Friday, February 2, 2007

Top 20 Debut Albums of All-Time

Time to reverse the negativity trend a bit, as I know I’ve been leaning a bit too hard on the Rant button lately, thus, I give you the best Rock ‘N’ Roll rookie efforts of all-time, and just for fun, I thought I'd try doing it David Letterman-style, starting with #20 first:

20) BLACK SABBATH—Black Sabbath (1970)  Ozzy and the boys scared the crap out of everyone with this little slab of Heavy Metal ghoulash, and Rock 'N' Roll ain't been the same since.  "N.I.B." and "The Wizard" are the two forgotten gems here...
19) THE WHO—The Who Sings My Generation (1965)  This one sounds a bit ratty in places (sometimes in a good way, like on the title track), and Roger Daltrey hadn’t quite matured as a singer yet (that didn’t happen until The Who Sell Out in 1967), but this LP’s a killer anyway.  Pete Townshend’s "A Legal Matter" is an overlooked classic here, as are "Circles" and "The Ox".
18) KATRINA & THE WAVES—Katrina & The Waves (1985)  Yes, "Walking On Sunshine" was their only true hit, but if you look beyond it, this whole album is pretty good stuff.  In my book, K&TW was like a really good bar band with a cute chick singer, with songs like "Red Wine & Whisky" (sic), "Going Down To Liverpool" (also a hit for The Bangles in '84), "Cry For Me", and "Machine Gun Smith".
17) THE POLICE—Outlandos D’Amour (1979)  This was far from their best album (Ghost In The Machine is my choice there), but this one was pretty tasty, well beyond just "Roxanne". I always liked "Born In The ‘50s" and "Can’t Stand Losing You", especially that line, "…and your brother’s gonna kill me and he’s six-feet-ten."
16) LED ZEPPELIN—Led Zeppelin (1969)  I’ve always thought "Dazed And Confused" was highly overrated here, but this album makes my list anyway since it contains two of my all-time Led Zep faves, "Communication Breakdown" and "How Many More Times", the latter being John Paul Jones’ finest hour (well, 8.5 minutes anyway) on the bass.
15) LYNYRD SKYNYRD—Pronounced leh-nerd skin-nerd (1973)  This one would make the list for "Free Bird" alone, but "Tuesday’s Gone", "Gimme Three Steps", and "Simple Man" are heavyweight stuff too.
14) MEAT LOAF—Bat Out Of Hell (1978)  "You Took The Words Right Outta My Mouth" was playing on my radio one day in late '78, and my brother walks in the room and says, "You listen to singing meat loafs?"  One of the funnier questions anyone’s ever asked me, but the answer is yes.  Bat is a classic of its own kind—Rock 'N' Roll meets Broadway and lives to tell about it!  Sadly, Sir Loaf has spent the last damn-near 30 years trying to top it and his desperation shows by his naming of subsequent albums Bat Out Of Hell II, Bat Out Of Hell III, etc. "All Revved Up With No Place To Go" should’ve been a hit from the original and wasn’t.
13) THE DOORS—The Doors (1967)  I may well be the only Doors fan on earth whose least favorite member of the band is Jim Morrison.  But, as pretentious and obnoxious as Mr. Mojo was, this was still a great first record, and this album was very ground-breaking and sounded so different from anything else at the time it came out.  Ray Manzarek makes Elton John look like a rank amateur on the piano, and he was quite possibly Rock’s first multi-tasker—since The Doors had no official bass player, he had to play that little bass organ along with the rest of his keyboard set-up.
12) THE CARS—The Cars (1978)  It took me a while to embrace these guys at first because they were so different.  What finally hooked me was that synthesizer bit by Greg Hawkes during the chorus on "You're All I've Got Tonight" as it literally echoed around Arrowhead Stadium as they opened for Fred Nugent in July, 1979.  The late Benjamin Orr is the unsung hero of this band, too—he was a much better singer than Ric Ocasek is, and he was pretty good on the bass, too.  Two hidden gems on this one are "Don’t Cha Stop" and "All Mixed Up".
11) A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS—A Flock Of Seagulls (1982)  Greatest Techno-Pop album ever recorded. These guys had all the soul of a doorstop, but for some reason, this album still worked!  And believe it or not, AFOS wasn't half-bad live in concert, either...
10) OZZY OSBOURNE—Blizzard Of Ozz (1981)  Pretty impressive stuff from someone who was down and out just a couple years before after getting booted out of Black Sabbath.  If Ozzy had never hooked up with the late Randy Rhoads, it’s doubtful his solo career would have gone anywhere, thus we’d never have known who Jack and Kelly and Sharon were.  Not sure whether to be thankful for the latter or not, but there’s NO denying what an awesome guitar player Randy Rhoads was.  His death and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s were two of the most devastating losses in Rock ‘N’ Roll history.
9) MOLLY HATCHET—Molly Hatchet (1978)  Hatchet came out of the chute with a nasty little debut record that rivaled anything Skynyrd or the Allmans ever did.  The late Danny Joe Brown had a distinctive growl, and it suited MH’s style perfectly.  "Bounty Hunter" and "Gator Country" were standout tracks, as well as their re-working of the Allman Bros.’ "Dreams" into "Dreams I’ll Never See", which blew the original away, and would’ve made my best cover songs list if there weren’t so many other good ones ahead of it.
8) ASIA—Asia (1982)  This was certainly a pleasant surprise when it came out, and it turned out to be the best debut album ever by a so-called "Supergroup" comprised of musicians from other famous groups.  This album was consistently good all the way through, and never boring like most of the stuff the band members played on in their former bands (Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, King Crimson, et al.).  "Time Again" is an underrated gem here, as is "Here Comes The Feeling".
