Top Ten Debut Albums

By BOB WIRE

What makes a great debut album? I mean, besides a crappy second album. Luck plays a big part, as does talent, chemistry, strong songs and the golden touch of the right producer. When it comes to the best debut albums, the ones that we all have in our collection, most of the time it’s a matter of a band or artist delivering the right thing at the right time. They show up with a new sound that we’ve been desperately craving, even if we didn’t know it yet. Kind of like Psychic Pizza Delivery.

The albums on this list share one characteristic: they represent the high point, in my opinion, of the band’s recorded output. While most of these artists have continued to put out great music since their debut, they never quite hit that high water mark achieved on that magic first album. Their first time up to the plate, they hit a walk-off grand slam.

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One of these days I’ll update to8-track

1. Dwight Yoakam, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. Dwight was sharing stages in L.A. punk clubs in 1986 with bands like X and the Blasters when this album knocked Nashville on its bloated ass. With acts like Alabama and Ronnie Milsap ruling the country charts with toothless easy listening pap, Yoakam and producer/guitar godhead Pete Anderson hit the scene with all the subtlety of Mike Tyson at a beauty pageant. Pure, unapologetic, 200-proof country as hard as a coal nugget had punks and hillbillies sharing the dance floor, and one of the greatest country voices since George Jones came out of nowhere to hit the reset button on Real Country.

2. Pretenders, Pretenders. At the end of 1979 New Wave, punk and heartland rock were gleefully stomping all over the still-warm carcass of disco when this album arrived and somehow synthesized all three styles into a powerhouse sound all their own. Frontwoman/Telecaster dominatrix Chrissie Hynde announced her presence with authority in the album opener, “Precious”: “Trapped in a world that they never made / But not me baby, I’m too precious, I had to f*ck off.” I’d like to start the rumor that AC/DC’s “Big Balls” was written about Ms. Hynde.

Jason and the Scorchers scaring the hell out of Conan O’Brien

3. Talking Heads, 77. They were usually lumped into the aforementioned New Wave category, but the Heads were too funky to be part of the skinny tie crowd. Jerry Harrison of the Modern Lovers brought his elastic, stuttering guitar to add to the skintight rhythm section of Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth, and together they created a wholly eccentric sound that actually fit the goofy, Neil-Young-on-helium delivery of David Byrne. On their early albums they were all about staccato rhythms and rubber-necking grooves, but none as great at “Psycho Killer.” We were too busy pogoing on the dance floor to try and figure out the weird lyrics.

4. Steve Earle, Guitar Town. This album made me cheer, made me cry, and made me start writing my own songs. It came out the same year as Yoakam’s debut, but this was a different beast entirely. This was an utterly charming album from a twangy Texas songwriter singing about the same dingy American dream that Springsteen had been chronicling from New Jersey for a decade. I’m a huge Steve Earle fan, but I never warmed up to his politically-charged work that came a few albums later. I seriously doubt any of today’s bro-country lightweights could deliver a song about a troubadour calling his young son from a truck stop pay phone (“Little Rock ‘n Roller”) without sounding calculated and cloying. You know, like all the other stuff they do. Guitar Town is lightning in a bottle.

5. Ted Nugent, Ted Nugent. Yes, he’s a huge, cartoonish, reactionary ass clown who makes Rush Limbaugh look like Norman Mailer. But, “Stranglehold.” Crank it on your car stereo as you’re pulling into a small town like, say, Wibaux, and that first-take guitar solo will give you major chills. From “Snakeskin Cowboys” to “Queen of the Forest,” the songs here create a mood. Call it power melancholy.

Sammy Llanas, the singer of this song, left the band in 2011 to pursue a solo career.

6. Beastie Boys, Licensed to Ill. Okay, I’m cheating here a little bit. I think Paul’s Boutique is a consistently better album, but the Beasties’ debut left such a big footprint on rap’s ass that it bears inclusion. “Fight For Your Right” was the big hit—deservedly so—but the whole album explodes with rap-rock riots like “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and “Brass Monkey.” Snotty, raw, hilarious and exhilarating—the Beasties were the joke candidate that actually won the election.

7. Jason & the Scorchers, Lost & Found. I still can’t remember who turned me onto this album in 1984, but I’d like to buy ’em a beer. Lost & Found has had the biggest impact on my own musical style. A fierce rock and roll band with an Iowa hog farmer’s son yodeling the lead vocals, JATS shocked Nashville with their reckless power and firm grasp of country music’s history, architecture and vocabulary. Alas, my favorite band never quite got over the hump nationally, but Lost & Found was truly an alt-country forebear. The balance of metal and twang is thrilling. “If Money Talks” has more punk energy than anything the Sex Pistols ever did.

8. Son Volt, Trace. When alt-country heroes Uncle Tupelo broke up in 1994, Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy each formed his own band. Son Volt and Wilco both released their debut album the following year. They’re both great, but Trace is the better of the two. By the time Uncle Tupelo released their final album, Anodyne, you could hear two distinct forces at work. Farrar’s sound was distilled on Trace, and he managed to put together a nearly perfect album. Wilco has gone on to more critical acclaim and album sales, but Trace is timeless. Plus, have you seen Jeff Tweedy lately? He looks like a damn hobo. Comb your hair, son

9. Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction. What is it about 1986? So many iconic debuts. But this is the one that had everybody talking. These Los Angeles hard rockers had the debauchery of Mötley Crüe, the scorched earth bombast of Led Zeppelin, and more chemistry than the first season of Breaking Bad. They did it harder, faster, better than all their L.A. hair band compatriots, and nothing has come along since then that had this much impact on the rock scene. “Welcome to the Jungle” makes it easy to forgive Axl Rose for being a prickly knucklehead.

10. BoDeans, Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams. Again, 1986. Must have been some heavy solar flare action that year. These Milwaukee roots rockers signed with the punk label Slash Records and released this jangly, seductive collection of songs that is considered by many to be their finest work. Like JATS, they never got huge, but they’ve enjoyed a loyal following for 25 years. T-Bone Burnett’s spare but pristine production was the perfect match for these textured, guitar-based songs. Totally sincere, without a speck of irony, L&H&S&D isa masterpiece of American rock and roll. From their Everly-grade harmonies to the backbeat rock of “Angels” to the sad sack, woozy country of “Misery,” this album is as timeless as it is emotionally satisfying.

If I ever get this time machine finished, I know what year I’m setting it for.

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blogarchive.

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Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an openmind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.

 

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