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.
Greetings from Asbury Park/Bruce Springsteen (Sony):
Stripped of all its excesses, rock 'n' roll can be powerful stuff. And no one puts more into a musical scene than Bruce. Born to Run may be one of the greatest all-time albums ever, but this one is equally as important. Record company hype aside, Bruce's only similarities to Dylan were that they shared record labels; and Bruce also wrote his own songs and played guitar. Wait, make that Bruce wrote novellas as songs. Where Dylan sang about hopelessness, Springsteen sang about redemption-anthems for the working guy, as found in the streets and neighborhoods of Anytown, USA. Bruce's props were girls and the boardwalk (cars would come later). "Blinded By the Light," "For You," and "Spirits in the Night," were full of youthful exuberance, but they signaled a major talent was on the rise.
Blind Faith/Blind Faith (Atco/RSO):
They may have been lauded as one of the first supergroups, but there was much more historical importance to Clapton/Winwood/Baker/Grech. Clapton's' previous supergroup, Cream, had disbanded and with this album, the jolly lot stumbled their way onto another page of rock history. Forget the fact this was their first and only album and there was much drama that dogged the entire project. "Had to Cry Today," "Sea of Joy," and "Presence of the Lord" could easily have been on a Traffic album, or on a Cream album with Steve Winwood on vocals. No matter-it still ranks as an important step in rock history.
England's Newest Hitmakers/ The Rolling Stones (Abkco):
If you haven't listened to this album in a while, prepare to be surprised. The Stones' very first album features everything from Motown ("Can I Get a Witness"), easy listening ("Route 66"), and blues ("I Just Want to Make Love to You"). Take these and mix 'em up with good old American rock 'n' roll, courtesy of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" and Chuck Berry's "Carol" and you get the makings of the World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band. Sure, this album was eclipsed by the Beatles' Please Please Me, but the Stones are to road music what asphalt is to a highway. This is where it started and it sounds good to get re-acquainted.
Are You Experienced/Jimi Hendrix (Experience Hendrix):
Little need to explain this one. Jimi's short four-year reign as one of the universe's greatest guitar heroes was put into play by this album, a psychedelic maelstrom of guitar wizardry the world had never witnessed before. Everything about Jimi was over the top-his look, his guitar playing, and his song-writing prowess. "Foxey Lady," and "Purple Haze" were Jimi at his peak. Sure, the albums that followed were also great, but for sheer perfection, this was it!
The Allman Brothers Band/The Allman Brothers (Mercury):
The Allman Brothers roared out of the south like a hell-bound train. Bathed in the blues, their debut album was the sound of the south rising again. But it wasn't Johnny Reb and his red neck buddies-it was a band fulfilling their musical destiny. Shortly before, Duane Allman had garnered cult status as a session player and was highly regarded by other guitarists-Eric Clapton included. After all, he had guested on projects by everyone from Aretha Franklin to Boz Scaggs. Thus his legendary slide guitar became the band's centerpiece, bolstered by brother Gregg's organ. It was a solid team effort, and tracks such as "Dreams" and "Tied to the Whipping Post" morphed into extended jams at all Allman Brothers concerts. Then tragedy struck. At the height of the Allman Brothers fame, Duane perished in a crash on his Harley. In a cruel irony, the band's bass player, Berry Oakley met a similar fate some 13 months later near the same site. Thankfully, the band and its music still endure, all these years later. And so does this album.