7 Rock debut albums that changed everything
Three things these albums all have in common: they sounded like nothing else at the time of their release; they were all recorded quickly, somehow capturing lightning in a bottle; taken for what they are worth, there are no bad songs on any of these albums.
There are many landmark debut albums in the history of popular music, from artists as varied as Madonna to Joe Jackson to Nirvana. I didn't intend to draw up a list of older albums originally. But while i stewed over this idea for a blog, it seemed to me that albums that change everything – albums that affected the course of rock and roll, pop culture, fashion, and even made us think differently – all came within the first 25 years of the rock era. While you may have your own favourites (I know there may be some glaring omissions to this list such as Appetite for Destruction, but i have my reasons for not including them on this list – it didn't change everything like these albums did, rather, it was the last of the era when “hair metal” ruled). But i'd love to hear about albums you think i may have missed and why. I am sticking to debut albums from rock artists. In chronological order.....
Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley, released March 23 1956.This is the album that ushered in the rock era to the masses. Finally teenagers everywhere had their own music much to most parents' dismay. Young fans kept this album in the #1 slot in the States for 10 weeks by buying over a million copies, the first rock million seller. After being sold to RCA by Sun Records for $35 000 (a huge amount at the time), Elvis was by and large still unproven property. But the release of his single Heartbreak Hotel ahead of this album proved that rock n roll was a marketable commodity. It's worth noting that everyone of these songs is a cover, but Elvis had a voice, a flamboyance and a style all his own which seeps in to these versions. The album meshes country, r&b and rockabilly all kicked up a notch to create mainstream rock n roll, the bastard child of all these musical genres. Elvis changed the world by becoming a product specifically for teenagers, replacing the likes of aging teen heartthrobs like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. Plenty of black artists were already delivering “dangerous” rock and roll and had been since the 1920's. But to a large extent, Elvis made rock and roll consumable to the white mainstream. With Elvis, rock n roll was now heard on radios and televisions across the world. And as with many of the albums on this list, the cover became famous in its own right, later copied by the Clash among others for the London Calling album.
Highlights: Blue Suede Shoes, I Got A Woman, Tutti Frutti.
Reason for inclusion: bringing rock and roll to the masses.
(Blue Suede Shoes)
The Beatles - Please Please Me, released march 22 1963.
Due to budgets and time constraints, the Beatles needed to record their debut quickly, and they did so in less than 13 hours. Along with George Martin, they laid down what they already knew. Many of these songs were part of their live sets at the Cavern in Liverpool. The album includes several covers of more obscure R&B tracks, such as Anna by Arthur Alexander along with their take on more famous tracks like Twist & Shout. Worth mentioning about this album is the fact that half the material are original Lennon-McCartney songs (on original pressings credited McCartney-Lennon). It includes the Beatles' first couple of singles Love Me Do and the title track, so they wanted to strike while the iron was hot due to the huge chart topping success of the Please Please Me single in the UK. I occasionally see derisive comments about the Beatles being the boy-band of their day, but they were much more than that. To appreciate an artist, you need the perspective of what was going on at the time, and from the opening “1-2-3-4” of I Saw Her Standing There came a sound and an excitement no one had heard before on vinyl. After all is said and done, the influence of The Beatles reaches deeper than we possibly realize.
Highlights: I Saw Her Standing There, Please Please Me, Twist and Shout.
Reason for inclusion: in an era where pop stars were told what to record, The Beatles introduced the notion of a self-contained rock group, writing and performing their own material, inspiring millions to pick up instruments and write their own songs.
(I Saw Her Standing There)
Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced , released May 12 1967.
Are You Experienced kicked off the Summer of Love. Along with Sgt Pepper (released less that 3 weeks later) it certainly set the tone for that heady summer where peace, love, drugs and psychedelia came together in what turned out to be perhaps a naive dream that only young people could dream up. The album enjoyed immediate commercial success, selling a million copies in the few months following its release. But where the Doors were moody (their debut was released January of that year), and the Beatles showing their experience and refinement, Are You Experienced came on like an animal in heat through your speakers, helping define the psychedelic era. Hendrix's heavy turbulent guitar changed the whole paradigm of the electric guitar and what the instrument can do. It is without a doubt a groundbreaking album. What's more, Jimi wrote every song.
Highlights: Foxy Lady, Red House, Fire, Are You Experienced
Reason for inclusion: Jimi turned the electric guitar on its head and took it where no one had before. Not only that but he could sing too.
Jeff Beck Group – Truth, released August 1968
Recorded in 4 days, Truth took the blues to electrified new heights by adding dashes of what was to become heavy metal. I almost included Zep's debut, but this album is where Led Zeppelin came from. Truth was released a year before Zeppelin's debut. The group consisted of Beck, Rod Stewart, Ron Wood and Mickey Waller. They performed loud sweaty covers of blues classics from Willie Dixon and Howlin' Wolf. Stewart's gritty vocals have never sounded better. Beck even had the moxy to kick off side 1 with a dirty re-worked version of Shape of Things, a track from the band he had left, The Yardbirds, thinking they were becoming too pop. The album features session musicians Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones who would later take Beck's blueprint to dizzying heights in the 70s. In fact, Zeppelin's You Shook Me can be said to be a cover of this bone-pounding version, as opposed to the original from Muddy Waters. Jimmy Page took great inspiration from Truth. Also featured are pianist Nicky Hopkins who played with the Stones quite a bit and Keith Moon. Unfortunately, possibly due to Beck's ego and erratic behaviour, the Beck Group went through a lot of members through 4 albums before Beck went solo. But Truth (and its follow up Beck-Ola, both with this core line-up) are heavier blues than anything that had come before.
