The fastest-selling debut album ever – Arctic Monkeys’ Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not – is 10 today. We asked our contributors about their favourite debuts.
Never mind ‘the difficult second album’: imagine writing, playing, recording, producing, mixing, mastering, promoting and selling your first. It’s amazing any band ever gets this together, no matter how much help they may or may not get from friends, managers and labels.
At the time of recording The Stooges’ first album, they were a chaotic bunch of Detroit drop-outs and proto-punk scenesters whose five-song, 15-minute-long live set comprised of some stunningly simplistic yet effective riffs, a lot of throwing themselves around to the point of injury and a hell of a lot of winging it.
Record label Elektra wanted them to commit to record, which would mean writing a lot more songs and – novel idea – actually finishing the ones they already had. The band wrote to this requirement overnight in the hope of not losing the album offer and played the newly scribbled material for the first time actually in the recording studio. In front of their uber-famous producer, The Velvet Underground’s John Cale.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Elektra rejected this first version of the album and then also rejected the John Cale-mixed later attempt too. But everyone was an absolute fool as Elektra have been reissuing the various rejected, unissued, un-pitch-corrected versions ever since.
For an album of rushed, unfinished tracks played by unskilled, untrained musicians with a healthy suspicion/derision of big business, whoever would have thought the resulting album would be so perfect. No Fun, I Wanna Be Your Dog AND 1969 are all on here in their absolute raw supremacy and it was eventually recognised as one of the greatest debut albums of all time. In your face, people who do their homework.
It’s crazy to think it’s more than 40 years since Queen released their debut album, imaginatively titled Queen (the second album was called Queen II).
It features none of their big hits; Freddie’s surname was still Bulsara when it was recorded and the final track was never even finished, but I believe it’s a truly exhilarating debut that anyone who is used to the greatest hits will find surprising.
Heavier and grimier than they eventually became, the standout tracks are the unpredictable Doin’ Alright, the hard-rocking Liar and, my favourite track, My Fairy King. This song is very much a proto-Bohemian Rhapsody and is where Freddie got the ‘Mercury’ surname from. The last 60 seconds of the song are a rollercoaster instrumental that always gets my heart racing.
Kate Bush – The Kick Inside (1978)
The Kick Inside was not just Kate Bush’s first album, but MY first album, the first I ever listened to alone, over and over again.
In 1978, I was 14. More significantly, my sister was 18 and had just gone away to university. So, for the first time in my life, I had a bedroom to myself and could choose what music to listen to. Ironically, the album I listened to most was one that my sister had left behind, along with her Sanyo Music Centre.
I’d come home from school, go up to my bedroom, put the cassette on and start my homework. That was the theory, anyway. Instead I’d do interpretative dance until my mum called me down for tea, starting with that whale song that opens The Kick Inside.
My parents liked Kate Bush because she’d been on a special edition of Ask Aspel, where she proved herself to be intelligent and well-spoken. They’d clearly never listened to her lyrics.
Kite, a jaunty song about flying, began with the barking mad line “Beelzebub is aching in my belly-o”. Them Heavy People was simply baffling. The Man with the Child in His Eyes was the perfect love song for teenage girls who spent their lives daydreaming. And then there was Feel It, which was quite blatantly about having sex.
The Kick Inside was my introduction to the joy of getting lost in an album, and it taught me an awful lot about life, music, words and being a slightly weird woman.
“My parents liked Kate Bush because she’d been on a special edition of Ask Aspel, where she proved herself to be intelligent and well-spoken. They’d clearly never listened to her lyrics.”
*shuffles uncomfortably at computer* Let’s get the tricksy guilty feminist issue out of the way first: yes, this album is sexist.
In fact, ’sexist’ doesn’t even really do the misogyny justice (and I wouldn’t want to do a fella’s efforts down, Axl). It’s so sexist, it demands some sort of new word that has to be shouted; something like ‘CHRISTTHATISSEXIST!’
But… bend me over backwards and use me as a disposable plaything, it’s an absolute doozie of an LP; a classic, if dissatisfied, paean to sex and booze and rock ’n’ roll. Since its release in 1987, Appetite For Destruction has shifted more than 30 million copies worldwide. It’s a snarling rock animal, so dirty, dangerous and mean it makes other 80s rock look callow and sheepish. It’s bluesy, metallic, nasty and loud with enough dimension to still sound fresh nearly 30 years on. Man, I want to lick its face right on the slathering chops.
It’s debauched to the point of audacious, booze-sodden, smack-addled and practically humming with the smell of sex. On Rocket Queen, you can hear Axl and a woman making humping noises (WHAT NOW?) and rumour has it they were actually, literally making sweet, sweet coitus (HOLD THE PHONE!). No doubt Axl romanced her with a line like, “Turn around, bitch, I got a use for you, besides, you ain’t got nothing better to do, and I’m bored” from It’s So Easy, but best not dwell on that.
I was 10 when I persuaded my ma to swap her hard-earned Esso tokens for Appetite For Destruction on cassette (I’d cleverly removed the ‘parental guidance’ sticker with my thumb, before presenting it to her at the cash desk), and I played it ragged, sniggering at the naughty words and not really understanding the references. Mr Brownstone? Clearly about heroin. Is Thinking About You a love song? Nah, it’s about horse, mate. Sweet Child O’ Mine? An ode to skag… OK, no wait, that one is a ballad.
Truth is, I had the shit bullied out of me at school. I was soft of heart and underbelly. Going home to Guns N’ Roses, to Axl, Slash, Izzy, Duff and Steve, my boys, meant I could hang with the cool kids for a bit. And that sneering aggression gave me just enough armour to face the next day.
