It’s been 10 years since Arctic Monkeys released their full debut single ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ (following the limited edition ‘Five Minutes With Arctic Monkeys’, yes). Crashing straight in at No.1, it set the pace for a stellar career. Here are 49 more killer debuts that presaged a bright future.
The Killers, ‘Mr Brightside’ Well, we said “killer” debuts. As the NME review said, “‘Mr Brightside’ sounds as massive and magnificent as impossibly filthy, drugged-up sex with strangers,” and we’d stand by the comparison if we knew what that was like. An unspoilt run of UK No.1 albums since its release is testament to its strength.
LCD Soundsystem, ‘Losing My Edge’ LCD Soundsystem’s brilliant, hilarious and meta-cool 2002 debut single voices the fears of a hipster whose influence is waning as the younger models come up on the rails. They know all the same stuff he does! Thing is, LCD Soundsystem stayed hip right up until their retirement in 2011.
The Libertines, ‘What A Waster’ Sure, The Libertines have enjoyed a somewhat haphazard career path but they’re still in the game (just about), in no small part down to this fiery opening salvo, a song that nailed that car-crash ramshackle Albion sound from the off.
Weezer, ‘Undone – The Sweater Song’ It was the following year’s ‘Buddy Holly’ (and smart video, of course) that really blew the door open for Weezer, but ‘Undone – The Sweater Song’ probably fits the Rivers Cuomo template better, a song that started off as a Velvet Underground tribute and ended up “a complete rip-off” of Metallica’s ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’.
Franz Ferdinand, ‘Darts Of Pleasure’ “Ich heiβe Super Fantastisch!” Well, if you want people to know how amazing you are, you may as well tell them straight off the bat. The ‘Ferdinand’s ultra-tight, choppy debut raised the curtain on an ultra-tight, choppy career and Alex Kapranos and chums have barely changed a clang of their clean-lined sound since.
Bloc Party, ‘She’s Hearing Voices’ Bloc Party have increasingly veered off their own path since their first couple of albums, with later records embracing electronica that’s also bled into Kele Okereke’s solo work. But they started off as taut and punchy as a junior Franz Ferdinand, with a sharper taste for the avant-garde. As an overture, ‘She’s Hearing Voices’ was impossible to ignore.
Lily Allen, ‘Smile’ Lily Allen’s snooty, snarky insouciance was a fresh voice for pop in the mid-Noughties and she’s kept that edge – and appeal, grabbing a No.1 every time she comes back – ever since. As with ‘Smile’, there’s always something tougher going on behind that sunshine veneer. And it’s probably about you.
Suede, ‘The Drowners’ Rarely has a band’s debut sounded so self-assured, so comfortable in its translucent, veiny skin. ‘The Drowners’ – the first of a knockout triple whammy, followed by ‘Metal Mickey’ and ‘Animal Nitrate’ – was a sleazy reminder of glam rock’s grubby underbelly and a proto-Britpop firestarter all rolled into one. Suede haven’t been too shabby since either.
Aaliyah, ‘Back & Forth’ Just 15 when this debut single – written and produced by R Kelly – came out, Aaliyah would only be with us for another seven years, but she built from this sublime slice of prime G-Funk to the chilling robotics of ‘Try Again’, always a step ahead of the game.
Radiohead, ‘Creep’ They never play it live. Except when they do. Whatever Radiohead’s feelings about their first fruits – and all of their more straightforward catalogue – ‘Creep’ remains a rasping cry of disaffection and still houses one of rock’s finest, most shocking lawnmower-engine riffs.
Kanye West, ‘Through The Wire’ Legendarily recorded when Kanye had his jaw wired up after a car accident, ‘Through The Wire’ proved he could spit rhymes with his teeth clenched, speed up a mean Chaka Khan sample and, at least as important, had a keen sense of the theatrical.
MIA, ‘Galang’ From Sri Lanka via Mitcham, MIA arrived in 2003 like a dayglo bat out of hell, touting a single described in these very pages as “Sri Lanka imagined from a Shoreditch loft, Jamaican riddim conjured up from a GameBoy memory card” as if it’s a good thing. Who’d have thought she’d be doing rude gestures in front of Madonna a mere nine years on?
