Forget about three. When it comes to albums from new artists, the first time is sometimes the charm. The most memorable debut albums in rock history stand out for the way in which they defined a genre and/or launched a performer into the mainstream with uncompromising impact and lasting influence. For this week’s Five For Friday, we take a look at five of the most groundbreaking debuts—and why they remain musical and cultural touchstones.
Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction
Within one year of forming in Los Angeles during 1985, Guns N’ Roses signed to Geffen Records after a major-label courtship that revealed the group’s uncontrollable behavior and reckless lifestyle as genuine. Such attitudes and experiences fueled 1987’s Appetite for Destruction, one of the best-selling debuts in history. The 18-times platinum album proved groundbreaking by fusing metal, punk, glam, and classic rock together in a way that, for the first time, appealed to the masses. The group also demonstrated a volatile chemistry and raw talents that included the inimitable singing of Axl Rose and swaggering, soulful guitar playing of Slash. Crowned by the mega-hits “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Sweet Child ‘O Mine,” and “Paradise City,” and laden with an edge few mainstream releases have ever claimed, Appetite for Destruction still sounds as vital as the day it was released.
Nirvana’s debut, which arrived in 1989, is unique in that the album became somewhat overshadowed by interest in the band and mystique surrounding the members. As Bleach opened the door for Cobain and company to enter into the public eye, it also illustrated how they would kick down boundaries in their own messy way. The non-polished album forged a new path for “grunge” and set the stage for Nirvana’s standout sophomore set, Nevermind, which took the world by storm two years later. Bleach, however, remains one of Sub Pop’s best-selling titles and a milestone in its own right. Following its 1992 re-release, the role it played in allowing Nirvana to become the voice of a generation took on deeper meaning.
Patti Smith Horses
One of punk’s most acclaimed albums, the 1975 debut from Patti Smith inspired countless artists, among them Courtney Love, the Smiths, and Garbage. In contrast to traditional in-your-face, heart-racing punk rock, Horses features Smith’s Beat-inspired poetry. Her affecting, inventive lyrics remain on par with those penned by any of her—or subsequent—generation. Having received critical acclaim from the likes of Lester Bangs, Robert Christgau, and others, Horses is often cited as the first significant punk album, which in turn helped launch and shape the American punk movement of the late 70s.
Pearl Jam Ten
Even though Ten had been recorded and released prior to Nirvana’s Nevermind, some listeners remain quick to criticize the album for trying to emulate the burgeoning “grunge” movement. In actuality, it helped spawn the trend by way of launching the then-newfound fusion of classic, underground, and post-punk music into the mainstream with hits like “Alive,” “Black,” and “Jeremy.” Frontman Eddie Vedder addressed darker topics of abuse and depression through his personal lyrics, forging a path for bands to be more open in terms of lyrical content. Ten stands as Pearl Jam’s best-selling album—it’s certified 13 times platinum—and in 2013, ranked at the top of Rolling Stone’s reader poll of Top 10 Debut Albums.
Originally disregarded due to the short song lengths (the longest track clocks in at 2:39), mindless idling (“Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue”), and simplistic arrangements, Ramones is now rightly acknowledged as one of the most important albums of the 20th century. While few critics reviewed the debut upon its release, chronicling the Ramones’ success soon became a de rigueur passage for any serious scribe. While Patti Smith may be known for punk’s inception, the Ramones defined its sound. Just as Smith influenced the Ramones, they in turn went on to mold the trajectory of the Sex Pistols, Black Flag, and other pioneers that delivered raucous performances in which speed, energy, and grit comprised the main ingredients.