Despite my previous rant, it would be a little petulant to spend National Album Day sat in silence in lonely defiant protest against it. No, if we're going to celebrate albums properly, let's choose one particular type of album and engage with that. So this is our countdown of our favourite debut albums (we'll reveal our number one tomorrow). Here's our top ten, and a worthy bonus album as well. Let's begin...
The predictable ones
10. The Velvet Underground and Nico
9. Unknown Pleasures - Joy Division
One day last year, I wore a T-Shirt bearing the image of the famous sleeve of the VU's debut album to a dress-down day at my place of work. The question I got asked most that day by colleagues was 'Why are you wearing a T - Shirt with a picture of a banana on it?'. I've subsequently made a mental note to include this horrifying fact in the 'Reasons for leaving last job' section of my next application form.
Thankfully, I don't own a black T-Shirt with 'all the funny white lines' on it. Otherwise that 'Reasons for leaving last job' section would be even longer.
'I'm not just being retro, I like music from the 21st Century too'
8. The Epic- Kamasi Washington
7. Brutalism - Idles
Kamasi's 'Harmony of Difference' was awarded Outsideleft's album of the year in 2017 and, spoiler alert, this year's 'Heaven and Earth' may be heading in a similar direction.
'The Epic' may be three hours long, but that only partly hints at why the debut album by the American Jazz saxophonist, producer, bandleader and arranger is so named. It is an audaciously exciting journey through all of the music that excites Washington. From the Coltrane inspired opener 'Change of the Guard' to the dexterous guitar, sax and drums interplay of the closer 'The Message', the album never loses it's grip.
Meanwhile, Bristol based Idles, hold up a mirror to everything that is so utterly messed up in their homeland. It's visceral and uncompromising angry. Occasionally, as with 'Stendhal Syndrome' it is hilarious ( 'did you see that selfie what Francis Bacon did? Don't look nothing like him - what a fucking div'), but the sheer anger of Mother holds the best chorus of a song in recent years: 'The best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich'. A ferocious and brutal album.
Let's not get into a pointless discussion about 'punk'.
6. Marquee Moon - Television.
The reason why this debut by a US 'punk' band is here and not (for instance) the debut of UK 'punk' band The Clash is simple. It's a better record. It's got nothing to do with preferring one take on the genre over the other.
Marquee Moon is an excitingly raw album, it's unfussy production makes it sound like it's being performed in a nearby garage. Tom Verlaine's yelping vocals, his surreal lyrics ('my eyes are like telescopes, I see it all backwards, but who wants hope?') and his mesmerising guitar solos (listen to the full version of the title track), help make this album become a watershed moment in whatever 'punk' music is.
Nostalgia is Death
5. Suede - Suede
4. Dry - P.J. Harvey
The reason why I went so enthusiastically overboard about the 25thAnniversary edition of Suede’s debut album earlier this year is that, when listening to it, I was thrilled that it has lost none of its daring, excitement, braveness and swagger. Unlike the slew of unremarkable Britpop albums it unintentionally opened the floodgates for.
Seeing the re-ignited Suede perform live is a genuine delight as songs from their current incarnation sit perfectly alongside their ‘pop era’ stuff and this staggering debut. This is not an exercise in heady nostalgia, leave that to the former members of Oasis who, alongside the Stone Rose, are unsurprisingly, absent from this list.
Read my review of the 25th anniversary release of Suede’s debut album here
The British music was in a dismal condition in the early 1990s (and I still have the awful Carter Unstoppable Sex Machine T Shirt to prove it). It was ripe for someone with intelligence and dark, raging and lustful lyrics to have their voice heard. And that voice came from the West Country and belonged to the ferocious talent of PJ Harvey. The urgency and directness of her vocals matched those of Patti Smith whilst her furious band sounded like The Pixies playing in a shed in Dorset. And them there was the lyrics, from the seductive opening drawl of O My Lover, to the 'dirty pillows' of 'Sheela Na Gig' (named after a Celtic fertility carving that depicts a naked woman with legs wide open, showing her 'exaggerated'* vulva), her words were seductive and challenging in equal measure. Dry was the first glimpse of an artist that would inspire, confound and intrigue for decades to come.
3. Brilliant Trees - David Sylvian
2. Scott - Scott Walker
Of course, there is another type of debut album. The debut solo album, the chance to create something new and unexpected after walking away from the band that made you famous, such as Bjork, Lauryn Hill or even Peter Gabriel.
Both Sylvian and Walker left pop groups that could have carried on churning out hits to make the music that they believed in. Both created albums that are rich with European cultural references. Sylvian looked to the paintings of Picasso (The Ink in the Well) and a film by Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky (Nostalgia). Walker meanwhile was starting his obsession with Belgian songwriter Jacques Brel. Brilliant Trees concluded with the hymnal title song, the last five minutes given over to the muted sounds of minimalist composer and trumpet player Jon Hassell. 'Scott' concluded with a translation of Brel's graphic 'Amsterdam' where drunken sailors fight, piss themselves, belch and spend time with the local whores.
Both artists would soon stop troubling the pop mainstream and both now exist somewhere on the far more rewarding shores of the Avant Garde.
The one that I can't include...
I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You - Aretha Franklin.
If it's OK to include 'debut' solo albums, where artists can move into new territory, then why not include this 1967 masterpiece?
Aretha had recorded a bunch of unremarkable albums for Columbia in the early 1960s, but it was her move to Atlantic that brought about a revolutionary change. She was finally allowed to be herself. The anthemic Respect, the sultry Dr Feelgood and the painful soul of the title track, showed what genius she was capable of. Her unique vocals made even the most mundane topics feel like poetry (she would later sing 'I run for the bus dear, and whilst riding I think of us dear). She is the Queen with soul. RIP Aretha.
Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.
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