The Horrors, ‘Sheena Is A Parasite’ Do you know why The Horrors’ manic twisted fairground goth rant failed to chart? Because it had too many freebie stickers thrown in. And it possibly didn’t sell enough either. Obviously The Horrors are unrecognisably brilliant now, but their debut squall was proof they had the punk zeal, however they channelled it.
Justin Timberlake, ‘Like I Love You’ No one expected anyone to emerge from laughable boyband NSYNC with any credit – and indeed most of them didn’t – but somehow Timberlake got out unscathed, largely down to the help of production geniuses The Neptunes (Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams) who saw his teen-dream cool and exploited it.
Destiny’s Child, ‘No, No, No’ The first single from Beyoncé and the shifting cast of characters behind her (including Kelly of course, always Kelly) shows they were on point from the off, and not even Wyclef Jean – then hot property after the massive success of the Fugees – could ruin its crisp majesty.
Spiritualized, ‘Anyway That You Want Me’ The first Spiritualized release was a cover of a Troggs single from 1966, that otherwise comes packaged with essential Spaceman facets like a wall of sound, downpours of strings, a whacked-out vocal from Jason Pierce and a warped guitar solo, all stretched out over six and a half minutes for the “heads”.
Blur, ‘She’s So High’ Never shy of a bandwagon in their early days, Blur’s first single taps into the shoegaze aesthetic (just like follow-up ‘There’s No Other Way’ went straight for baggy), but the drone can’t hide that Blurry sensibility poking through. ‘She’s So High’ is way too trim a pop tune to let you stand there staring at your laces. We should’ve known.
PJ Harvey, ‘Dress’ Hard to imagine there was a time that Polly Harvey was only just starting out, but she seemed to arrive fully formed anyway. The jagging, insistent ‘Dress’ is sarcastic, deceptive, wretched and ambiguous – complex and direct, same as she ever was.
2Pac, ‘Brenda’s Got A Baby’ Tupac Shakur pulled no punches from the start – well, apart from an educational stint in chirpy hip-hop crew Digital Underground. ‘Brenda’s Got A Baby’ is a hard-hitting tale of child pregnancy in the ghetto, setting out 2Pac’s stall, with Blackstreet’s Dave Hollister on its smooth, troubled chorus.
Pavement, ‘Summer Babe’ There had been a slew of EPs, but the churning, grinding ‘Summer Babe’ in 1991 was their first single and the first sign that slacker gods Pavement were ready to get off their asses and get serious. Debut album ‘Slanted And Enchanted’ followed a few months later and the rest is slightly shambolic history.
The Breeders, ‘Cannonball’ Where would indie discos of the last two decades be without The Breeders’ meandering, raging, sugarpop groove? Stuck on The Smiths, that’s where. Of course Kim Deal had already cut her teeth with Pixies, but ‘Cannonball’ kicked off a more than viable sideline that stayed the distance as the day job got a bit dicey.
Snoop Doggy Dogg, ‘Who Am I? (What’s My Name?’) Snoop had already made his name on Dr. Dre’s ‘The Chronic’, as we all know, laying his filthy, laidback observations over some chunky G-Funk, but 1993’s ‘Who Am I?’ was where he got to go it alone. Um, with Dr. Dre on the beats. Whatever, as a proper intro to the Dogg’s charms this is as dirty as it wants to be.
Oasis, ‘Supersonic’ They couldn’t let Blur have it all their own way, could they? Oasis’s ‘Supersonic’ hit British rock in 1994 like a shot in the arm. It was low down and grimy, with a swagger missing from the scene for donkey’s years, all fronted by a singer who could deliver “She’s done it with a doctor/On a helicopter” without (ever) breaking character.
Supergrass, ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ Oh, those cheeky chappies, they’ve had their collars felt and now they’re in deep, losing their load over what their mum might say. “If only my brother could be here now,” yelps Gaz Coombes, setting Supergrass apart as a band who came at rock from a different angle – hard as anyone in the game, but pop as all hell.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, ‘Bang’ Continuing our theme of treating EPs as singles when it suits us, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ first release was this awesome, juddering, stop-start, animal rut of a song. These days, Karen O’s no less yelpy but Yeah Yeah Yeahs have evolved into a souped-up electro-rock machine. That’s progress. Is it better?
