Spring signals a time for something new, a time to celebrate warmer weather, completing that winter bike project, and getting back out on the open road. For those who ride year 'round, it's time to install some new parts or polish up the chrome. For Baggers, it means it's time to blow the cobwebs out of your speakers. Spring is, after all, a debut of sorts. To celebrate, we thought it would be a good idea to reflect back on debuts of the rock 'n' roll kind, to reflect back on bands whose debut albums have stood the test of time and have become essential riding soundtracks, old friends we welcome along on any trip. Sure, one can download these songs, but they're really intended to be listened to as complete works. So at least download the entire album. Or just take along the CDs. Regardless, search out that open road and turn up the volume. And now we present, in no certain order, ten of the best debut albums ever released...
The Doors/The Doors (Elektra):
"Light My Fire" may have been the huge single from this, their 1967 debut album, but it's simply astonishing how well the entire album holds up after all these years. Needless to say, it may very well be the best debut album ever recorded. Morrison and company had their creative psyche in overdrive. Their melding of rock and jazz with blues, R&B, classical, and poetry was a whole new direction that got many of us yearning to ride to California and cruise PCH and the Sunset Strip. "Break on Through," "Crystal Ship," "Take It as It Comes," and "Back Door Man" are all killer tracks. But it's the album closer, "The End" that takes it over the top. Hard to imagine the biker who doesn't have this loaded into the old iPod.
Led Zeppelin/Led Zeppelin (Atlantic):
What more can be said about this debut? Sure they were mostly the latest incarnation of the Yardbirds, but when they recorded this album in 1968, the bar for heavy metal history was set to almost unimaginable heights. Looking back, it may have seemed a cobbling together of a few old blues numbers, but the final result was a stunner. As debuts go, this one was a game-changer, inventing air guitar overnight and blowing out car speakers all across America. There hasn't been any metal band's debut album to top this since, and there probably never will be.
The Pretenders/The Pretenders (Sire):
Following on the heels of the Doors debut album by a little more than 10 years, The Pretenders finally managed to reconcile punk and new wave with mainstream rock. The band's front-person, Chrissie Hynde, may not have been the girl you'd bring home to mom, but what guy out there didn't fantasize about having her as a riding mate? Or better. Played at maximum volume, one gets more involved with this album the more one plays it. "Brass in Pocket" was the hit, but as with The Doors' debut, the albums' other cuts revealed a surprising amount of depth and just plain ol' rock nirvana. "Precious," "Tattooed Love Boys," and "Kid" are all-time faves, but the album's slow-build frenzied closer, "Mystery Achievement," is the real money shot. Excellent riding tunes!
Ten/Pearl Jam (Epic):
Seattle's Pearl Jam helped take the grunge/alternative movement mainstream with this release and established front-man Eddie Vedder as anointed spokesman for the flannel shirt crowd. Formed from the remnants of Mother Love Bone, Ten is a terrific accomplishment for a new band. The album is a powerful elixir that runs the gamut from anger and foreboding ("Jeremy") to subtle eroticism ("Black"). There are obvious Zeppelin and Hendrix overtures, but they are distilled into a less chaotic blend that works for Vedder's lyrics. Despite a slow start, they eventually managed to quickly surpass the success of hometown rivals Nirvana, and their sophomore release Nevermind (also released in 1991). Ten is a real biker's delight, not because it's a great beer drinking album (which it is) or because the album's opener "Once," makes for misbehaving (which it does), but because the album sometimes lacks control. And that's the way it's supposed to be. Play it loud. Ride hard and fast.
Music from Big Pink/The Band (Capitol):
The Band's legacy owes much to this first album, which was a departure from much of what was going on in rock 'n' roll circles at that time. The songs on the album hinted at signature '60s statements and commentary. Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" and Robbie Robertson's "The Weight" illustrated just how rooted this group was in the quiet dignity of rural life and personal introspection. It was rock 'n' roll without the sex and drugs parts. Nothing flashy and just as authentic as a Harley-Davidson-real American music fabricated from blues, country, and gospel.