50 Greatest Debut Albums

This is NME’s celebration of the best debut albums from the last 50 years. It’s not a countdown. Instead, we’ve selected one album from each year.

Disagree with our choices? You can always vote your own favourites to the top via our debut albums reader poll, and share your thoughts on the office blog.

This article originally appeared in the November 6 issue of NME. Subscribe here, or get this week’s digital issue.

6 On poverty

Marshall Mathers’ pockmarked, broken-home upbringing has been well-documented, not least in largely autobiographical biopic 8 Mile. But this frank admission gives an alarmingly poignant insight, even by his standards. “I was poor white trash,” he’d admitted earlier, “no glitter, no glamour, but I’m not ashamed of anything.”


Joan Baez (1960)

An unexpected hit that set the wheels of the ’60s folk movement rolling well before Dylan came along.

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The Shadows (1961)

Without Elvis-for-virgins Cliff pouting and flouncing over his music, Hank Marvin proved himself a rather shit-hot surf guitar geek hero, and not merely cockney rhyming slang for ‘starving’.

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Bob Dylan (1962)

He wasn’t yet a virtuoso songwriter, but Dylan’s seldom-heard debut is a lesson in interpretation – greatness soon followed.

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Please Please Me (1963)

Recorded in a day, this was the sound of The Beatles fighting-fit from years of performance in Hamburg, drenched in simple reverb that made its dense harmonies glisten.

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A Girl Called Dusty (1964)

The diva destroyed all the lame-assed Cillas and Petulas with one husky hoof through ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’.

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The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)

Largely ignored upon its initial release, the album has gone on to become one of the bedrocks of art-rock and a sacred musical text – it instantly makes you wish you were part of the Velvets’ nihilist gang of miscreants.

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My Generation (1965)

The Beatles had songs, The Stones had sass, but The Who had anger – and never was it more potent than on their turbo-charged garagey debut.

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Freak Out! – The Mothers Of Invention (1966)

Frank Zappa’s first band outing was the Ronseal-named battlecry of a thousand-thousand student dorms through the ages.

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Music From Big Pink (1968)

Dylan’s backing band came good with this roots rock benchmark; ‘The Weight’ alone became a staple of every redneck bar scene of ’70s cinema.

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The Stooges (1969)

Formulating their attack in the basement of the Asheton’s childhood home, the band only had five tracks to include on their debut. The other three songs – ‘Real Cool Time’, ‘Not Right’ and ‘Little Doll’ – were written overnight and recorded the next day.

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Black Sabbath (1970)

The record that invented heavy metal. Simple as that.

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Thin Lizzy (1971)

Mellower than they’d become, this debut showcased Phil Lynott’s undervalued songwriting chops.

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Neu! (1972)

The album that invented ‘motorik’, it rivals the Velvets for huge-influence-versus-tiny-sales torque.

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New York Dolls (1973)

Morrissey’s favourite record is a screeching sideswipe at Manhattan oppression from some of the coolest scumbags the city retched up.

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Here Come the Warm Jets (1974)

Roxy Music’s tech-nut creates the benchmark of avant-garde glam art-pop.

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Horses (1975)

More poet than performer, Patti Smith intellectualised ’70s proto-punk, and in the process gave rock’n’roll a genuine feminist agenda. Which isn’t too bad for your first album.

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Ramones (1976)

1-2-3-4: rewrite the rules of guitar pop, invent punk, dab more speed. Easy.

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Never Mind The Bollocks (1977)

Modern guitar music’s Big Bang still sounds as if it was played on machine guns by pissed-off succubi and pressed onto discs of bile, speed’n’mucus.

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Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)

Flowerpot-wearing new wave madness that still sounds as strange today as it did in 1978.

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Unknown Pleasures (1979)

After 50 trillion retrospectives, exhibitions and tell-all biographies, what else is there to say about the suffocating and exhilarating ‘Unknown Pleasures’? Tony Wilson was so convinced by the band he sunk his life’s savings into making it.

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Killing Joke (1980)

While Blondie and The Jam took punk in poppier directions, ‘Killing Joke’ employed the genre’s Sturm und Drang to create modern industrial rock, inspiring everyone from Nirvana and Metallica to MBV.

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Speak and Spell (1981)

A stylistic pop anomaly in the Mode’s brooding oeuvre, it’s also one of their most outright enjoyable albums.

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Lexicon Of Love (1982)

A stone cold suave-pop classic from a band seemingly made entirely of sequins and gold lamé.