Tricky, ‘Aftermath’ Tricky had been around for a few years, muttering in the background of Massive Attack records, but 1994 was when he broke free, smoky and paranoid with snatches of Japan’s ‘Ghosts’ worked into the lyrics and Martina Topley-Bird doing her witchy thing alongside. ‘Aftermath’ was a towering debut and there was just as good to come.
Rihanna, ‘Pon De Replay’ This is a little raw for the Rihanna we came to know and love, and she’s never sounded more Bajan. It was an immediate Billboard Hot 100 top 10 hit for her, and the upper echelons became her home. A circular, ceaseless shimmy, ‘Pon De Replay’ signalled the arrival of a genuine star.
Girls Aloud, ‘Sound Of The Underground’ Reality TV shows weren’t supposed to produce truly great bands, but ITV’s Popstars: The Rivals in 2002 served up two legends in Girls Aloud and One True Voice. OK, one legend. The masterstroke was giving the girl band an excellent song, a sure footing – and quickfire No.1 – that allowed them to develop into one of British pop’s all-time faves.
Teenage Fanclub, ‘Everything Flows’ Teenage Fanclub would tidy up and become one of the UK’s most beloved bands. Even so, all the elements are there on their lovely, ragged debut single – sweet harmonies, a brittle-edged jangling shamble and more than a hint of Big Star in their marriage of power-pop and muscular playing.
Portishead, ‘Numb’ The lead track on Portishead’s debut EP of the same name cemented a sound that drew on West Country contemporaries Massive Attack’s dope-fuelled noir and made it – somehow – even more bereft. Beth Gibbons is the fatale performer, an actress in singer’s clothing, lost and alone over Geoff Barrow’s creepy beats.
Foo Fighters, ‘This Is A Call’ Put down on tape (alongside songs written throughout 1992 and 1993) by Dave Grohl soon after the tragic demise of Nirvana, ‘This Is A Call’ was one of a few leaked numbers that made the major labels realise there was more to the old drummer than met the eye. This power-pop debut made the UK top 5 on release, bringing the good times back.
Kings Of Leon, ‘Molly’s Chambers’ Playing fast and loose here – hey, much like the Kings – ‘Molly’s Chambers’ is the lead track on the band’s debut ‘Holy Roller Novocaine’ EP, a sleek but manic couple of minutes that expertly spliced Strokesy new-wave revivalism and the ‘Leon’s southern twang, concocting a formula that somehow dosed the world.
Kasabian, ‘Processed Beats’ A chant in baggy clothing, Kasabian’s spacey debut came out in demo form in 2003 before a full release as their fourth full single the next year. By that point, the band were racking up top 20 hits on a whim, Midlands successors to The Stone Roses only with a few extra watts of staying power.
The Prodigy, ‘Charly’ A nightmarish public information film twisted into a nightmarish hardcore monster, ‘Charly’ immediately established The Prodigy as the techno outfit who’d never let you sleep soundly, whether through political agitation or terrifying punk hair-horns. Not since Public Image Ltd themselves had there been an uncompromising band so at ease in the mainstream.
St Etienne, ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ Sarah Cracknell just missed out on Saint Etienne’s debut single, as original singer Moira Lambert took the lead on the London band’s Balearic re-imagining of Neil Young’s ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’, an inspired introduction to a trio who would quietly weave themselves into the fabric of British pop culture.
Super Furry Animals, ‘Hometown Unicorn’ Is there anyone left who hasn’t switched onto the fact that Cardiff spaceheads Super Furry Animals are one of our finest bands? The relentlessly inventive psychedelicists had a way with a Beach Boys-esque chorus from the start, effortlessly adding pop smarts to otherwise out-there music. Five Brian Wilsons in a Welsh sandpit.
Nas, ‘Halftime’ The King of Hip-Hop (or is that Jay-Z?) had his first tilt at the throne in 1992 with ‘Halftime’, a clearly Wu-Tang-inspired track, albeit fruitly funked up with horns and bassy beats from Large Professor. This is the song that snared his Columbia deal and became the centrepiece of all-time classic debut ‘Illmatic’ two years later.
