FEATURE: She Plays the Cello Like a Violin: National Album Day: The Best Debut Albums Ever




She Plays the Cello Like a Violin


PHOTO CREDIT: @samueldixon/Unsplash

National Album Day: The Best Debut Albums Ever


IT is coming up to National Album Day (13th October)…


 PHOTO CREDIT: @lagianolik/Unsplash

and I have seen various radio stations and websites cover the album from different angles. Whether it is the best album opening track or the best record of this year – there is a lot of interest in the album itself and how important it is. I might well cover both of those considerations in future pieces but, to me, when you think of the album and the most interesting topic around it…can you get any more interesting than deciding the best debut album?! Naming the best album full-stop would be exhaustive and contentious but I think it is easy to limit the choice of best debut album down to a select few. In fact, I have assembled fifteen records that, I feel, can be considered the very best opening statements ever. You might have your own interpretation and champion but there seems to be a sense of consensus regarding the assembled list. What makes the ‘best debut album’ is the fact people, when they were released, would have judged them on the strength of the whole rather than the singles – how often do we do that on a regular basis?! These albums are special, not only because they are complete and thrill you from the first to the last, but because it is the first album we heard from those artists – those who made a bold and brilliant push right from the get-go! Have a listen and look through the shortlisted best debut album nominations and see which one you would plump for – maybe you have a different view and think one has been omitted! As we near National Album Day, I excited to pull apart, celebrate and commemorate the album…


PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash/@iammrcup

ANY way I can.



Beastie BoysLicensed to Ill


Release Date: 15th November, 1986

Producers: Rick Rubin, Beastie Boys


There is a sense of genuine discovery, of creating new music, that remains years later, after countless plays, countless misinterpretations, countless rip-off acts, even countless apologies from the Beasties, who seemed guilty by how intoxicating the sound of it is, how it makes beer-soaked hedonism sound like the apogee of human experience. And maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but in either case, Licensed to Ill reigns tall among the greatest records of its time” - AllMusic (2011)

Standout Cut: No Sleep till Brooklyn

Patti SmithHorses


Release Date: 13th December, 1975

Producer: John Cale


Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine." Patti Smith's debut - from that devastating opening line forward - is a unique rock & roll document; its ambitious musical primitivism, anybody-can-do-it-attitude and casual androgyny laid down a blueprint for punk. Twenty-nine years old when the album was released, Smith was a natural, if unlikely, avatar of rock. A published poet and rock critic, she set her beat-tribute "babelogues" to the inspire din of Sixties-style garage rock” - Rolling Stone (1997)

Standout Cut: Gloria (Part I: In Excelsis Deo; Part II: Gloria (Version)

Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not


Release Date: 23rd January, 2006

Producers: Jim Abbiss, Alan Smyth


At moments like that, Whatever People Say ... defies you not to join in the general excitement, but it's worth sounding a note of caution. We have been here before, a decade ago: critics and public united behind some cocky, working-class northern lads who seemed to tower effortlessly over their competition. The spectre of Oasis lurks around Arctic Monkeys, proof that even the most promising beginnings can turn into a dreary, reactionary bore. For now, however, they look and sound unstoppable” - The Guardian (2006)

Standout Cut: Fake Tales of San Francisco


Jeff Buckley Grace


Release Date: 23rd August, 1994

Producers: Andy Wallace, Jeff Buckley


As the son of Tim Buckley – who also died far too young – Jeff was always going to find it difficult to escape his father’s shadow and establish himself as a singular talent. Grace, though, was a remarkable first step – inconsistent certainly, but blessed with moments of arresting, beguiling beauty. It takes most of its compositional cues from fairly classic rock sources (Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd), but Buckley’s vocals – committed, sincere, stop-you-in-your-tracks intense – marked him as an artist to follow intently. What a tragedy that he was never able to develop further the epic potential of this worthy debut” - BBC Music (2011)   

Standout Cut: Hallelujah

The BeatlesPlease Please Me


Release Date: 22nd March, 1963

Producer: George Martin


This slightly rough and ready debut is as close as we can get to their early live set.The range of their tastes is reflected in their penchant for slightly saccharine ballads, melody already as important to them as the sharp rhythmic groove and tough rock sensibility of the utterly sensational, snotty version of 'Twist And Shout’, which features a fearless lead vocal from Lennon that defined the way British rock singers would approach the mike ever after” - The Telegraph (2009)   

Standout Cut: Twist and Shout

Guns N’ RosesAppetite for Destruction


Release Date: 21st July, 1987 

Producer: Mike Clink


It’s a surprising closing sentiment for an album so drenched in fear and loathing. But taken of a piece with the band members’ declarations that despite the hard living they were just five guys out to have a good time, it also shows how Guns N’ Roses’ early outlook was as animated not just by its members’ heady stew of influences. Perhaps all that wanton consumption could lead to a place of contentment that offered more than the comfort offered by the Midwest, more than the neon-lit debauchery of clubs’ back rooms—a wandering through the jungle that would open up into paradise” - Pitchfork (2017)    

Standout Cut: Sweet Child o’ Mine

Lauryn HillThe Miseducation of Lauryn Hill


Release Date: 25th August, 1998

Producers: Lauryn Hill (also exec.), Che Guevara and Vada Nobles


What’s most remarkable, in retrospect, as the cult of Lauryn Hill grows stronger (sporadic concert appearances becoming the stuff of myth) is how slight some of her songs are on record. For being almost 80 minutes long, Miseducation is a surprisingly easy listen, coasting mostly on Hill’s simple repetition of phrases to emphasize a mood. By album’s end, a cover of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” (with beatboxing) seems obligatory but still a part of what she does best: Like Amy Winehouse, Hill gets at the heart of ’60s soul while slyly turning it into her own postmodern art project. The album’s simple authenticity is one of its strengths, turning backup vocals into rap refrains and stripping bare much of soul music’s bullshit” - SLANT (2015)  

