What Is The Greatest Debut Album Of All Time? (That I Listen To)
Recently, whilst perusing my YouTube recommendations one morning, I stumbled upon a video in which a series of presenters were discussing/debating what, in their opinion, was the greatest debut album of all time. I’ve watched said video, and it struck me that they were not necessarily arguing, what I would argue would be considered to be, the list you might find in a music magazine – it was all quite subjective. It was also heavily tied into what they were listening to when they were of a particular age.
It is an interesting question, though, and one which I thought I would scratch my head and come up with a few suggestions for, but with a few caveats. It needs to be an album that I own/have on my chosen music player. It also needs to be an album that I genuinely listen to semi-frequently – for example, although I have the Sex Pistols and N.W.A (shocking, given how much I bang on about my love of a good musical and Taylor Swift song), I don’t really listen to them that much.
They also need to be clearly demarked as the artist’s first studio album. That means excluding EPs. It also meant excluding Green Day’s ‘Dookie’ – that’s a major label debut, but Kerplunk was released before then.
I also want to be clear that these are only my views/considerations. For example, if we were having this debate/discussion in the pub, then I know full well that my colleague, Mara Ntona, would be saying “it’s The Strokes’ ‘Is This It’. It has a cultural impact, and everything you like now owes a debt to it”. Meanwhile, Chris McCorkindale is arguing that it’s The Stone Roses, Malcolm Combe is arguing it’s something on a heavy rotation on BBC Radio 6, and Jonathan Brown doesn’t care, as long as it’s Scottish or has something in latin (I assume - there are many a sweeping statement/generalisation if interests there).
Option #1 – The First Debut Album I Loved: Stereophonics ‘Word Gets Around’ (1997)
A personal and difficult one to start off
with here. I used to love the Stereophonics – I’ll spare the rant here why I can’t listen to them any more, but it is available upon request. This used to be my favourite album.
For context, it would have been 2001, and it was my sister’s birthday. We already owned their 2nd album (and, I think possibly the 3rd). For her birthday, I got her Nickelback’s ‘Silver Side Up’ (I know – she did ask for it) and Word Gets Around. My sister gave WGA a cursory listen, and immediately fit it into her rotation if albums on the bus to school. I, similarly, managed to listen to it on the walk to school, and during my Sunday morning paper round on the CD player which just about fit in my pocket.
It’s not particularly long, and is very much the product of a group from a Welsh town writing about what’s around them. ‘A Thousand Trees’ is a song which has soundtracked many a night out (admittedly when I was studying in Cardiff). ‘Local Boy in the Photograph’ was, to 12/13 year-old me, a fantastic song. ‘Traffic’ was a slow singalong song. I’d also go in to bat for ‘Not Up to You’, ‘Same Size Feet’, ‘Too Many Sandwiches’ and ‘Billy Davey’s Daughter’ as songs which I held up to being particularly good. ‘Check My Lids for Holes’ can go away, though.
Option #2 – The Hindsight/If I’d Been a Bit Older Candidate – Manic Street Preachers ‘Generation Terrorists’ (1992)
We now pivot to who I actually think are a criminally under rated band, definitely the best Welsh band of all time, and Mary Neal’s favourite band (and probable choice for this list), the Manic Street Preachers.
By the time I was of an age to listen to the ‘Design for Life’ was in the charts. I think we had their later album ‘Everything Must Go’, which we had on in the car occasionally. However, I don’t really think my parents really went out and got early Manics. Whether I would have ‘got them’ is another matter – I’d heard tales of enigmatic performances on Top of the Pops where they performed in balaclavas and were more ‘punky’, but that didn’t mesh with their early 00s output (which I now fully appreciate may have been due to the loss of Richey Edwards).
Nevertheless, they are a band I’ve really grown to like more in recent years, and ‘Generation Terrorists’ is a great album. Possibly a couple of tracks too long, but ‘Slash and Burn’, ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, ‘You Love Us’ and ‘Stay Beautiful’ are excellent. This year, I even tried working in lyrics from ‘Natwest-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds’ into my Banking and Financial Law class…it did not go well.
Option #3 – The One I Needed to Come Back To – Rage Against the Machine, ‘Rage Against the Machine’ (1992)
I think it is fairly safe to say that there are times when we can become a little bit frustrated with the state of affairs, or situation one finds oneself in. Lockdown is no exception to this, and whilst meaning to try and at least appear a little bit neutral,
my chipper demeanour and can do attitude (sarcasm) was very heavily dented by a very public unorthodox eye test. So I got a bit angry.
Cue, Rage Against the Machine re-entering my listening habits. I was kind of aware of ‘Killing in the Name Of’, but not really an avid listener. Over the summer holidays at University, I used to work on a civil service call centre – not a particularly pleasant experience being shouted at for 8 hours a day (and the reason why I can’t end a meeting without saying “is there anything else I can help you with?”), but it meant a little bit of spending money/pocket money. So to brighten my week, on the drive to and from work, I had a new album in the car each week.
