Essential debuts (collage of album covers by Laura Fedele, WFUV)
The exhilaration of a debut album is undeniable. That nascent collection of songs is the culmination of years of hard work, lucky breaks, missteps, epiphanies, teenage dreams, and sparsely-attended gigs in tiny, grubby clubs.
Some debut albums are fully-realized masterpieces; others merely hint at the impressive potential of the artist or band in years to come. And some debuts are both the beginning and the hasty finale of an entire career. No matter what, debut albums are always deeply personal, testaments to the infinite hope of the musicians who've huddled in studios, bedrooms, garages, or basements to record them.
What makes certain debut albums resonate for decades? Our FUV DJs chose a handful of first albums that we think are FUV Essentials, and we'll be playing debuts all day on this FUV Throwback Thursday on 90.7FM and streaming online.
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FUV Program Director and Host of "The Whole Wide World"
Rickie Lee Jones, Rickie Lee Jones (1979)
On her remarkable, stylistically diverse debut, Rickie Lee Jones created a blueprint of sorts that would inform her future work and path as an artist. The album landed her all over pop radio, on the cover of Rolling Stone, and she performed as a virtual unknown on "Saturday Night Live."
Essential track: "The Last Chance Texaco"
Music Director, Host of "The Alternate Side"
Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine (1989)
Our introduction to the genius of Trent Reznor pushed a true new wave of alternative music to the forefront. While its impact wasn't immediately felt in late '89 or early '90, the advent of a more industrial electronic sound would take shape in the coming years. The honestly and intensity of the album laid the groundwork for what has become an undeniably influential career for Reznor.
Essential track: "Down In It"
Ray LaMontagne, Trouble (2004)
When I heard Ray LaMontagne's debut album, I knew right away that I would be a fan for a long time. I could hear a mix of influences that made him perfect for WFUV. LaMontagne's fully-matured songwriting and his soulful, weathered voice, combined with top-notch production by Ethan Johns, makes this one of the best debuts ever.
Essential track: "How Come"
The Band, Music From Big Pink (1968)
From the moment Music From Big Pink was released, the album — and the famous pink house it was named for — has carried an unmatched mystique. This game-changing debut from the band that helped Bob Dylan discover rock and roll, broke with convention in every way. From the album art, to the decidedly unique style of music, the Band’s revolution was loudly quiet. While the rest of popular music was cranking up the volume, their first collection of songs were rooted in tradition, yet sounded hauntingly unique. Written and conceived in the woods of Woodstock, New York, Music From Big Pink not only made a massive impact on music itself, but also set a new blueprint for how music gets made. It opened the doors for communal band living and makeshift home studios in basements everywhere too!
Essential track: "The Weight"
Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville (1993)
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Liz Phair’s ambitious debut, initially conceived as a double LP and an 18-track, song-by-song response to the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street. The world of indie rock was in its infancy, and women with guitars were getting loud and grungy, or acoustic and folky. To be a solo female artist making rock and roll was still considered surprising on its own, but Phair brought a raw, clever, tough-yet-tender, brazenly sexual, and feminist voice to music. She recorded an album that's timeless and bold and begs to be cranked up in cars when the unfairness of being a girl in a man’s world is just too much. Phair's voice says: the guys may have screwed you over, but we have more power than we know.
Essential track: "Never Said"
Crosby, Stills & Nash, Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)
"Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" is on a "Wooden Ship" and "Helplessly Hoping" for "Guinnevere" who's been a "Long Time Gone." This album flows beautifully from start to finish. And "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" sets the tone for what's to follow as a showcase for the trio's unique harmonies and surprising song structure.
Essential track: "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"
The Strokes, Is This It (2001)
This album was proof positive that rock 'n' roll was still alive in the modern age. With clear nods to the past, and eyes to the future, the Strokes carried on the tradition of feel-good abandon with their debut album. The songs on This Is It were decidedly lo-fi, but they packed a punch and start to finish, still sound great almost 20 years later—a sign of a true classic.
Essential track: “Someday”
Late Night Host
King Crimson, In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)
Hauntingly beautiful, captivatingly surreal, and occasionally terrifying all at the same time. It’s a grand masterpiece of epic proportions.
