where the great British public got their first glimpse of the heavy-lidded Ferry, Brian Eno grinning impishly behind his synth, sax-mad Andy Mackay in sparkly yellow and green, louche, long-limbed bassist Rik Kenton, guitarist Phil Manzanera, all beard and outsize shades, and drummer Paul Thompson, his leopardskin off-the-shoulder number notwithstanding, the sole concession to normal blokedom. Individually odd, they just about cohered as a unit.
Their self-titled debut album was an equally gobsmacking clash of styles and sonics. Track one Re-Make/Re-Model – the greatest song ever to have a chorus based on a car number plate – opens with the hubbub of guests mingling at an art gallery, Roxy’s natural milieu. Thereafter it is barely controlled chaos, all sax squawks, honky-tonk piano, snarling guitar and Eno’s synth disturbance: where 50s rock’n’roll meets avant-garde sound collage. Or, considering its arch provocation, think punk five years ahead of schedule. ‘I can talk, talk, talk, talk, talk myself to death,’ Ferry sneers. Ladytron finds the singer revisiting pop-romance tropes (‘You’ve got me girl on the runaround, runaround’), but the sci-fi/tomorrow’s world title evinces the distance travelled since The Beatles’ Love Me Do.
99. Jellyfish - Bellybutton
Formed in 1989 and inspired by the music they’d discovered on FM radio while growing up in 70s suburban California – The Beatles, the Beach Boys, Cheap Trick, ELO, 10cc, Fleetwood Mac, Wings and more – Jellyfish’s debut album was packed with wondrous pop-rock songs, labyrinthine harmonies, soaring string arrangements and melodies as evocative as a Californian sunrise. The best of these sounded like smash hits from the two previous decades that had somehow escaped the collective memory. Their tragedy was that the band surfaced at the point when the music business swam into the darker, gloomier waters of grunge, and Jellyfish were doomed to drift out of time and place.
Released in 1990, Bellybutton was 10 vibrant songs stuffed full of wit and invention, with the pop sheen you’d expect from a record produced by Albhy Galuten, the guy who had recorded the Bee Gees’ Saturday Night Fever.
Roger Manning - one half of Jellyfish’s creative double-act with Andy Sturmer – said that they were aiming for a sound “somewhere between Queen and the Patridge Family” and if they didn’t fit in the grunge years, their the boho-psychedelic look and finely-tooled classicism meant you could file them with retro-spirits of the time like the Black Crowes and World Party.
98. The Struts - Everybody Wants
Everybody Wants (or as it appears on the cover, Everybody Wants… The Struts – geddit?) is an unashamed old school rock’n’roll album, which, given mainstream culture’s current disdain for guitars makes The Struts either the bravest or stupidest young band out there. Either way, you’ve gotta hand it to ’em for not giving the slightest of fucks.
But then self-belief is clearly not an issue here. Catchy-as-ebola opening track Roll Up imagines a fantasy Carry On world in which The Struts are bolshy young sultans presiding over a harem of (presumably) dutiful ‘lovelies’. ‘I’ll welcome you in with Lambrini and gin, the perfect of sins,’ coos singer Luke Spiller, one part Freddie Mercury, one part Robin Askwith. By the time it gets to the skyscraping chorus, he’s rolling his ‘r’s for all he’s worth: ‘Rrrroll up, rrrroll up, rrrrrrrrrrroll for satisfaction.’
Those Queen/Mercury comparisons are hard to shake, especially in Spiller’s case. From his ringing voice and proudly protuberant gnashers to the Zandra Rhodes frocks he sports onstage, he’d be a dream casting in the long-gestating biopic of the late singer. In a world of cookie-cutter rock frontman, he’s got the cheek and the sense of humour to flatten the competition. How many other global-rock-stars-in-waiting would chuck in knowing references to both 90s lad’s mags (‘She’s my high street honey’) and British schooyard vernacular (‘She knows what she’s got, she’s so shit hot’), fully aware that both will baffle the inhabitants of Arsegrapes, Iowa? Hats off for the sheer chutzpah of it.
97. Journey - Journey
A progressive, jazz fusion affair rather at odds with their later, more radio-friendly output, Neal Schon and Greg Rolle’s first album away from the protective shield of the Santana bosom highlighted the musical prowess of everyone involved, and included some of drummer Aynsley Dunbar’s finest work. The perfect album if you’re after instrumental acrobatics rather than a Top 40 chorus.
96. The Rolling Stones - The Rolling Stones
Often overlooked, invariably under appreciated, the Stones’ eponymous debut album – inexplicably unavailable with its original UK track-listing on CD, though iTunes can still oblige with an accurate download – captures the band in their original incarnation as evangelical purveyors of authentic rhythm and blues. Tell Me, an engaging Brill Building pop facsimile, bodes well as an early sighting of a soon-to-be gilt-edged Jagger/Richards compositional credit, but three-quarters of the album’s dozen songs are a rag-bag of punchy R&B covers. The lazy shuffle of Jimmy Reed’s Honest I Do, Brian Jones’s slide stings on Slim Harpo’s I’m A King Bee, Keith’s delinquent swagger through Chuck Berry’s Carol: formative foundations upon which the Stones were to build the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world.