I bought this album for about £5. And honestly, it was out of the car by Tuesday evening. Not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but I was waking up, driving in traffic with a very angry man yelling about government oppression, then being shouted at for 8 hours when representing a government agency, then getting back in the car and being shouted at in traffic.
Now I’ve got past that, I’ve got to be in the right mood for them, but this is cracking album, far beyond ‘Killing in the Name Of’. ‘Bombtrack’, ‘Take The Power Back’ and ‘Wake Up’ are stand out. I kind of like that no one else really sounds like Rage/can pull off the same effect (or maybe I just like Tom Morello’s guitar playing after playing Rage songs on Guitar Hero?).
Option #4 – The Early University One – Duffy, ‘Rockferry’ (2008)
I’ve written on this blog previously about being a Duffy fan when I was at University (https://www.strathclydenonlawreview.com/post/duffy-endlessly-2010-a-retrospective) – in short, though, I would argue this is the album that I played a lot during my first year of University. This is also the first to benefit from my excluding EPs rule – there is a Welsh Language 3 track EP that precedes this album.
It just pips The Enemy’s ‘We’ll Live and Die in These Towns’ in this category, I think more because it is a different sound from the other albums on this list. The title track is as good an intro as any other. You’ve got some upbeat songs. You’ve got some slower songs. And, whilst I’ve seen The Enemy live twice (Cardiff Students Union and supporting the Stereophonics), neither of those times involved me traipsing through the freezing cold of Newport in winter to watch them perform in a leisure centre.
Option #5 – The mid-00s Indie Choice – We Are Scientists, ‘With Love and Squalor’ (2005)
This is going to be the controversial one, where I can probably hear my colleagues screaming at me. But hear me out. There were a lot of mid-00s indie/alternative bands – The Strokes (sorry Mara, never clicked), The Libertines (about 3 good songs), Arctic Monkeys (a bit over-hyped), Kaiser Chiefs (on reflection, a lot of “woahs”), Futureheads (mixed bag) to name but a few.
For me, this is a choice between two albums – The Killers ‘Hot Fuss’ and We Are Scientists’ ‘With Love and Squalor’. I’ve gone for With Love and Squalor. I don’t know what it is about The Killers, but they can’t seem to make a good album all the way through. Yes, it’s got ‘Mr Brightside’, ‘Somebody Told Me’ and ‘All These Things I’ve Done’, but Hot Fuss really tails off. And live, absolutely, hands down, The Killers are better than We Are Scientists. I've seen the Killers 3 times (supporting U2, Sam's Town tour and Night & Day tour), and We Are Scientists once (Bristol Academy).
It does feel like committing heresy to say that an album with those songs on it isn't great, but looking at the track list as a whole, ‘Change Your Mind’ is forgettable. ‘Andy You’re a Star’, ‘Believe me Natalie’ and ‘Everything Will Be Alright’ aren’t exactly great.
However, in contrast, I would argue that With Love and Squalor is much more consistent. ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt’, ‘It’s a Hit’ and ‘The Great Escape’ are all quality singles. Even ‘This Scene is Dead’, ‘Textbook’ and ‘Lousy Reputation’ provide a good balance. It’s only the last 2 songs which feel a bit filler-y to me. It's also the second album on this list with the loophole of not including previously released EPs. I'm more than willing to don my metaphorical helmet and armour in anticipation of any "you're an idiot" abuse I'll get for saying that.
Option #6 – My Actual Serious Answer – Meat Loaf, ‘Bat Out of Hell’ (1977)
I’m not going to quote the stats of how many albums it’s sold/weeks in the chart. I’ll simply say that when anything from this album plays on the radio/out and about, you had better believe that I am doing a full singalong live performance of it.
This is one where I really need to separate Marvin Lee Aday as a person from Meat Loaf, the singer. I love a bit of Meat Loaf. It is so over the top, every one of his songs has the potential to be a lethal drinking game if you took a drink every time he sings the actual title of the song, and again, there’s not a lot that sounds like him (even if you think everything he’s released sounds pretty much the same – can you self-plagiarise?). Marvin Lee Aday, on the other hand, has quite a conservative world view, and may have made comments about Taylor Swift being “brainwashed”. So I need to tune that out.
However, every one of the 7 songs on Bat Out of Hell is just the right side of bonkers. It has epics (the title track). It has ballads (Two Out of Three Aint Bad). The MVP of this has to be ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’, a song which, in the karaoke bar that we were in for the staff Christmas party a couple of years ago, I sang along to so loudly, and with such gusto (I didn’t need the lyrics, and yes, I was doing both parts) that I partially lost my voice the day after.
And so that’s the album I would put up against any other as the greatest debut of all time. For me. So I’m debating myself, effectively. Still, it’s quite a fun debate to have, so if you are at a loose end of an evening, see what you can come up with.