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4 Perfect Debut Albums

Debut albums. They really have never been “make-it-or-break-it” kind of releases as many of rock’s greatest acts had less than stellar initial offerings. But the reverse can sometimes be a bit of a curse.

Here are just a few debut albums that may also be these artists’ best albums:

The Doors – Their first, self-titled LP was an instant classic, giving us “the long version” of “Light My Fire,” which clearly indicated the way rock was going to go in the next few years. It also contained bona fide classics like “Break on Through,” “Soul Kitchen,” and “Twentieth Century Fox.” Add to that one of the obligatory roots blues numbers so popular at that time, “Back Door Man,” and a weird 1925 German opera song written by playwright Bertold Brecht & composer Kurt Weil, “Alabama Song.”

And of course, the cherry on top, the long, stream-of-consciousness ramblings of “The End” (allegedly recorded while Jim Morrison was tripping on acid). While the Doors had a long, successful career until Morrison’s tragic end, as far as the critics were concerned nothing ever matched up to their maiden voyage.

Led Zeppelin – The band actually began life as “The New Yardbirds,” thrown together by Jimmy Page to cover some gigs the Yardbirds had been contracted for before they decided to break up. However, once they got together, Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham decided it made more sense to create a musical identity that owed nothing to the Yardbirds’ past. Their first album was actually recorded before the band even had a record deal. They financed it themselves. This gave the band total creative control. The album was an instant favorite on the newly emerging string of “progressive” radio stations that were popping up on the FM dial. With songs that remained live favorites for years like “Communication Breakdown,” “Dazed and Confused,” and “Good Times Bad Times,” this LP instantly established Led Zeppelin as one of rock’s top acts when it was released in 1968.

Unlike the Doors, many of the group’s subsequent albums were better than or at least equal to this first offering.

Meat Loaf: Bat Out of Hell – Marvin Aday, under his stage name Meat Loaf, was touring with a National Lampoon stage show. For some reason, fledgling composer Jim Steinman was also along on that tour. The two bonded and began working on a rock opera project based on Peter Pan that Steinman called Neverland. That soon morphed into taking 3 songs from the Neverland project and combining them with 4 new Steinman songs to become a project we now know as Bat Out of Hell.

Unable to get any record label interested in them, Mr. Loaf and Steinman recorded the album by themselves over a two-year period (1975-76). Somehow, the duo landed Todd Rundgren as their producer.

What followed was a series of brutal rejections by virtually every major label. Finally, the album secured a release in 1977 through the tiny Cleveland International label. It went on to sell more than 43 million copies (making the major labels look pretty stupid) and established Steinman as a composer who went on to have hits with artists as wide-ranging as Barry Manilow, Bonnie Tyler, and Boyzone.

Unfortunately, Meat Loaf never did find much success singing anyone else’s songs. After their long-delayed Bat follow-up Dead Ringer stiffed, a brief period of feuding between the two ensued. Eventually, they patched things up and Meat Loaf went on to record 3 more LPs of Steinman’s compositions.

The Cars – By the late 70s, much of rock was mired in over-produced, self-important sludge. The remedy was a back-to-basics movement dubbed “new wave.” And one of the leading proponents of that wave was this little band from Boston led by Ric Ocasek. Their debut album, released in 1978, has some interesting parallels to the Doors. Both LPs came out on Elektra Records. Both featured multiple cuts that got extensive FM airplay, and most critics considered both debut albums to be each band’s best.

While the album peaked at #18 on the Billboard chart, it had remarkable staying power and wound up at #4 when the magazine released its year-end chart covering sales & airplay for all of 1978.

With a second side that featured each track seamlessly segueing into the next, band member Elliot Easton has said of the album, "We used to joke that the first album should be called The Cars' Greatest Hits.”

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