Essential track: “Epitaph (including March For No Reason and Tomorrow and Tomorrow)”
Host of FUV Music Mix
Fiona Apple, Tidal (1996)
Apple masterfully leads listeners through rock and jazz, from kiss-off tunes to torch songs on Tidal. It's about love that is, in turns, wicked, sexy, smoldering, compulsive, tough, and angry, until she embraces sweet freedom and independence. Tracks like "Criminal," "The First Taste," and "The Child is Gone" mark Tidal as a coming-of-age album, but Apple set a dauntingly high bar for herself to top: the album stands as one of the more perfect debuts of the Nineties. The engine is her vocals and piano, but a million little touches accentuate and elevate, along with Apple's collaborative work with artists like Jon Brion and Greg Leisz.
Essential track: "Sleep to Dream"
Host of "Mixed Bag"
Crosby, Stills & Nash, Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)
If you ever wondered, "Will we be listening to this album in 50 years?" — the answer is yes. The harmonies are as fresh and beautiful now, as they were when they were first recorded.
Essential track: "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"
Host of "The Boogie Down"
Guns N' Roses, Appetite For Destruction (1987)
The record company tried make them a hair metal band, but they turned out to be the antidote. Great band? Questionable. Great record? Undeniable.
Essential track: "Sweet Child o' Mine"
Host of "Cavalcade"
R.E.M., Murmur (1983)
The Athens band's full-length album debut, Murmur, added depth to the nascent jangle-pop that R.E.M. was inventing on the fly. Great songs crawled out of the murky sonic landscape.
Essential track: “Talk About the Passion”
Host of "UKNY"
Massive Attack, Blue Lines (1991)
A template for what was tagged by music writers as "trip-hop" but, more accurately, Blue Lines is a reflection of Bristol's thriving music and art scene of the very early '90s, and an intuitive mix of intersecting genres, freely zigzagging between hip hop, soul, jazz, dub reggae, rock, and dance. It's a moody declaration, at once unpredictable, wistful, sensual, yearning, and vaguely sinister too. Robert "3D" Del Naja, Grant "Daddy G" Marshall, and Andrew "Mushroom" Vowles extended their collaboration to their Wild Bunch family and friends, so the result is a glorious hodgepodge of ideas via fellow explorers like the great Horace Andy, Tricky, Neneh Cherry, Nellee Hooper, Jonny Dollar, and Shara Nelson, whose heavenly voice is the apotheosis of the record. It's still an amazing listen, 28 years later: a timeless, thrilling, and genius recording.
Essential track: "Unfinished Sympathy"
Elastica, Elastica (1995)
Justine Frischmann's eviscerating, witty observations of sexual disappointment and the chaos of London life in the mid-'90s, charged by bandmates Donna Matthews, Annie Holland and Justin Welch's ferocious backing, made their debut one of the most electrifying and still-relevant albums to emerge from the Britpop maelstrom. Nearly every song efficiently unfurls in under three minutes: jagged and sultry punk-pop gems.
Essential track: "Car Song"
Host of "Sunday Supper" (currently on hiatus)
John Prine, John Prine (1971)
Back in 1971 I received an advance copy of an album with a white cover and the name "John Prine" written in ballpoint pen. It contained 13 songs of deceptive simplicity, virtually all of them classics, including "Illegal Smile," "Hello In There," "Sam Stone," "Angel From Montgomery," and the 2018 Holiday Cheer encore, "Paradise." The mailman from Maywood, Illinois turned out to be a master songwriter.
Essential track: "Angel from Montgomery"
FUV Guest Host
Mad Season, Above (1994)
Debut album and one-shot deal for this Seattle-based supergroup whose members included the heavy hitters of grunge, most notably vocals by Layne Staley of Alice in Chains and lead guitar by Mike McCready of Pearl Jam. Why I like it: their sound redefined what a grunge band can sound like and it definitely rocked. However, many songs on the album expressed jazz and blues influences (a nod to Jimi Hendrix), as well as a reflective and meditative side of what it is like to be human.
Essential track: "River of Deceit"
#FUVEssentials: Debuts (Spotify playlist compiled by FUV's DJs)