10 bands who peaked with the first song on their first album

Snippets of 10 album covers
(Image credit: Various record labels)

Some bands take a while to get where they're going, slow to map the sonic template that'll define their journey through music. And some coming roaring out of the gates, fully-formed, with everything in place from the moment the needle drops on their debut. They might improve, they might not, but they'll never recapture the impact of those first few moments.

Here are 10 bands who peaked with the first song on their first album. 


Guns N’ Roses (Welcome To The Jungle)

Appetite For Destruction defined Guns N’ Roses as the greatest rock’n’roll band of their generation, and no song was more potent than its opener. Welcome To The Jungle was a visceral statement of intent, a high-velocity classic that painted Los Angeles as a feral, unwelcoming place and sounded the death knell for hair metal simply by making it look silly

From that ominous intro, via Axl’s police siren scream and Slash’s stuttering riff, listeners were immediately made aware that Appetite… was not like other albums. As Guns N’ Roses chug their avuncular way around the world more than 30 years later, that “Most Dangerous Band In The World” tag feels like distant hyperbole, but for a moment, back in 1987, Welcome To The Jungle made it seem undeniably real.

Boston (More Than A Feeling)

The success of More Than A Feeling catapulted Boston’s self-titled debut album to sales of over 20 million worldwide, taking the band from Tom Scholz’s basement to venues like Madison Square Garden in double-quick time. With a melody to die for, pristine production, guitars that sound like orchestras and vocals that appear to be beamed in from the stars, it defined the band like nothing else. Today it’s more famous than Boston themselves, and, on Spotify, is a mere half-billion plays ahead of their second most popular song. 

Asia (Heat Of The Moment)

When the guitarist from Yes, a former King Crimson frontman, one half of Buggles and the drummer from Emerson, Lake & Palmer got together to form a supergroup, progressive rock was no longer no longer the force it once was, and radical thinking was required. 

“We took our 12-minute songs and removed the 10 minutes of noodling around,” explained John Wetton, the one from King Crimson. “The ingredients that we’d grown up with were kept, but we transposed them into a more succinct setting.” Nowhere was that new setting more succinct than on Heat Of The Moment – the shortest song on Asia’s debut album – which reached number four on the US chart before the band had even played a gig, propelling their debut album towards multi-million sales as it became the best-selling disc of 1982. 

Black Sabbath (Black Sabbath)

There may be other Black Sabbath songs you prefer. Perhaps you favour the Ronnie James Dio era. But no other band has ever defined themselves as brilliantly and as perfectly as Black Sabbath did with the self-titled opener to their self-titled debut album. All the elements were there: The rain. The church bells. The tension. The torment. Tony Iommi’s crashing, diabolus in musica chord progression. Ozzy’s howls of despair. More than any other song, Black Sabbath sums up Black Sabbath. 

Van Halen (Runnin' With The Devil)

Opening with a long blast of multiple cars horns, as if to signal that everyone need get out of the way, and quickly, Runnin' With The Devil swiftly settled into a throbbing groove that provided ample room for Eddie Van Halen's dazzling guitar and David Lee Roth's full repertoire of hoots and hollers. "I live my life like there's no tomorrow," Roth sang on the opening line, summing up the band's ethos in a few short words. 

Later songs like Jump and Panama might be more popular, but, like Black Sabbath, Runnin' With The Devil summed up the band right out of the gate. The party had started, and it was gonna get lively. 

King Crimson (21st Century Schizoid Man)

The opening track from King Crimson's groundbreaking debut album sounds like nothing recorded before or since. Band leader Robert Fripp calls it “the first heavy metal song”. Ozzy Osbourne, Entombed, Black Midi, Voivod, April Wine, Gov't Mule  and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra have covered it. Kanye West, Aesop Rock and The Game have sampled it. It's still the band's most popular song, even after after all this time. 

“It fitted with nastiness of the human condition and war and stuff,” said band lyricist Pete Sinfield. "I wanted the words to sound violent and aggressive. ‘Cat’s foot, iron claw…’ – it’s the world tearing itself to pieces." And it was pure, unadulterated King Crimson: abstract, savage, untameable and extraordinary.  

Oasis (Rock 'N' Roll Star)

Liam Gallagher describes Rock 'N' Roll Star as “the most arrogant song ever”, which, from a band as naturally self-aggrandising as Oasis, is some claim. The opening track on Definitely Maybe – an album that would change the lives of millions – it was the cockiest possible introduction to one of rock's cockiest bands. 

Recorded before Oasis had made any impact at all, Rock 'N' Roll Star captured the braggadocio that would ferry them all the way to Knebworth, by which time they were actual rock'n'roll stars, and could afford to drop it from the set, a boast they no longer needed to make. Wonderwall may be the singalong, but Rock 'N' Roll Star established the swagger. 

Meat Loaf (Bat Out Of Hell)

Bat Out Of Hell may be one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, but it took a while to get going. Six months after its release, with sales resolutely failing to set the world alight, the Old Grey Whistle Test took the ambitious step of airing a film clip of the live band performing the opening, nine-minute title track. 

Response was so overwhelming, they screened it again the following week. As a result, Bat Out Of Hell became an unfashionable, uncool, non-radio smash in The UK, and a 'must-have' for everyone who heard it. Meat Loaf had arrived: larger, louder and leerier than life, aboard a screaming motorcycle, roaring on about sex and death on a scale not seen since the glory days of the Roman empire, with a million-piece orchestra in tow. It was carnage incarnate, and it was beautiful. 

Bad Company (Can't Get Enough)

There's nowhere to go but down when the opening track and first single from your debut album is your biggest hit, but that was the fate that befell Bad Company when Can't Get Enough hit the US Top 10 in 1974. Written by guitarist Mick Ralphs during his days in Mott The Hoople but never recorded, the song came with him to Bad Company, who were more than happy to oblige. 

"Mick played that to me the first time, 'I said: 'That song is a hit,' before we even recorded it," said frontman Paul Rodgers, whose bluesy holler suited the song perfectly. "And I remember our manager, Peter Grant, saying: 'Are are you sure you want Can't Get Enough to be the first single?' And I said: 'Absolutely.'" The band would never top it. 

Mike Oldfield (Tubular Bells)

We may be taking a liberty with Tubular Bells, given that it's not a "song" per se but a multi-part composition that stretches over both sides of the original 1973 vinyl, but it's also the ultimate example of the "first song peak" phenomena in that it would dominate the rest of Mike Oldfield's career. The opening theme was most famously used to ominous effect in The Exorcist, and it popped up during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. It's also largely responsible for the success of Virgin records, and, by extension, the growth of the Virgin empire and Richard Branson's forays into space.

So momentous is Oldfield's Tubular Bells peak that he's tried climbing it again on several occasions, with 1992's Tubular Bells II, 1998's Tubular Bells III and Tubular Bells 2003 all failing to make it much beyond base camp. Then there's The Orchestral Tubular Bells, The Best Of Tubular Bells, and The Complete Tubular Bells. And earlier this year, the 50th anniversary of the original album's release was celebrated with the release of Tubular Bells 4 Intro, a previously unheard demo. Bring on 2033. 


Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 37 years in music industry, online for 24. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.