Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
It seems like every major music publication, website & blog has already published their lists of the “best debut albums of all time,” so it wasn’t a subject I considered writing about even though I don’t always agree with their choices. Then a couple of weeks ago I played a few of my favorite debut albums for the first time in years and before I knew it I was compiling a list of more than 100 artists who began their recording careers with a bang. Since you’ll rarely hear me speak in absolutes, I’m not presenting these as “the best” but merely some of my all-time favorites. In the first couple of posts I will highlight the debut albums I’ve heard so many times that I can extoll their virtues without needing to play them. These are my no-brainer choices; the ones that have been a part of my life for such a long time. You’ll notice that a majority of my choices were released between the mid-‘70s and the mid-‘80s, which makes complete sense since those were my formative years, between the ages of 10 and 20. There’s no doubt that the music released during our school years usually has the biggest impact on us, and it came as no surprise to me when I realized that a large percentage of my top debuts were released during that era. I’m sure anyone 10 years older or younger would have a drastically different list of favorites, but hopefully there will be many albums featured in this series that a lot of us can agree on. Some artists take time to develop, but here are some who were “great out of the gate.”
Artist: LED ZEPPELIN
Album Title/Year Of Release: LED ZEPPELIN (1969)
Of course my all-time favorite artist had to appear first. When I became a fan at the age of 13 in 1979, their debut was just one of eight studio albums in their discography that I absorbed at the same time, so it was hard for me to fathom the impact this album must have had when it was unleashed on the world a decade earlier. From their heavy take on blues classics like “You Shook Me” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby” to fast & furious originals like “Communication Breakdown” and “Good Times Bad Times,” this was the blueprint for so many other artists that followed in their wake. It’s also full of light and shade, which helped me as a musician to understand the concept of “dynamics” at an early age thanks to “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” “How Many More Times” and one of their defining songs, “Dazed And Confused.” Then there’s the fact that you had four world-class musicians who instantly became so much more than the sum of their parts, making this my ultimate debut album by my ultimate band.
Artist: BIG COUNTRY
Album Title/Year Of Release: the CROSSING (1983)
This Scottish/British quartet has had a bigger impact on me than any other artist since my teenage years. Sadly labeled one-hit-wonders in the US due to their sole Top 20 hit, “In A Big Country,” they were much bigger overseas, scoring eight Top 20 singles and four Top 10 albums in the UK. Late singer/songwriter/guitarist Stuart Adamson was an underrated, one-of-a-kind talent, and the rhythm section of bassist Tony Butler and drummer Mark Brzezicki (one of my biggest drumming heroes), along with second guitarist Bruce Watson, elevated Big Country beyond many of their less-gifted contemporaries. Of course, musical ability means little without good songs, and this album is packed with classics from top to bottom, including singles “Fields Of Fire (400 Miles)” and the beautiful ballad “Chance,” along with soaring epics like “The Storm” & “Porrohman” and would-be hit singles “Inwards” & “Harvest Home.” Steve Lillywhite deserves special mention for his typically great production, especially the drum sound. The Crossing is one of the rare albums that truly changed my life, and I’m transported back to the summer of 1983 whenever I play it.
Artist: JOE JACKSON
Album Title/Year Of Release: LOOK SHARP (1979)
I instantly became a lifelong Joe Jackson fan the moment I heard “Is She Really Going Out With Him” blasting out of the radio for the first time in ‘79. It’s been a fun journey following his career through more genres than most artists are even aware of, starting with this blast of new wave that doesn’t have a weak moment over the course of its 11 songs. His songwriting was as strong as the two contemporary artists he was most often compared to (Elvis Costello and Graham Parker), and his unique vocal phrasing, self-deprecating sense of humor & a band that was the equal of The Attractions, The Rumour and even The E Street Band, all combined to make Look Sharp a timeless collection that might otherwise sound dated by now in less capable hands. From the youthful punk-inspired energy of “Got The Time” and “Baby Stick Around” to songs featuring reggae & jazz influences like “Sunday Papers,” “Fools In Love” and “Look Sharp,” I’ve never grown tired of this album…and the same holds true for just about everything in his discography.
Artist: THE CARS
Album Title/Year Of Release: THE CARS (1978)
In the late-‘80s, there was a clear divide between fans of synth-based new wave music and what’s now known as classic rock. The only band that seemed to bring those two sides together was The Cars. Main songwriter/vocalist Ric Ocasek’s offbeat delivery & quirky songwriting (inspired by early Roxy Music) was embellished by Greg Hawkes’ space-age synths & keyboards and Elliot Easton’s jangly, melodic, Beatles-influenced lead guitar. Bassist Benjamin Orr added his warmer vocals to several songs and David Robinson supplied solid-but-never-boring drumming. This is one of the rare albums that could pass for a best-of collection, with radio staples “My Best Friend’s Girl,” “Just What I Needed,” “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight,” “Bye Bye Love,” “Good Times Roll” and “Moving In Stereo” (the latter etched in the minds of every male in my age group thanks to Fast Times At Ridgemont High). Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker was an inspired choice, making these songs sound huge and emphasizing their vocal harmonies.