Standout Cut: Doo Wop (That Thing)

Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols


Release Date: 28th October, 1977  

Producers: Chris Thomas, Bill Price


In a commercial sense, however, the Sex Pistols will probably destroy no one but themselves, but theirs is a holy or unholy war that isn’t really going to be won or lost by statistics, slick guitar playing or smooth studio work. This band still takes rock & roll personally, as a matter of honor and necessity, and they play with an energy and conviction that is positively transcendent in its madness and fever. Their music isn’t pretty — indeed, it often sounds like two subway trains crashing together under forty feet of mud, victims screaming — but it has an Ahab-versus-Moby Dick power that can shake you like no other music today can. It isn’t particularly accessible either, but, hard to believe and maybe not true, record sales apparently don’t mean much to the Pistols. (They never do when you don’t have any.)” - Rolling Stone (1978)  

Standout Cut: Pretty Vacant

Led ZeppelinLed Zeppelin


Release Date: 12th January, 1969 

Producer: Jimmy Page


Led Zeppelin I is a fantastic glimpse into the time capsule, a standing testament to rock pageantry. If released today, there would still be a place for it in the genre’s decorated history. It set the tone for one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Even if no one knew it yet” - Consequence of Sound (2014)     

Standout Cut: Communication Breakdown

The Stone RosesThe Stone Roses


Release Date: 2nd May, 1989 

Producers: Peter Hook, John Leckie


Squire's riffs are bright and catchy, recalling the British Invasion while suggesting the future with their phased, echoey effects. The Stone Roses was a two-fold revolution -- it brought dance music to an audience that was previously obsessed with droning guitars, while it revived the concept of classic pop songwriting, and the repercussions of its achievement could be heard throughout the '90s, even if the Stone Roses could never achieve this level of achievement again” - AllMusic (2009)

Standout Cut: I Wanna Be Adored

Ramones Ramones


Release Date: 23rd April, 1976  

Producers: Craig Leon, Tommy Ramone


They don't alter the structure, or the intent, of the song, they simply make it louder and faster. And that's the key to all of the Ramones' music -- it's simple rock & roll, played simply, loud, and very, very fast. None of the songs clock in at any longer than two and half minutes, and most are considerably shorter. In comparison to some of the music the album inspired, The Ramones sounds a little tame -- it's a little too clean, and compared to their insanely fast live albums, it even sounds a little slow -- but there's no denying that it still sounds brilliantly fresh and intoxicatingly fun” - AllMusic (2010)  

Standout Cut: Judy Is a Punk

OasisDefinitely Maybe


Release Date: 29th August, 1994  

Producers: Oasis, Mark Coyle; Owen Morris and David Batchelor  


It's their much-vaunted 'attitude' that has bolstered Oasis with the confidence to make all this work. The only equivocal thing about 'Definitely Maybe' is its title. Everything else screams certainty. So what if all the singles are here” - NME (2000)

Standout Cut: Live Forever

The Velvet Underground The Velvet Underground & Nico


Release Date: 12th May, 1967  

Producer: Andy Warhol  


Offerings as extreme as "The Black Angels Death Song" or "European Son" were always going to be the moments that really remained in the minds of those brave enough to experience this album. Not many did and unbelievably it remained a semi-obscurity long after its release, with only rock scribes and musicians enhancing its reputation by word of mouth. Acceptance as a 'classic' hasn't diminished its awesome power to shock and provoke one jot. If you've never heard it, your life will be changed. If you've already got it, it's still an essential purchase. A monument to the evil that men (and women) do” - BBC Music (2002 – Deluxe Version Review)

Standout Cut: Venus in Furs

Television Marquee Moon


Release Date: 8th February, 1977  

Producers: Andy Johns, Tom Verlaine


Leader Tom Verlaine wrote all the songs, coproduced with Andy Johns, plays lead guitar in a harrowingly mesmerizing stream-of-nightmare style and sings all his verses like an intelligent chicken being strangled: clearly, he dominates this quartet. Television is his vehicle for the portrayal of an arid, despairing sensibility, musically rendered by loud, stark repetitive guitar riffs that build in every one of Marquee Moon‘s eight songs to nearly out-of-control climaxes. The songs often concern concepts or inanimate objects — “Friction,” “Elevation,” “Venus” (de Milo, that is) — and when pressed Verlaine even opts for the mechanical over the natural: in the title song, he doesn’t think that a movie marquee glows like the moon; he feels that the moon resonates with the same evocative force as a movie marquee...

When one can make out the lyrics, they often prove to be only non sequiturs, or phrases that fit metrically but express little, or puffy aphorisms or chants. (The chorus of “Prove It” repeats, to a delightful sprung-reggae beat: “Prove it/Just the facts/The confidential” a few times.)” - Rolling Stone (1977)

Standout Cut: Marquee Moon

Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures


Release Date: 15th June, 1979

Producer: Martin Hannett


Ian Curtis synthesizes and purifies every last impulse, his voice shot through with the desire first and foremost to connect, only connect -- as "Candidate" plaintively states, "I tried to get to you/You treat me like this." Pick any song: the nervous death dance of "She's Lost Control"; the harrowing call for release "New Dawn Fades," all four members in perfect sync; the romance in hell of "Shadowplay"; "Insight" and its nervous drive toward some sort of apocalypse. All visceral, all emotional, all theatrical, all perfect -- one of the best albums ever” - AllMusic (2012)    

Standout Cut: She’s Lost Control