Debutante Ball–Who Wowed ‘Em Out of the Gate?!


By Jeff Symonds

On the 1983 podcast, we talked about debut records, and I suggested that the Violent Femmes record from that year was one of the all-time greatest debut records, maybe in the top 2 or 3.

And boy did I hear it from people!  J

So I went back and double checked, and as they said in “All The President’s Men,” I stand by my story.  

The idea of an “album,” a series of songs designed to go together, doesn’t really emerge in rock music until about 1966, with The Beatles “Revolver” and a few other examples.  So the first debut records with any cohesion or a sense of itself as an “album” as an artistic statement and not just a collection of singles, isn’t until 1967, and the BEST one comes out that year: Jimi Hendrix—”Are You Experienced”?  

This debut will never be topped until a band reinvents music entirely (and I look forward to hearing that record someday.). So here is my list, chronologically, of the ten greatest debut records through 1986 (the year we’re on as I write this post):

Jimi Hendrix– Are You Experienced?                                                                              1967

            Reinvents electric guitar and the concept of rock music in general.

The Velvet Underground– The Velvet Underground And Nico                                            1967

            Invents the idea of rock music as an outlet for the avant-garde.

The Band– Music From Big Pink                                                                                    1968

Dylan’s backup band from 1966 borrows some of his best songs and makes the most democratic record in history—four lead singers, brilliant arrangements.

Derek & The Dominos– Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs                                             1970

Cheating a bit, because it’s established artists Eric Clapton and Duane Allman under a pseudonym, but it’s a debut, and the best work Clapton ever did.

Richard And Linda Thompson– I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight                          1973

The most obscure choice here and so worth finding and checking out. Richard left Fairport Convention to start a band with his then-wife.  Breathtakingly beautiful and restrained and otherworldly—the sound of British folk-rockers who have converted to Sufism, and that’s actually a great description for the music here.

The Clash– The Clash (US+UK)                                                                                      1977

Punk rock’s greatest band—the Sex Pistols record got the press at the time, but it sounds sloganeering and big now (though still great)– this is the album that has endured musically.

Elvis Costello– My Aim Is True                                                                                       1977

            One of the great and most prolific songwriters in rock history, this first record, made for almost no 

            money, introduces Elvis as musical sponge with a killer voice and biting pen.

The Police– Outlandos D’Amour                                                                                     1978

            One of the shortest and sharpest catalogues in rock; also mentioned on the podcast.

Joe Jackson– Look Sharp!                                                                                              1979

A fantastic record by a jazz pianist turned new wave hero—the bass playing here by Graham Maby is among the top 4-5 performances on a rock record.  He elevates every song here.

The Pretenders– The Pretenders                                                                                     1980

            My pick in 1980.

X– Los Angeles                                                                                                              1980

The best of the LA punk bands, and the greatest debut from that scene.  27 minutes long, and every song a banger.  Tells the other side of the LA story from the 70s and 80s.

Violent Femmes– Violent Femmes                                                                                   1983

            See 1983—you can all just kiss off into the air.

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