Artist: PINK FLOYD
Album Title/Year Of Release: THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN (1967)
Pink Floyd is probably my second-favorite artist of all-time, just behind Led Zeppelin, but it took me a long time to fully embrace their debut album. My first exposure to their music was 1977’s Animals, shortly after my 11th birthday, and within a couple of years I loved everything from Meddle through The Wall. Their earlier releases were a little less accessible, especially to my teenage ears, with The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn being as far removed from the Pink Floyd sound I loved as anything I could imagine. That makes sense when you consider it was the only album they released under the guidance of founding member Syd Barrett, whose brief solo discography I previously discussed. His whimsical, almost-childlike and distinctly British songwriting was mixed with psychedelic arrangements and occasional journeys into complete weirdness, resulting in off-kilter gems like “Matilda Mother,” “Bike” and “Lucifer Sam.” The musically adventurous side of the band is also represented by “Astronomy Domine” and “Interstellar Overdrive.” I started appreciating this album in the ‘80s, but it wasn’t until the release of the mono version in 1999 that I fully understood its mad brilliance. Prevailing wisdom might suggest that stereo is the preferred format for this type of music, but in this case the mono mix packs a much stronger punch, and I highly recommend it as the definitive way to hear this record.
Album Title/Year Of Release: PRETENDERS (1980)
I fell in love with Chrissie Hynde’s voice when I heard Pretenders’ cover of The Kinks’ “Stop Your Sobbing.” I had only discovered The Kinks about a year earlier so I can’t recall which version I heard first, but there’s a warmth to Hynde’s delivery that makes theirs more definitive to me. Like the other artists discussed above, there’s some amazing musicianship at work here, especially Martin Chambers’ creative & energetic drumming and James Honeyman-Scott’s inventive & melodic lead guitar work. Hynde’s songwriting veers from the snarling punk influence of “Precious,” “The Wait” and “Tattooed Love Boys” to the instantly catchy melodic rock of “Kid” and “Brass In Pocket,” and there are some longer, less-commercial (but no less impressive) tracks like “Private Life” and “Lovers Of Today.” Through it all, they prove themselves to be a seriously kick-ass rock band. I often cite Chrissie Hynde as my all-time favorite female singer, but that almost sounds like a backhanded compliment for someone whose gender is significantly less important than the quality of the songwriting, and it rarely got better than on their self-titled debut.
Artist: MARSHALL CRENSHAW
Album Title/Year Of Release: MARSHALL CRENSHAW (1982)
My introduction to the music of Marshall Crenshaw came via a cover of his “Someday Someway” by rockabilly singer Robert Gordon, which was a minor radio hit in 1981. A year later I heard Crenshaw’s version on his debut album and was initially disappointed in the simple, sparse arrangement, but I quickly came around and realized that it was merely a different approach. The entire album is full of songs that sound simple due to the basic guitar-bass-drums trio set-up, clearly an homage to his similarly bespectacled hero Buddy Holly, but there’s a lot of diversity in the songwriting. You won’t find a weak track here, with plenty of highlights like “Rockin’ Around In N.Y.C.,” “Cynical Girl,” “There She Goes Again,” “Mary Anne” and the melancholy-yet-uplifting “Not For Me” (my personal favorite here). There are other Crenshaw albums I enjoy as much as this one, but for the uninitiated his debut is the perfect place to start.
Artist: DONALD FAGEN
Album Title/Year Of Release: THE NIGHTFLY (1982)
Donald Fagen may have had an advantage heading into his solo career, having been half of the creative duo behind Steely Dan throughout the ‘70s, but that doesn’t diminish what he accomplished with The Nightfly. Some fans might have seen this as a continuation of his work with “The Dan,” but it has a unique feel that separates it from anything in that band’s catalog. Sure, he surrounded himself with top-notch studio musicians like they did on Aja and Gaucho, but the subject matter seems a lot more personal than anything he had previously recorded. From the late-night disc jockey in “The Nightfly” to the bouncy lounge-jazz of “The Goodbye Look,” from the faithful cover of Lieber & Stoller’s “Ruby Baby” to the radio hit “New Frontier” (whose lyrics were my impetus for checking out the music of jazz legend Dave Brubeck more than three decades ago), this has been one of my desert-island discs for as long as I can remember. I’ve enjoyed his other solo albums and his work with the reunited Steely Dan, but none of them have struck me with the same intensity as The Nightfly.
Album Title/Year Of Release: BOSTON (1976)
Even more than their fellow New Englanders The Cars, Boston’s debut album might be the closest any artist has ever come to releasing a “greatest hits” at the start of their career. Sure, they had other successful singles and albums, but there was no way they were ever going to top this record, which pretty much came to define AOR (album-oriented rock). The combination of Tom Scholz’s songwriting & one-of-a-kind guitar sound and Brad Delp’s seemingly limitless vocal range made them the perfect band for both AM and FM radio in the ‘70s. All eight tracks have received airplay over the years, with “More Than A Feeling,” “Peace Of Mind” and “Foreplay/Long Time” the most recognizable thanks to classic rock stations. Those three took up Side A, and the consistency of the remaining tracks on the flip side set Boston apart from anything else released at the time: “Rock And Roll Band,” “Smokin’,” “Hitch A Ride,” “Something About You” and “Let Me Take You Home Tonight” are all cut from the same cloth but each has its own distinct charms.