Even as nonentities, the Stones oozed arrogance, pointedly leaving their name off the sleeve of even their first album (the subtext: ‘You’ll soon know who we are.’). Mick and Keef barely squeeze their creative juices, but the sound and sneer are already in place, and it still managed to take over from With The Beatles at the top of the UK chart.
95. The Band – Music From Big Pink
Hanging out with Bob Dylan paid off: by 1968, The Band had their songwriting chops oiled and tightened, and Capitol Records’ backing for a debut that eschewed the era’s experimentation for rootsy, earthy, folky, harmony-rich songs exemplified by The Weight. “A few years ago, we’d play and people would call it nostalgia,” noted bassist/vocalist Rick Danko. “Lately, they’ve been calling it music again.”
The Band were massively influential: everyone from The Beatles, Beach Boys and Grateful Dead borrowed their progressive country chic. They in turn copped ideas from Dylan’s Desolation Row, notably on Lonesome Suzie, which owes a debt to Charlie McCoy’s guitar work. Great tracks are studded all over. Caledonia Mission fired up Workingman’s Dead and Van Morrison’s It’s Too Late To Stop Now, and you hear To Kingdom Come percolate through the Boys’ Holland.
Outside the blueprint, The Band tackle Long Black Veil (they’d have known Lefty Frizzell’s original) and went popcorn on We Can Talk. The stand-out may be Manuel’s troubled vocal on In A Station, accompanied by Hudson’s clavinet, a piece so sparse it persuaded George Harrison he could steer The Beatles towards fresh territory, citing his new pals as “the best band in the universe”. The six extras include Helm’s small-town talk take on Robbie Robertson’s Yazoo Street Scandal, a redneck tale of red-light activity, and Charlie Segar’s Key To The Highway. Well worth refreshing with its delights, Big Pink is a marvel of a debut.
94. Stiff Little Fingers – Inflammable Material
Exploding out of Belfast and breathing new life into a flagging punk scene, Stiff Little Fingers – fronted by raw-throated firebrand Jake Burns – saw their debut album Inflammable Material album reach the UK Top 20 on its release in 1979. The raw, angst-ridden sound influenced largely by the Irish Troubles, Inflammable Material veered from spiky anthems like Suspect Device and White Noise to a remarkably mature take on Bob Marley’s Johnny Was that shone a light on the vibrant quartet’s burgeoning abilities.
“Belfast was a backwater in those days, so we were always going to be playing catch-up,” Burns told Classic Rock in 2017. “When we first got into rock music we were used to bands bypassing Northern Ireland. We reckoned the only way we were ever going to hear rock music played live was to do it ourselves. [Inflammable Material] was our initial burst of anger, comparable to the initial bursts on the mainland and in New York.”
93. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Petty’s debut album ran to just 10 tracks and 30 minutes, but one need only hear its signature song to be hit by a lightning bolt. Here was the sound of classic American rock and pop being jump-started into a new era, and also an object lesson in how to go out with a bang.
Who leaves a song as enduring as American Girl to be the last track on their debut album? Well, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, for one. American Girl might be the album’s best known song, but TP&TH is packed full of rootsy, anthemic numbers such as The Wild One, Forever and Breakdown. Unusually, considering how all-American this debut sounds, it was successful on this side of the Atlantic first.
92. Patti Smith – Horses
Rarely has there been such a cataclysmic collision of high and low art as when Patti Smith’s album Horses was released in ’75. With Smith still more poet than singer at the time of its release, the album grew out of her readings-cum-performances at New York’s St Mark’s Church in 1971.
Smith poured her soul into Horses, especially on the first track, Gloria, drafting one of the most celebrated opening lines in all of rock history: ‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine’ (something she commandeered from her poem Oath). More declaration of personal autonomy and freedom than a rejection of her own personal God, she neatly melded the strident poem into a rather slurry speeded-up version of Them’s garage rock classic that put Van Morrison’s on the map.
Crawdaddy! magazine called the song a “declaration of existence,” but for the rest of us it was Smith’s coming out party – and we’re not speaking sexually, despite the provocative lines about a ‘sweet young thing humping on a parking meter’. The confusion never bothered Smith. “I’ve never been gender specific, or wanted to be gender specific as an artist or a human being.” Equally misunderstood is Redondo Beach, which critics surmised was about a quarrel between two Sapphic lovers, one of whom committed suicide. Not so. It was inspired by a rare spat with her sister Linda, who left in a rage, and didn’t return that night.
Ultimately Horses was more call to action than true album, helping to spawn a cultural revolution. “I was speaking to the disenfranchised, to people outside society, people like myself,” Patti says. “I didn’t know these people, but I knew they were out there I think Horses did what I hoped it would do. It spoke to the people who needed to hear it.”
91. Angel – Angel
Dressed in virgin white costumes, Angel were the antithesis to the black leather and studs aggro of Kiss, the ‘good’ Beatles in relation to Kiss’ ‘evil’ Rolling Stones. But in reality, Angel shared Kiss’ larger-than-life theatrical rock show, along with their tireless work ethic, recording six albums between the years 1975-’80. They also shared the same astute brand marketing savvy, launching their own Earth Force fan club, and selling branded necklaces, belt buckles, posters, and t-shirts.
Angel’s 1975 self-titled debut mined a winning prog sound, earmarked by soaring, operatic vocals and consummate musicianship. "Angel was like Yes meets Led Zeppelin and Queen," said guitarist Punky Meadows, quite accurately.