Highlights: You Shook Me, Beck's Bolero, Rock My Plimsoul, I Ain't Superstitious
Reason for inclusion: The blues had never been so heavy. And it marked the trail for Led Zeppelin and all they would accomplish.
(I ain't Surperstitious)
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath, released Feb 13th 1970.
Sure there were hints of heavy metal prior to this album, but Black Sabbath was something else entirely . The general mood in rock was darker on this side of Altamont with the hippie dreams of peace and love dead in their tracks. From the opening with the rain and ominous bell, we knew we were in for a different kind of ride. Lower tunings on Tony Iommi's guitar, Geezer Butler's dark apocalyptic lyrics, Bill Wards heavy, spastic drums and perhaps Satan himself fronting the band, these elements all came together to bring us what is arguably the first heavy metal album. Everything about the Black Sabbath album was designed to send chills down your spine, from the bleak album cover featuring the Mapledurham Windmill on the River Thames in Oxfordshire to riffs heavier than we'd ever heard up to that point. Where there had been flashes of heavy metal in the past, this album does not let up. It was so different from anything else in its day that critics didn't understand it and generally panned it. Fans however, loved it and took Black Sabbath to #1 in the UK and #23 in the States where it stayed on the charts for over a year selling a million copies. According to Iommi it was recorded in a single 12 hour session and mixed the following day. The result is a bleak, thunderous, industrial sound. Already there were hints of artists heading into heavy rock (Led Zeppelin, Mountain, Jeff Beck Group, Deep Purple), but with Sabbath it all came together beautifully through the whole album and metal was born. This album changed the face of rock.
Highlights: Black Sabbath, N.I.B.
Reason for inclusion: Arguably the first heavy metal album.
The Ramones – The Ramones, released April 23 1976.
Recorded in 7 days for $6400, this is the album that instigated the punk rock phenomenon. Formed in Queen's New York, The Ramones created relentlessly fast paced songs that barely clocked over 2 minutes. Though the album didn't do very well originally, Blitzkrieg Bop and I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend both failed to chart and the album peaked at #111 on Billboard, it left an indelible mark. Initially released to mixed reviews, time has been kind to the album that sparked the punk movement in both the US and the UK. The Ramones named themselves after Paul Ramon, an alias of Paul McCartney in early Silver Beetles days. The album was actually recorded using many of the Beatles recording techniques. The famous cover was shot in the Bowery neighbourhood in NYC. It featured the Ramones looking like brothers, all in leather jackets, ripped jeans and sneakers, topped off by manes of dark hair. This classic album cover has become one of the most imitated. But it's what's inside that matters and mainstream rock's bloated narcissism at the time didn't know what hit it with this stripped down / bare bones album. Although The Ramones finally went gold (500 000 sold) in 2014, its influence has reached far and wide.
Highlights: Blitzkrieg Bop, Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue, Judy Is A Punk
Reason for inclusion: the original punk album that inspired a whole new genre
(Judy Is A Punk)
Van Halen – Van Halen, released February 10 1978.While prog rock enjoyed its day in the 70s, by the end of the decade punk was tearing down its grandiosity. In the midst of this came a band that had far too much talent to be punk, but kept their brand of rock just as straightforward. Van Halen were here for a good time and they wanted you to come along for the party. Their lyrics weren't particularly clever but they sang about sex, drugs and rock and roll, cornerstones of rock and roll. By 1978 rock music wasn't as scary and intimidating as it once was, and this band took advantage of that, performing heavy metal for the masses. While Van Halen sang about the tried and true, it was their guitarist Eddie who made the band head and shoulders above the rest. Playing a guitar that he built himself for just $150 – the Frankenstrat - he had a bag of tricks no one else had. Since that first album hit the store shelves, it has become “de rigueur” that a guitarist uses the finger tapping technique that Eddies performs so effortlessly well. He never claimed to have invented it, in fact he has stated he saw Jimmy Page doing it in concert and took it from there, inserting his own mastery to the technique. The production was monumental, sounding like nothing else that had come before. While critics originally panned the album, every guitarist had their ears glued to this, trying to figure out how Eddie got those sounds from his guitar. Guitarist had a new smiling hero in Eddie Van Halen.
Highlights: Runnin' With the Devil, Eruption, You Really Got Me.
Reason for inclusion: Eddie Van Halen, like Hendrix, turned the electric guitar on its head.
(Runnin' With The Devil)
Mike Lang has been a music lover, musician, traveller, and broadcaster all his life. Follow him on Twitter @theemikelang