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Murmur (1983)

Muddy and ephemeral, ‘Murmer’ set the blueprint of US indie for the next three decades.

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The Smiths (1984)

This introduced the best pop star since Bowie and the greatest songwriting partnership since The Beatles.

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Psychocandy (1985)

A pop record in love with The Velvet Underground, Phil Spector, The Ramones and The Shangri-Las, it’s still a ceaselessly cool lynchpin of modern shades’n’black leather indie.

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Licensed To Ill (1986)

The sound of three definitely-non-Buddhist New York brats crashing their punk-rock jetfighter into hip-hop’s mountain lair, getting out and wiggling their bums lasciviously.

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Appetite for Destruction (1987)

“You’re in the jungle, baby/You’re gonna die!” The evergreen philosophy of W Axl Rose.

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Isn’t Anything (1988)

Before the tribulations of ‘Loveless’, ‘Isn’t Anything’’s fuzzy otherworldliness set the template for the whole shoegaze genre.

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The Stone Roses (1989)

Madchester’s defining milestone and the advent of indie-dance, it’d take Squire and company five years to comprehensively fail to follow it.

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The La’s (1990)

While the world went baggy, Lee Mavers’ ’60s revisionism ultimately proved more influential – no La’s, no Britpop.

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Massive Attack – Blue Lines (1991)

As rave peaked, this was its lamplit counterpoint – the soundtrack to a national 4am moment.

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Generation Terrorists (1992)

As angry as it was bright, the Manics blowtorched their manifesto in pulverising punk guitar squeals.

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Suede (1993)

Sassy, seductive and high on the heady thrills of youth – hard drugs, rampant narcissism and delectably deviant sex – ‘Suede’ was the first ballsy blaze of Britpop.

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Definitely Maybe (1994)

So what if Oasis never bettered it? Sixteen years on, only a handful ever have.

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Elastica (1995)

No wonder they spent the next five years drowning in performance anxiety after delivering this whipcrack Wire-cribbing Britpop snarl.

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Fuzzy Logic (1996)

Their 1996 debut was one of the Britpop-saturated era’s most off-kilter and inventive efforts, an idiosyncratic work of weirdness that sounded like nobody else around.

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New Forms (1997)

This Mercury-winner threatened to take drum’n’bass overground. It never happened, but it remains a genre landmark.

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Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill (1998)

The first refugee from The Fugees, Hill’s solo debut was a thorough reinvention of modern soul, taking in gospel, R&B, hip-hop and a sly chunk of The Doors. An education in genre-splicing indeed.

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The Slim Shady LP (1999)

Driving nine inch nails through your eyelids to force you to watch this overnight rewriting of rap’s rulebook.

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Parachutes (2000)

It wasn’t all ‘Yellow’, actually – here was a fledgling stadium band delving around in the Big Music and finding shimmering new crevices.

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Is This It (2001)

Rescued rock’n’roll from the torpor of nu-metal in 36 near-perfect minutes. Not bad.

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Up the Bracket (2002)

Before The Libertines all the best post-millennial rock’n’roll was being made by Americans, Scandinavians, Antipodeans… anybody but us Brits. ‘Up The Bracket’ changed all that, and its influence remains massive.

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Boy In Da Corner (2003)

Before the talent show slots, the Calvin Harris hook-ups and the ‘Bonkers’ pop bangers, Dizzee’s debut was the ultimate grime breakthrough, a cranky shiv to the mainstream’s heart.

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The College Dropout (2004)

It still bounces out of the speakers with freshness and brio: from ‘Jesus Walks’ to ‘The New Workout Plan’, it was evident that Kanye had energy to burn. If only we’d known quite how much…

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Funeral (2005)

Seldom has sadness sounded so utterly euphoric as on the grand chamber-post-punk gems contained within the Canadian collective’s debut.

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Whatever People Say I Am… (2006)

The fastest-selling UK debut by a band ever, thanks to the rhymes of the modern urban poet laureate and tunes as wired and scattergun as a misfiring AK.

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Myths Of the Near Future (2007)

The tribal punk totem of new rave, ‘Myths…’ was an adventurous and imaginative debut; by turns brutal,
beatific and making noises like unicorns exploding in an air raid.

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Crystal Castles (2008)

They lied about everything except how gifted they were with pixellated gnashing electro.

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xx (2009)

‘xx’ is one of those rare debut albums that sounds like the work of a band cresting the peak of their powers, not the result of four teenagers recording in a Notting Hill garage for the first time.

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