Artist: THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS
Album Title/Year Of Release: THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (1986)
I don’t think the duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell get the recognition they deserve as incredibly gifted songwriters. That’s likely due to the fact that many of their songs are humorous, they’ve released several collections of children’s music (which are as good as any of their “adult” albums) and they started their career using sampled sounds, dressed in silly outfits, included accordion in their instrumental arsenal & produced quirky, low-budget promotional videos. In many ways they were like Devo Mach 2, without the de-evolution manifesto of their quirk-rock predecessors. Instead, they churned out incredibly inventive songs at an impressive rate, their first four albums containing 18-19 songs each, all of them in less than 45 minutes. For me it doesn’t get much better than their self-titled debut, which I first checked out in 1988, the same year I saw the video for “Don’t Let’s Start” on MTV. Some tracks are merely sketches with one or two hooks before wrapping up in less than 90 seconds, while more fully fleshed out songs like “Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head,” “(She Was A) Hotel Detective,” “She’s An Angel,” “Youth Culture Killed My Dog” and “Rhythm Section Want Ad” make the case for them being one of the most creative artists of their time. They released more mainstream-friendly material in later years, but I always come back to their debut, which has remained my favorite TMBG album for nearly three decades.
Here’s a list of some great debuts already discussed at KamerTunesBlog, with links to the original posts:
BIG STAR – #1 RECORD (1972)
BLACK SABBATH – BLACK SABBATH (1970)
SUPERGRASS – I SHOULD COCO (1995)
TOM WAITS – CLOSING TIME (1973)
NICK DRAKE – FIVE LEAVES LEFT (1969)
TELEVISION – MARQUEE MOON (1977)
THE BAND – MUSIC FROM BIG PINK (1968)
There were also a number of excellent debuts featured in my ONE AND DONE and TWO AND THROUGH posts.
How many of the albums discussed here would appear on your list of all-time favorite debuts? I’ll be back in a few days to highlight another 10 great ones, so if any of your favorites were missing they may show up in Part 2.
What a wonderfully diverse selection, Rich. I’m 9 for 10 on the main selections, and 5 for 7 on the “sub” selections you’ve spoken about already! One of my all time favorite debuts is Nick Lowe’s Jesus Of Cool. As a matter of fact that just may be my all time favorite! Great post, Rich.
Thanks, Ian. I’m glad you like most of my choices. Hopefully that success rate will continue throughout this series. I’m curious about the 1 out of 10 that you weren’t on board with. TMBG, perhaps? Nick Lowe is on my master list, but I need to revisit his debut again since it’s been a few years since I played it. His music is such a joy to my ears.
Nope, have that TMBG, love it too. I’m a little embarrassed to say it’s the Crenshaw debut. Truthfully, he’s an artist that I am woefully ignorant of.
Wow, that’s surprising. I would’ve pegged you as a huge Crenshaw fan. At least now you know about the perfect place to start with his catalog.
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That Pretenders debut is a beauty, Lovers for today, what a song.
Blue Weezer will always be magical for me!
Thanks, Geoff. Good call on “Lovers Of Today.” I was reminded about that hidden gem when I revisited that album last week. As for Weezer’s debut, have no fear…it will be included in this series.
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Awesome stuff Rich. Real cool to see Boston,Cars,Zep and the others as well. As always you throw down some fantastic writing…
Thanks for the feedback, Derek. Glad we’re on the same wavelength with a lot of these albums. Hopefully we’ll have more titles in common throughout this series.
Not a BADDIE in the bunch, and you’ve got QUITE a few of MY favorites listed as we… …. TMBG, CRENSH, PRETENDERS……JOE FRIKKIN JACKSON, DONALD FAGEN…..I would stick DEVO’s debut in there, but that’s just ME…..I can agree on ALL of your choices whole heartedly… except, I’ve never heard PINK FLOYD’S first album all the way through…… we were a Floyd Free family until Dark Side of the Moon.
Hi Bill. I appreciate the feedback, and I’m thrilled that we have so many of these albums (and artists) in common. Good call with Devo. Until recently I only had a couple of their compilations, but then I got expanded CDs of the first five albums and I appreciate them even more. I love their debut, but it hasn’t impacted me enough to warrant inclusion in this series. As for Pink Floyd, their debut is drastically different from anything in their ’70s catalog, so it’s not for everyone. However, if you haven’t explored any of their releases prior to The Dark Side Of The Moon, I heartily recommend both Meddle and Obscured By Clouds.
A few of mine…hope you don’t mind. I wonder if any of these made the cut for you in round two. Looking forward to see.
Bob Mould – Workbook
Captain Beefhearts Magic band – Safe As Milk
The Clash – the Clash
Dire Straits – Dire Straits
Gang of Four – Entertainment
Hampton Grease band – Music To Eat
Living Color -Vivid
Marillion – Script For A Jesters Tear
Men At Work – Business as Usual
Nirvana – Bleach
Robert Palmer – Sneaking Sally Through the Alley
Roxy Music- Roxy Music
Soul Coughing – Ruby Vroom
I want to learn more about Big Country. The sound always intrigued me but I have never heard anything by them but maybe 2 songs.