Axl Rose’s feral screeching and howling is iconic, but the spat-out riffs and duelling guitars of Slash and Izzy Stradlin, and the muscular rhythm section of Duff McKagan and Steve Adler do a lot of the heavy rock lifting to make Appetite For Destruction the arse-spanking debut it is.
Paradise City is without question my favourite track: raw, gritty, fast (yet uncommercially long at nearly seven minutes) with one of the most corking solos in metal. I’ve wrecked more pairs of tights doing kneeslides across rock-bar floors than Axl’s had tantrums. Well, nearly.
Suede – Suede (1993)
I had a year off before I went to university. Not to build mud huts or find myself abroad. I spent it doing what working class kids did in their year off, getting a job and pretending you’re saving the money while spending the vast majority of it on music and booze.
I spent my days sullenly dishing up barely edible food at a roadside cafe and my evenings enjoying the huge rush of freedom that comes with finally having a bit of cash, friends with cars and ID with your own name on it. We went to dark and sticky places like The Roadmender in Northampton, Esquires in Bedford and The Pitz, a gig night held in a school gym in Milton Keynes (Jeez, MK’s musical life was bleak). If we were feeling particularly flush we’d drive to Rock City in Nottingham or The Underworld in Camden.
As I’m writing this, I realise working-class kids wanting to go to university can no longer afford the luxury of a bacchanalian year of gig-going and drunken indie discos where they cop off with boys just because they look a bit like Tim Burgess.
In truth, Patti Smith’s Horses is the best debut album ever, but I’ve talked about my (albeit new-found) Smith love before. So, I had planned on picking The Stone Roses’ The Stone Roses, which was the first album that made me feel like a different person when I’d finished listening to it. (It came into my possession on a C60 cassette recorded for me by my friend Daniel Taylor and it literally blew my mind on the bus home.)
But there’s something about Suede. Its bizarre mix of confidence and insecurity, its often jaunty tunes masking some pretty dark ideas; what can I say? It spoke to me.
And it’s obviously completely gorgeous. From the very second So Young swaggers into your ear drums, its glorious loucheness is a fricking joy. This is despite the fact that an unhappy recording period means Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler are basically having a talent-off. And man did that work out well for us.
But more than that, Suede says something about the world it came from – pre-New Labour Britain. It’s so of its time that one of its most provocative lines “Now you’re over 21” will prompt young listeners of the future to say “Jesus!” in the same way I do when I hear how much fags used to cost in songs written in the 60s.
I remain hopeful that current political conditions are ripe for some new State of the Nation albums from young people who can’t believe they have to put up with this shit. In the meantime perhaps we should all start listening to Suede again.
Oasis – Definitely Maybe (1994)
Back when I was a spotty 15-year-old getting up to all sorts of mischief, my slightly older, Metallica/White Zombie-loving aunty ceremoniously gave me this CD, declaring, “It’s soft as shit – you’ll like it.”
How right she was. This album soon became the anthem to my raucous late teens. Each and every track a total, total tune and even now, 20-odd years later, it stands up there with the best of ’em. I drank until I fell over to it, I took drugs for the first time (and subsequent other times) to it; I had an illicit fling with a lead singer of a dodgy local Scunny band who sang songs from it, and I made some of my best mates while singing to it. Throughout it all, this album was with me.
“Going home to Guns N’ Roses, to Axl, Slash, Izzy, Duff and Steve, my boys, meant I could hang with the cool kids for a bit. And that sneering aggression gave me just enough armour to face the next day.”
Even though I love Noel – his wit, his sarcasm, his bloody amazing songwriting – for me, Liam is at the heart of my love affair with this album. His northern un-arsedness mixed with pent-up aggressive passion oozes out of these tracks. Tracks filled with hope, dreams, desire and down-right cock-swinging arrogance that one day they were going to leave their Manc council estate behind and head for the big time. With so much swagger matching that voice and those songs, there was never any doubt.
I listen to the album a lot and my go-to tracks are always Live Forever and Slide Away, which are probably also my favourite Oasis songs of all time due to their gut-wrenching optimism and dogged beliefs. But this album is littered with anthems: Rock ‘n’ Roll Star, Supersonic, Columbia – every one knocks seven bells out of their later offerings.
No matter where they went to afterwards and how coke-fuelled wanktastic they became, I will always love singing (shouting) along with Liam, sharing his cocksuredness and will always thank them for assisting me in totally ‘aving it for those years.
This is the album responsible for me loving emaciated boys in girls’ jeans and leather jackets. It’s also the reason I love music. Prior to the existence of this 37 minutes of tight guitars and distorted vocals, I was totally apathetic to music but this album changed everything for me and also managed to save the world from nu-metal.
The album starts off with a great sleepy title track, perfect for the morning after the night before and soars from there. There are the huge singles and indie dancefloor fillers, like Last Nite but there are also laid-back songs that allow you to take a breath.
My one complaint? It’s over before it’s started. It’s a short album by anyone’s standards and when you’re suddenly a music-hungry teenager you’re desperate for these gorgeous New York cool kids to croon some more and it feels like breaking up every time the album ends.
If you’re like me, though, you have sniffed out the American version which, in a post 9/11 climate, took out the critical New York City Cops in favour of When It Started. If they can discard a song as good as that in an emergency, it has to be a good album. This really was it for me.
Kiri Pritchard McLean
Some of Standard Issue's brilliant women's carefully crafted words for your reading pleasure.