7) BLACK OAK ARKANSAS—Black Oak Arkansas (1971)  Okay, knock it off—stop laughing already!  This was a fun record, dammit!  And sometimes being fun is more important than being technically proficient, e.g., you won’t find King Crimson’s first album anywhere on this list.  To paraphrase an analogy Gene Simmons likes to make, "Sometimes you want Filet Mignon, and sometimes you want a big cheeseburger."  To wit, if Who’s Next is Filet Mignon, then BOA is a Double Whopper (with cheese).  From start to finish, Jim Dandy and crew served up a great little first album that rocked with a sense of humor to boot.  Their version of Marty Robbins’ classic "Singin’ The Blues" is a total hoot, and this one contains their classics "Hot And Nasty", "When Electricity Came To Arkansas" and "Lord Have Mercy On My Soul", the latter of which sounds an awful lot like the Hollies’ "Long Cool Woman" in places.  One of my all-time favorite albums, debut or otherwise.6) THE GO-GO’S—Beauty And The Beat (1981)  Alrightty now—setting aside any bias caused by my pubescent lust ("Lust To Love"?) for certain members of this band, I can honestly state that this was a damn good record!  As good as they were musically, The Go-Go’s don’t get nearly enough credit for their brilliant lyricism, with lines like "Discarded stars like worn-out cars litter the streets of this town" (from "This Town") and "Our love needs an overhaul," (from "Skidmarks On My Heart").  "We Got The Beat" and "Our Lips Are Sealed" are as good as it gets when it comes to Pop singles, too.  You Go-Go, Girls! (I just had to say that, yes...)
5) BOSTON—Boston (1976)  It pains me to do this, but even as sick to death as I am of hearing this band now on Classic Rock radio stations the world over, I still have to give it up to these guys for putting out one of the absolutely finest debut albums ever.  Boston sounded so polished, you’d have thought they’d been around for ten years or so already when this album came out.  One track I actually never get tired of hearing is "Peace Of Mind", especially its melodic outro as it fades.  It’s also pretty rare to find an album from which every track on it gets regular airplay on the radio (Led Zeppelin IV being the other prime example).  Boston could have gone down as one of the great American Rock bands of all-time if they hadn’t gotten so caught up in perfectionism, legal squabbles and ego-driven in-fighting throughout the rest of their career.  Damn shame...
4) THE RAINMAKERS—The Rainmakers (1986)  Best debut album that most of America has never heard.  These guys could have/should have been every bit as big as R.E.M. is, and could easily blow Michael Stipe & Co. off any stage on a bad night, but PolyGram Records did little or nothing to promote them, so Kansas City's own Rainmakers were sadly only able to achieve cult status, at best.  Too bad too, because singer Bob Walkenhorst is a freakin' brilliant songwriter with tunes like "Government Cheese", "Downstream", "Rockin’ At The T-Dance", and my personal favorite "Big Fat Blonde".  Being the dyed-in-the-wool cynic that I am, this album also contains one of my favorite all-time lyrics:  "The generation that would change the world is still looking for its car keys," (from "Drinkin' On The Job").
3) GUNS ‘N’ ROSES—Appetite For Destruction (1987)  A very apt title for such a self-destructive band, but a fucking killer album, debut or not.  Sadly, G'n'R seemed to have shot their wad here, and if Axl Rose wasn’t such a megalomaniac and/or dickhead, there’s no telling what else this band might have gone on to do in the ‘90s.  "Mr. Brownstone" and "You're Crazy" are the underrated classics here...
2) VAN HALEN—Van Halen (1978)  This album was the shot in the arm Rock ‘N’ Roll desperately needed at the height of the Disco era, and by dingies, we could sure use another one of those today, too!  Ironically, I actually consider "Runnin’ With The Devil" to be one of this album’s weaker tracks, even though it’s a classic amongst most VH fans. "I’m The One" and "On Fire" are even better, yet are sadly overlooked.  Fortunately, "Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love" and "Jamie’s Cryin’" are not overlooked, and "Eruption/ You Really Got Me" is downright immortal.
1) JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE—Are You Experienced? (1967)  I went back-and-forth trying to choose between this one and Van Halen as the best debut album of all-time, and finally settled on AYE mostly because it was about ten minutes longer and was so ground-breaking when it came out.  Even the so-called "B" tracks like "Love Or Confusion" and "May This Be Love" are great songs, as well as all the classics here like "Purple Haze", "Fire", "Hey Joe", "Manic Depression" and the title track.  An absolutely essential album in anyone's Rock collection.

HONORABLE MENTION: KISS—Kiss (1974)  What's that you say?  A mondo-Kiss fan like me doesn't even rank their debut album in the top 20?  Well there’s a reason.  This one would be in my Top 5 except for one thing—the record sounds flatter than the Kansas plains!  Great songs here, to be sure, but it's a piss-poor recording.  If Kiss had a decent producer at the time, this album might've out-Aced Van Halen, but the way it plods along in places, it just doesn't cut the proverbial cheese.  In fact, the demos for some of the songs herein (found on the Kiss CD box set) sounded so much better, like "Deuce","Firehouse" and "Strutter", and I can’t figure out why they didn’t just use them instead—they were so much more energetic than that which wound up on the album.  Fortunately, seven out of the ten tracks here received the proper treatment on Kiss Alive!, so all’s well that ends well.  Still, a majorly-missed opportunity...