I always kind of forget about Piper, a great album indeed but I’m always drawn to the immediate post-Syd Floyd as my go to. I’m one of these Floyd fans who love Ummagumma and AHM over some of their other material. Lucifer Sam is one of my favorite songs of all time. You are right Mono is the way to go with that one!!
Some excellent choices there, with one or two that might show up in an upcoming post. Thanks for reminding me about Bob Mould. I’m not much of a fan but I’ve always loved that album. Will add it to the master list.
If you’re ever ready to dip your toes in the Big Country waters, I’ll be happy to give you a couple of suggestions about where to start. As you can tell, they’re a hugely important band for me.
As for Floyd, Atom Heart Mother is the one album that’s always left me a bit flat. There are moments I like but overall I’ve never embraced it as much as anything else in their catalog. Ummagumma, on the other hand, is fantastic.
Yeah I would love to hear it. I know the purpose of your blog is to go over some of the lesser listened to aspects of your catalog but I would love to hear your quick takes on some of the favorites so people might know where to start. Big Country is one of them. I know the Floyd and Zep discogs backwards but would be interested in your take on their respective catalogs regardless.
Yeah Workbook is a great one, the only Mould album I know well. He got a lot of Richard Thompson influence on that one, and I love RT’s work.
AHM is such a weird album just like Ummagumma and most of that period is so odd and charming in its own way. AHM is notable because they performed such amazing versions of that suite live with and without orchestra and no one has really heard them. They are revelations, each and every one of them.
Bring on pt 2 so I know if were on the same page with some of them.
The Big Country discography is interesting. My favorite of their albums, Steeltown, was huge in the UK but stiffed in the US and pretty much killed the commercial momentum of their debut. It’s dark & dense and takes multiple listens to truly appreciate, but in the end it’s one of the most powerful records I’ve ever heard. Their third album, The Seer, would have been a better sophomore album, since it’s much more accessible. After that, their sound got American-ized in a bid to be as big as U2. Adamson’s vocal delivery changed and the production was more direct, but the songs continued to be strong. It makes sense to follow their catalog in order. If you jumped from The Crossing to their heavy ’93 album Buffalo Skinners, you would never know it was the same band.
I will continue to focus on the lesser-played artists in my collection, but I am considering a series about Zeppelin after the final super-deluxe box set is released later this year or in 2016.
Good call about the Richard Thompson similarities on Mould’s album. I hadn’t thought about that but it’s true.
I’ll have to seek out some of those Atom Heart Mother live recordings. Perhaps I’ll finally come around to that album if I hear some of those pieces in a different context.
Part 2 coming in a couple of days. Stay tuned…
I think Atom Heart Mother is probably Floyd’s best pre-DSOTM album (and better than Animals and The Final Cut (the latter of which is really a Waters solo album in many respects). The title track—side 1—is one of the few “rock meets classic” (although not billed as such) things which actually work (Jon Lord’s Sarabande is another). All a matter of taste, of course, but that cello theme is really good! 🙂 Side 2? “If” is almost Leonard-Cohen-like. “Fat Old Sun”, like Grantchester Meadows, is a nice pastoral tune, Gilmour singing high, which is good when done well (like Jack Bruce on “White Room”). “Summer ’68” evokes those memories of what might have been but nevertheless good while it lasted (sort of lack the last episode of The Wonder Years and could be something from Love’s Forever Changes.
Give it another spin! 🙂
Phillip, I’ve played Atom Heart Mother dozens of times over the last 30+ years so it’s not a matter of needing to give it another spin. It’s just one of those albums that never struck me like many of their others. Each time I play it I hope to feel differently, but that hasn’t happened yet. It’s similar to how I feel about Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, which I discussed in my first blog series 4 years ago. Regarding Floyd’s pre-DSOTM albums, my favorites are Meddle, Obscured By Clouds and More.
I actually mentioned Leonard Cohen in this thread without noting the fact that his Songs of Leonard Cohen is one of the great debut albums. And he was 33 or whatever at the time! I listened to it recently on a new CD (with two bonus tracks) (I have had the vinyl since before there were CDs) on my way to a gig by The Iron Maidens (and, yes, I realize that I am the only person in the world who has ever done that).
Leonard Cohen’s debut would have been a no-brainer for this series had I been a fan for years, but I only started listening to him a few years ago. So as much as I love his music, especially that album, it hasn’t seeped into my bloodstream like the albums that I’m writing about here. And yes, I imagine you’re likely the only person combining Cohen and The Iron Maidens. Well done, sir.
That Cars album is a favourite around these parts. Looking forward to see what else makes the cut!
Thanks J. The Cars were one of those smart bands that split before they went into a decline, so there’s not a dud in their catalog. The debut is a masterpiece yet I’m not even sure it’s my favorite of their albums.
I only have three of their albums (debut, Candy-O and Heartbeat City). I’ve never actually heard Panorama, Door to Door and only through the recent revisiting of the catalogue did I find out they released an album a couple of years ago (Move Like This).
