Starting It Off Right: The 10 Greatest Debut Albums Of All Time

by Brendan Reid, Editor, and Quincy Tejani –

10. Rage Against The Machine–Rage Against The Machine

When an album is able to successfully bridge the gap between genres, it is always a commendable thing. Rage Against The Machine was able to do just that with their hard-hitting self-titled debut, blending hip-hop, metal and funk together in a sound that was completely unique. The groove of “Killing In The Name” is the stuff of legends, and is enough to get even the most straight laced of folks head-banging, and tracks such as “Bullet In The Head” and “Know Your Enemy” have become hard rock classics in their own right. The punchingly creative guitar playing of Tom Morello and the furious rhymes of Zack de la Rocha drove the band forward, and they were extremely vocal about their radical political stances. An album that seamlessly weaves activism into its fiber is one that deserves to be noticed, and the unique musicality of this debut helped drive its message home.

9. Weezer – The Blue Album (1994)

It there was ever a band that captured the hard beauty of growing up, it was Weezer. And no album captures that feeling better then their first, The Blue Album. A true artifact of the 90s, The Blue Album was a work of alternative rock genius. Songs such as “My Name Is Jonas,” “Buddy Holly” and “Say It Ain’t So” have dominated the airwaves for decades, and their fan base has remained as dedicated as ever. The compositional sensibilities of main songwriter Rivers Cuomo helped project Weezer to international stardom. Entire subgenres were born from The Blue Album, and any sort of radio friendly emo or punk owes its allegiances to the original kings of angst driven alternative.

8. Metallica – Kill ‘Em All (1983)

Whereas Black Sabbath helped invent heavy metal, Metallica was the band that truly brought it to the masses. Fusing the bombast of bands such as Iron Maiden with punk sensibilities, the denim-clad crew from Los Angeles brought to the stage a precise energy that had never been seen, and pummeled everyone’s senses with their blistering thrash-metal riffs. Metallica introduced the world to something new and exciting, and people just couldn’t get enough. Kill ‘Em All sold 60,000 copies worldwide within its first year of release, put Metallica on the map, and kickstarted the career of Dave Mustaine, who would eventually go on to form Megadeth. Countless bands took inspiration from Kill ‘Em All, and metal as we know it today would not be the same without it’s release. The popularity of Metallica only rose with each album that succeeded the titular debut, but few would come close to the raw energy it delivered.

7. Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid M.A.A.D City (2012)

Lamar’s debut masterpiece is titled Good Kid M.A.A.D City: A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar. After hearing all 12 tracks you really can make sense of the title. The album plays out like a cohesive story, with a plot the listener can follow from the opening prayer of the album to the last beat that finishes “Compton,” the final track. Between these moments, Lamar uses his masterful lyricism to paint a tale of a young man who struggles to cope with the temptations and pressures that come with living in Compton, as well as trying to become the successful person he was born to be. The epic song of the album, “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” is a 12-minute monster track that seems to show all the struggles Lamar’s character has undergone throughout the album, and represents his ability to overcome the issues that have plagued him throughout the earlier nine tracks. The true end of the album comes with the second last official track on the album, “Real.” On this cut, Kendrick’s parents celebrate his success and give him some last minute wisdom before he leaves to realize his dreams as a successful man. Good Kid successfully raised the bar for what a hip-hop album could be, and is a true work of art that balances crowd-pleasing music with a profound message.

6. Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004)

Every generation has an album or two that represents them. I once had a music professor who tried to argue that no such album existed for Generation Y. No single album could represent the frustrations and joys that come with growing up in this technological era. I would argue that Funeral is as close to that as we have. On this record, lead singer Win Butler and company have created an artistic landscape that is as frightening, overwhelming and beautiful as growing up in 21st century North America. “Neighbourhood #1(Tunnels)” opens the album in epic fashion, starting off soft and gentle and finishing in a crescendo that would make any songwriter envious. Then halfway through the album we hear one of the most recognizable hooks of any song written in the last 25 years on “Wake Up.” One of the most fundamental albums in recent memory, Funeral represents a new age of rock for a new age of rockers.

5. Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures (1979)

A lot of people were first introduced to Joy Division when they watched Ian Curtis strut his hypnotic dance moves on the Granada Report in 1978. As people watched, some were floored, some were disgusted and some were confused. What was this depressing, gothic sound emanating from their television speakers? Ian Curtis and company’s take on punk was a revolutionary new sound. Combining tribal-esque drums with dark but catchy guitar riffs as well as Ian Curtis’s smooth, slightly off-key voice, Joy Division unknowingly ushered in an era of post-punk. What is most interesting about this album was the way the boys of Joy Division used different techniques to display their version of what punk music should sound like. Songs like “Candidate” seem to slink in quietly from the shadows as if nervous to be played, whereas “Disorder” and “Interzone” pack an emotional punch that could not be contained. Joy Division’s legacy only increased with the death of lead singer Ian Curtis, an event that is shrouded in mystery. At the epicenter of this powerful legacy is Unknown Pleasures, a beacon of light emanating from the surrounding darkness.

4. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)

While blending genres is one thing, inventing them in entirely another. That is exactly what Black Sabbath was able to achieve with their debut album, and after it hit the shelves in 1970, “heavy metal” was suddenly in the public consciousness. Recorded in a single day, the album had a sound like no other, and this was greatly attributed to guitarist Tony Iommi’s play style. After losing the tips of his middle and index finger in a factory accident, Iommi was forced to wear thimbles and detune his guitar to make it easier for him to bend the notes. This resulted in a distinctively heavy sound that was akin to the blues but something entirely different. That coupled with the maddened wails of Ozzy Osbourne in tracks such as “Black Sabbath,” “The Wizard,” and “N.I.B.” elevated the album to legendary status, and helped start a landslide that would result in the creation of hard rock and heavy metal as we know it.

3. The Doors – The Doors (1967) 

The first effort by The Doors was  extremely influential, as well as controversial. Through it was introduced the persona of Jim Morrison, and he helped define what it was to be a rock star with his powerful onstage presence. The subject matter of the album’s epic “The End” was seeped in Oedipal symbolism, and gained infamy when Morrison screamed “mother…I want to f*** you!” during a pre-album performance. That particular line did not find its way into the recorded version of the song, but “The End” remains a classic all the same. The album also featured such masterworks as “Light My Fire,” “Break On Through (To The Other Side)” and “Twentieth Century Fox.” Many bands followed it the footsteps of The Doors, and their pedigree only rose as they continued on their legendary career path.

2. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced (1967)

In 1967, Jimi Hendrix and his two band members Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell set the London music scene on fire with their explosive blues-psych performances. Not six months after Hendrix was brought to London by ex-Animals member Chas Chandler, The Experience began the recording sessions for what would be remembered as the integral 60’s blues guitar album. Songs like “Purple Haze” and “May This Be Love” helped London become one of the most important counter-culture cities in the world. When asked about the record, Hendrix simply stated, “It’s a collection of free feeling and imagination.” Nearly five decades later, this record still stands as one of the most important ever released. And Jimi was just getting started.

1. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin (1969) 

After the dissolution of the Yardbirds, Jimi Page founded what would later be known as the best hard rock band of all time, Led Zeppelin. Along with Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham, Jimi Page created a band that was based in rock and roll but whose lyrics relied on mysticism and magic. Anything but a critics’ darling, Led Zeppelin pushed the envelope on what was acceptable rock at the time. Rolling Stone magazine had some harsh words for the band’s founder: “[Jimi Page] is…a very limited producer and a writer of weak, unimaginative songs, and the Zeppelin album suffers from his having both produced it and written most of it.” However, since 1969 when this review was released, Led Zeppelin have been lauded as the band who was responsible for the creation of hard rock and as one of the most important rock bands of all time. Talk about a review that got it wrong. Although not considered their Magnum Opus (This would be Led Zeppelin IV [1971]) how could one deny the thunderous beauty of songs like “Dazed and Confused” or “I Can’t Quit you Baby?” Since Led Zeppelin I was released, no debut has captured the unrelenting beauty of rock n’ roll in quite the same way.