The Chemical Brothers, ‘Song To The Siren’ Actually released in 1992 under the name The Dust Brothers before Beck’s production crew got shirty, The Chemical Brothers’ recorded debut takes its title from its use of a sample from This Mortal Coil’s cover of Tim Buckley’s classic, although there’s no real trace of the song. Instead it’s hulking great Big Beat before anyone had thought of it.
Eels, ‘Novocaine For The Soul’ Mark Everett had schlepped around for some time trying to catch a break – check magnificent memoir Things The Grandchildren Should Know for full, dark details) – and had released tracks as Mr E, but happening upon the gorgeous, twinkling melody of Eels debut ‘Novocaine For The Soul’ was the perfect vehicle to channel his wounded psyche.
Missy Elliot, ‘The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)’ An outrageously good record for a debut. ”The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)’ exhibited the nascent, awesome power of the Missy/Timbaland combination with a meld of sci-fi beats, unfeasibly sexy vocals, flexible rhymes and a stripped-out sample of Ann Peebles’ ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’. Whatever they tried, it always seemed to work.
Asian Dub Foundation, ‘Debris’ True fusion music, if that’s not a term indelibly tainted interminable jazz-funk noodlings, Hackney crew Asian Dub Foundation’s 1994 debut EP ‘Conscious’ was led by ‘Debris’, a thrilling clash of drum and bass, hardcore and bhangra that exposed a whole new scene to national attention. Never giving a quarter, ADF have stayed in the game for 20 years.
Kelis, ‘Caught Out There’ “I hate you so much right now AAARRRRRGGGGHHHH” – as an opening gambit, Kelis’s debut single wasn’t one you could miss. Produced by The Neptunes (yes, Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo), it wasn’t just righteous screeching, it was space-age R&B too, the ultra-modern foundations for a career that’s never been predictable.
Doves, ‘The Cedar Room’ First proper single and one of the tracks on their first EP – we won’t be caught out here. Doves’ debut (by any measure) is an epic, a sweep of big music that’s emotional and mysterious without losing any of its anthemic quality. They would never lose this knack.
Wu-Tang Clan, ‘Protect Ya Neck’ Hip-hop was crying out for a nine-strong crew shaping rap into strange, sparse trippy forms while making out they were kung fu legends – and sure enough… ‘Protect Your Neck’ is a lithe and scary skip through a raft of personalities who offered a fresh alternative to a scene heading for gangsta armageddon.
Britney Spears, ‘…Baby One More Time’ Sure, she’s had her ups and downs, but Britney sprang out of the blocks with a thumping great Max Martin composition that sounds as much an event as a song. Pretty terrific song though. Spears has been fated to labour in its shadow since, but ‘Toxic’ was a fair rival and the world of pop never loses hope she’ll do it again. Oops.
Kaiser Chiefs, ‘Oh My God’ If you’re going to reboot, this is the way to do it. Kaiser Chiefs might have started out as the hapless Parva but their Kaiser debut proper is a fat-soled stomper that set them up as the bovver boys you can take home to your mum, where they’ll probably fix the tea too. They’ve had shaky times but are back in the zone this year with a new album.
The Strokes, ‘The Modern Age’ Can it be only 14 years ago that 1977 happened all over again? The Strokes’ debut single (OK, the first track on the EP of the same name) transcended whatever influences we could all point out with a buzzsaw tune so taut you could floss with it.
Cornershop, ‘Waterlogged’ A far cry from the smooth mix of glam and Indian soul that (remixed by Fatboy Slim) took ‘Brimful Of Asha’ all the way to No.1 in 1998, the ‘In The Days Of Ford Cortina’ EP (pressed on curry-coloured vinyl!) nevertheless mixed sitars and drone with noise-pop mantras to fantastic effect. Cornershop still blend cultures brilliantly today, and you should care.
Sugababes, ‘Overload’ Co-written and co-produced by Neneh Cherry’s husband Cameron McVey, ‘Overload’ is one of the greatest girl-group debuts, a glowing fusion of sweet harmony, boogie beats and deliciously misplaced surf guitar. What a career ensued… for whoever was involved at the time.