Of those I own, I think the debut is my favourite (like you say, it’s a total greatest hits package). I do like Heartbeat City a lot, though. What do you reckon is your favourite?
I’m not sure I could pin down a favorite Cars album, but I can tell you which is my least favorite: Shake It Up. I think it’s half great and half decent, while their other albums (at least prior to the reunion) are mostly great. I have a special affinity for Panorama since I remember being the first one to buy it at my local record store the day it was released, and that was the tour when I saw them in concert. I also find myself defending Door To Door a lot. It’s a fantastic record that gets dismissed by a lot of fans & critics. I enjoyed the reunion album but it felt incomplete without the late Ben Orr.
Shake It Up never grabbed me and I’ve never actually revisited it (though I was tempted after Mr. 1537 gave it some attention). I’ve been close to buying Panorama, but I’ve always spotted something else that’s took my fancy – recommended, though?
I would think that the recent album would fall a bit short – Ben Orr was a big part of the sound. I’ll also have a look out for Door to Door, I’ve never paid any attention to it due to the lack of love out there for it.
Panorama is HIGHLY recommended. It’s a little darker than the first two albums but that’s always been one of its charms for me. It also includes “Touch And Go,” which features one of the most perfectly constructed guitar solos I’ve ever heard. I’ll be very curious to hear your thoughts on that album &/or Door To Door whenever you check them out.
I’m always drawn to the darker music in an artists catalogue, so Panorama might just need to get picked up first. I’ve added it along with Door to Door and the reunion LP to my Discogs list (seems I can get hold of copies fairly cheaply, too)
Some great albums here Rich. They are all either ones I’d either agree with or just haven’t heard! Looking forward to the next batch.
Thanks Scott. I’m curious which is your favorite of the albums in this post.
Black Sabbath probably. Boston is a favourite too (although I actually think the 2nd of theirs was even better)
It’s hard to imagine a list of top debut albums without Black Sabbath showing up, right? As for Boston, I love Don’t Look Back but I don’t think it’s as consistent as their debut. I remember being disappointed when it was first released, thinking “why did it take them two years to come up with this?”, not knowing it would be another EIGHT years until the next one. Prolific is the last word anyone would use to describe Boston.
Great writing. Here’s an interesting question: how many of these albums, if any at all, do you feel were never topped by their artists?
Thanks, Ovidiu. That’s a great question. I think the only artist here who never came close to reproducing the magic from their debut is Boston. I like the two albums that followed but neither is in the same league. Everyone else went on to make great albums, even if a few of them didn’t quite top their debuts.
Completely right about Boston. To some extent, their first album also defined a genre, although as always one can debate about the precedents.
I don’t think the next two (never heard the later ones) Boston albums are bad so much as too much “more of the same”. That isn’t bad when it comes to style, of course, but it seems like Scholz recycles his One Big Riff too often. 😐
Last Saturday night, German rock legends Puhdys in an acoustic farewell concert (I’m always suspicious of “farewell tours”, but with a 75-year-old keyboarder it will be sooner rather than later), tonight Joe Lynn Turner paying tribute to Rainbow. Tomorrow, Damien Wilson (familiar to me as singer of mostly Dutch acoustic Iron-Maiden cover band Maiden United but tomorrow playing guitar and singing his own songs in singer-songwriter mode). All at the same club. (And, yes, yesterday I finished revising a paper concerning inhomogeneous cosmological models.)
I’m glad we agree about Boston, Phillip. That’s a great point about Scholz recycling the same riff. Fortunately it’s a GOOD riff so he’s gotten a lot of mileage out of it, but song-for-song it’s hard to be their debut.
You’ve got quite a busy schedule this week. I’ll be curious to find out how Joe Lynn Turner’s voice sounds these days. I loved the albums he did with Rainbow and I own his first solo album, but I haven’t heard anything by him in at least 20 years.
“I’ll be curious to find out how Joe Lynn Turner’s voice sounds these days.”
At the beginning of the show he said that he had a cold. Nevertheless, his voice was still better than most singers without a cold. I had never seen him live before; like Dio he’s quite diminutive in stature (I wonder if that’s why Dio’s first band was called Elf). As with Blackmore, toupée or not toupée, that is the question. 🙂 I honestly don’t know, but if it’s real, I’m envious. (I got into Iron Maiden about the same time as my hair became too thin to wear it long. Despite Blaze Bayley, Rob Halford, etc, I still see hair as an essential hard rock/heavy metal component. 🙂 At least I had two or three decades of increased shampoo consumption.)
He sang not only songs from his time with Rainbow, but also Rainbow songs by other singers, some Deep Purple songs (but I don’t think any from his one album with them, though of course he sang others while on tour), some other songs from his albums with others (Malmsteen etc) and so on.
The opening act were Dynasty (or Dynazty, I’m not sure what the official spelling is), a Swedish hard-rock band (there are probably more bands per population, and many more hard-rock/heavy-metal bands, in Sweden and neighbouring countries than anywhere else in the world.) They were OK, but pretty generic. Sans singer but with an additional keyboarder, they were also JLT’s band. They proved to be highly competent, but at least for me the contrast between music written by Blackmore and their own didn’t put them in a good light, despite their chops. (Of course, as always a matter of taste—they were technically good and clearly enjoyed what they were doing.)
I read years ago that Turner suffers from alopecia, which results in significant hair loss that can affect not just the head but also facial & body hair. That might explain his possible toupee. Glad to hear he still sings well, and he covers a wide variety of songs from throughout his career.
Another interesting thing about Boston: Their first album is essentially a demo, with Scholz playing almost everything; the band was assembled later. Scholz had intended to re-record it with the band, but the record company said “It’s good enough as it is; we’ve already released it”. Probably a good decision, because Scholz would probably have taken years to re-record it. 😐
The first album by Nightwish is also a demo. It is incredibly good, not just technically but also musically, essentially defining the “symphonic prog” sound (that combination of overdriven amps with a 70s hardrock sound, operatic soprano and double bass drums), but also including nice acoustic numbers (this combination is rare: Jethro Tull, Neil Young). Probably better than anything which came later, though admittedly I’m not familiar with their later stuff. I’ll probably check out the new album though, apparently inspired by Carl Sagan, Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins etc and featuring a new singer, Floor Jansen.
The thing is, with such albums, unless one reads it’s a demo, one would never notice it. Are there any others? Demos can be interesting, such as Pete Townshend’s Scoop, but usually I prefer the full version.
And still another interesting thing about Boston: In the early days, much was made of “technology as an instrument”, Scholz’s technical background, etc. Later, they were proud to declare “no computers used, no synthesizers used”. Not a contradiction, because they remained true to their own style, which was more technological than most when they started, but less than most later on.
I learned about the demo nature of the Boston album in a magazine about 25 years ago, and I found that information very enlightening. Most musicians at the time didn’t have the technical abilities to create something so professional on their own. Scholz is an engineering genius as well as an incredible guitarist & songwriter, so it was the perfect combination for a hit record. With the advent of digital home recording technology over the last two decades, it seems like anyone can create a massive-sounding album in their bedroom. It’s good that people have access to that technology, but I will always be more impressed by the artists who did it when the resources weren’t as readily available. The days when bands would use the studio as a tool (The Beatles, Hendrix, Queen, etc) were special times.
I’ve heard some Nightwish songs on prog-rock samplers and they’re good, but I haven’t been inspired to check out any of their individual albums. There’s just too much music out there to choose from, and I try to focus on the material that most excites me.
Great stuff. I’m right with you on the Floyd and Fagen.
Thanks for the feedback, Matt. Those Floyd & Fagen albums are truly special. Have you heard the mono mix of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn? It really is eye-opening (or ear-opening).
It seems interesting in how Big Country made such a difference for some bloggers like you and Brian from the Linear Tracking Lives! And people like me.
This first album from Big Country had such an optmism for life. Stuart was such a great loss. Hope he is jamming somewhere.
Hi. Thanks so much for stopping by. One of the joys of the internet age has been discovering all of the passionate Big Country fans around the world. Before we were all connected, back in the late 80s & early 90s, I felt like I was the only person in America who still listened to their music on a regular basis. It’s wonderful to know how much impact they had on so many people. I was fortunate to meet Stuart in ’93 and it was a wonderful encounter. The same holds true for the others in the band as well, especially Mark who I’ve met twice. As a fellow drummer it’s always a pleasure to chat with him.
Some great choices! Hard to argue with The Cars, Boston, Marshall Crenshaw, Joe Jackson and Boston. I am showing my age but I bought all of those when they came out. I’d have to add the Talking Heads, “Talking Heads 77” and Elvis Costello’s “My Aim is True,” two other great debuts from that era.
Hi JC. Thanks for stopping by. Glad we agree about several of these albums. I agree about Talking Heads’ debut. I probably should have linked to that album at the bottom of the post since I already wrote about their discography a few years ago and 77 was one of the most pleasant surprises for me. I’ll have to revisit Elvis Costello’s debut soon. I’ve always enjoyed it but was never blown away. Maybe I’ll feel differently this time. I really appreciate your feedback.
Both of those were very good. But they are greatly overshadowed by what came next. I rate both Song About Buildings and This Years Model among the artists very best work.
I’ve had an ambivalent relationship with Elvis Costello’s music for a long time which has affected my enjoyment of even his best albums. He’s a great songwriter and The Attractions were a kick-ass band, but I think he’s often a little too clever for his own good. I still love a lot of his songs but I find it hard to listen to any of his albums from start to finish. It’s been more than a decade since I listened to him on a regular basis, so I’m hoping his music will sound fresh the next time I play it.
“He’s a great songwriter and The Attractions were a kick-ass band, but I think he’s often a little too clever for his own good.”
I see where you’re coming from. I’ve never been a fan. I remember once in an interview he complained about fans being ripped off by record companies or whatever, then announced some remastered version of one of his album with some bonus tracks which real fans just had to buy. 😐
The funny thing about him is that he actually said “yes” when his manager (and think about which year this must have happened) said “We’ll call you Elvis”. 🙂
Was it Declan MacManus’s manager who gave him his stage name? And was it the year Elvis Presley died (’77) or right before then?
Right, the idea came from his manager. It must have been shortly before Elvis died.
I guess it could have been worse. His manager might have suggested Englebert Costello.
British singer Engelbert Humperdinck of course got his stage name from German composer—drum roll, please—wait for it—Engelbert Humperdinck. In Germany, the heirs of the real Engelbert Humperdinck force him to go by just Engelbert in Germany. (Engelbert is a real, but quite rare, German name. Humperdinck is a rare last name; I’ve only heard it in this case. Same is true of Beethoven, Mozart, and Brahms. Schubert, Schumann, Wagner, and Bach are common names, though.)
Thanks for the info, Phillip. I think I knew about the origin of Englebert’s name, but it’s good to know how rare both the first & last names are.
Very good list there, some of the best debut albums of all time.
Thanks. I hope you’ll feel the same about the 10 debuts in my next post.
I notice that many of my favourite bands have highly atypical first albums: Floyd with Barrett and without Gilmour, Tull without Martin Barre(!)—interestingly, the first album is This Was Jethro Tull, Rush without Peart(!!), Steeleye Span with Gay and Terry Woods,early Fairport without a girl singer, The Scorpions’ Lonesome Crow (more psychedelic and Krautrock than the later hard rock/heavy metal), [now moving to bands which are OK but not really my favourites] Genesis’s first album which they didn’t even remaster, Supertramp’s selft-titled first album (no saxophone and otherwise quite different)
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Interesting observation, Phillip. There are probably just as many artists who continue with the sound of their debuts, but perhaps the most interesting (and longest-lasting) artists have atypical debuts because they were still developing. Thanks for bringing up Supertramp. I love their debut but it is drastically different from anything else in their catalog, even the follow-up, Indelibly Stamped.
“You’ll notice that a majority of my choices were released between the mid-‘70s and the mid-‘80s, which makes complete sense since those were my formative years, between the ages of 10 and 20. There’s no doubt that the music released during our school years usually has the biggest impact on us, and it came as no surprise to me when I realized that a large percentage of my top debuts were released during that era.”
Rich and I are about the same age, but I have to say that this is not the case with me. I came to rock music rather late, in 1979, after seeing a Beatles tribute show (The Fabulous Mahoney Brothers) at Six Flags over Texas. After this I got into not just the Fab Four, but also Rush, Floyd, and Tull. These are probably still my 4 favourite bands, but not because they are the first 4 I got into. Rather, I got into them because they were the best, and somehow got through to me. In retrospect this was strange, since during the 1970s a lot of the music I now listen to was very popular: Boston, Kansas, Journey, Foreigner, etc. (OK, some of this is also in the “guilty pleasures” category, but I still think it is better than anything which has come out in the last 4 decades, with the exception of stuff which is deliberately retro (and I think it is fair to include R.E.M. in that category, since their best songs carry on the Byrds’ jangle-pop tradition).
I was more aware of the 80s when they happened, but in retrospect, what a bummer! Really a drop from the 70s, and even some 70s bands suffered from too much echo on the snare, even singer-songwriters were using Fairlights, and so on. Not to mention the hair and clothes!
So, I can’t really understand liking music because one heard it at a particular time. Sure, music can bring back memories, but that doesn’t mean that I really like the music better, even if the memories are good. (It almost works for Houses of the Holy, though; those who follow my blog comments will know what I am talking about!)
I do know people who were born in the late 1950s and really like 1970s music, but they just happened to be born such that the best music was the soundtrack of their youth.
I’m really saddened by young people who don’t even know what music is out there. We old folks are at least dimly aware of more modern music, but which fan of The Gaslight Anthem has ever heard anything by Lindisfarne? These days, it’s even very easy with YouTube and so on.
“I’m sure anyone 10 years older or younger would have a drastically different list of favorites, but hopefully there will be many albums featured in this series that a lot of us can agree on.”
Ian Anderson once scolded Johnny Rotten and his ilk for making themselves into some sort of lost generation. (Like myself, Ian has no respect for punk.) He said that he shouldn’t be so arrogant: if he had been born 5 years earlier, he would have been in a blues band; 5 years later, and he would have dressed like a pirate and played a synthesizer.
Phillip, you might be the exception to the rule. Keep in mind that the music we listen to in our youth doesn’t necessarily need to be contemporary or popular. It’s whatever inspires us through those years. I think a lot of the connections I have to the music I loved in that era come down to having fewer musical choices and lots of time for listening. I could play every album by Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Stones, The Who, etc. dozens of times and get to know every nuance of the music. Over the last quarter-century I average about 300 new albums a year, so I don’t get the same experience with those records like I did when I was younger. As much as I love all kinds of current artists, the impact can never be the same as it was when I was a teenager. The music is just as good but I just can’t immerse myself in the same way.
Thanks for the Ian Anderson quote about Johnny Rotten.
It’s certainly true that we used to have more time, so in that sense, yes, music of one’s youth can make a deeper impression, even if it is not the contemporary music. (Nevertheless, many people listen to only contemporary music.) There are some albums I have heard more than a hundred times. Now, with 1000 CDs, if I hear one per day, I can hear each only 10 more times in my life. 😦 On the other hand, I try to find time for music now, not only in concerts but also while driving. I hope to buy some sort of CD-to-hard-disk system this year and, in connection with that, some sort of mobile music player, so I might find time for even more in the future.
“Thanks for the Ian Anderson quote about Johnny Rotten.”
My pleasure. I’m glad that it came over correctly; I was thinking of adding a note that Anderson was indeed talking about Johnny Rotten, and not about himself. 🙂
Another one, about Kurt Cobain: “That chap who died who did something with a cello on MTV”.
Which brings me to a great quote from a Mojo interview:
We rarely converse, but I say “Good morning, John” if I see him. He’s a very nice fellow, his wife is very nice. I don’t even think he knows I play guitar or anything. I try to keep it down.
—Joe Bonamassa [who just happens to live next-door to Johnny Rotten]
Your math regarding the amount of times we could play all of our CDs for the rest of our lives is frightening. I have between 7,000 & 8,000 CDs & LPs and the collection continues to grow. I try to play multiple albums every day but I do wonder how many of them I’ll never hear again. That was one of the reasons I started this blog, so I could revisit the lesser-played records in my collection.
I appreciate those additional quotes. I assume the one about Cobain was another Ian Anderson quote, right?
Yes, from Ian Anderson.
Thanks for clarifying. Anderson has a great sense of humor. Wicked, sarcastic & very funny. It comes across in his music and interviews.
Hi Rich. Enjoyed scrolling through your FM radio-friendly list. Not entirely my cup of tea, most of it, but fun to peek through your window.
Must, however, express my delight at the inclusion of Marshall Crenshaw’s debut. ‘Cynical Girl’ was the song from that album that got me. Wonderful stuff.
Thanks Bruce. I can’t deny the FM-centric nature of this post, and that will likely be the case for many of the choices throughout this series. So many of my most influential debut albums were released during my teens & early-’20s, but there might be a few surprises included as well. I’m glad we at least agree on Crenshaw.
I’m sure there will be more confluence to come.
It’s an interesting topic – I actually have a ‘Debut Albums’ section at VC that currently has 10 entries.
Wonder if there’ll be any overlap?!
I didn’t realize you had a Debut Albums section at your blog. I looked through it this morning and there are some great ones, including a couple that should appear in my series (depending on how many posts I end up doing). I need to check out the Tomorrow album. I know a few of their songs via compilations, and I’m a big Steve Howe fan, but I always assumed they had only recorded a handful of singles and not a full album.
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Depending where you sit (or perhaps ‘fly’) on British psychedelia, the Tomorrow album is pretty entertaining. Marshall Crenshaw on acid, maybe?!
I love British psych, and the “Marshall Crenshaw on acid” description has really piqued my interest. Thanks.
Looking forward to the next installment.
Crenshaw’s is the only one I’ve never gotten into and I wonder how to classify Boston’s first. I agree it’s a great debut but I saturated.
Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad we agree on so many of these. The next post will be up in a day or two and hopefully you’ll agree with at least some of my choices. Are you saying that you like Boston’s debut but you got tired of it? I may not play it as often as I did in the ’70s but I’m still impressed by the consistency of the songs and it still sounds fresh whenever I hear it.
I enjoy the songs if I hear them somewhere but sometime in the 90’s I stopped playing my copy of the album.
That’s understandable. There are plenty of albums that were in heavy rotation for many years that no longer get played. The best are the ones that sound fresh whenever you go back to them. I hope you have that experience the next time you give Boston a spin.
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I agree with you about Chrissie Hynde’s voice. Her rendition of Angel of the Morning rivals Juice Newton’s original.
I’m with you on about half of these albums. Fantastic stuff! I’m not sure that I’ve heard the other half so I’ll have to investigate.
Thanks for another great post, Rich!
Hi Danica. I had forgotten about that cover of Angel Of The Morning. Thanks for reminding me. Chrissie also did one of my favorite versions of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Her voice makes me melt a little.
Please let me know if any of the other albums here make an impression on you.
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I hadn’t heard her version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, so thank you for that! I understand and me too.
I’m looking forward to listening to these new-to-me albums. I’m sure I’ll find a lot to like. Thanks again, Rich.
I think her version was originally on one of those Very Special Christmas albums, and it was certainly a highlight.
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100% agree! and I have said it before – Marshall Crenshaw supporting this record and warming up for Joe Jackson is one of my favorite concert memories.
Wow Wayne, that must have been some night. I didn’t see Joe Jackson until the Body And Soul tour in 1984, even though I had been a fan since ’79. Seeing Crenshaw and Joe in their primes at the same show must have been quite an experience. I’ve seen both of them separately many times but your show was something else.
It was special and with a small crowd —- plenty of room for you on the lawn back then Rich!
I probably wouldn’t have appreciated Crenshaw as much, since I didn’t get into his music until 1983 (“Whenever You’re On My Mind” was my introduction, and it remains one of my favorite songs in his discography), but that would be an incredible show to revisit in a time machine. Have they invented that technology yet?
Reading these music blogs – seems like that is what we are doing. Most of the passion we write is in that “sweet spot” of the teenager to adult transition – that is where the music sticks for a lifetime.
Good point, Wayne. We’re mentally time traveling…and we don’t even need a DeLorean or a phone booth. Haha.
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