There’s something especially exciting about coming across a new band or artist who makes a great album right out of the chute. Some such bands prove to be flashes in the pan, but more often a striking debut portends more sterling work to come. The following “first albums” fall into both categories, but all have in common a long-standing, reverberating impact on the rock and roll landscape.

The Beatles Please Please Me

The Beatles
Please Please Me

The Beatles went on to make albums that were superior in content and execution, but few matched the visceral energy of their 1963 debut. Recorded in just 12 hours, the album captured the ebullient spirit the band generated during performances at the legendary Cavern Club. Buried in Please Please Me’s grooves are facets of the group’s personality that would emerge more fully over the course of the next several years. The McCartney-penned ballad, “P.S. I Love You,” for instance, clearly anticipates “And I Love Her” and “Yesterday,” while the introspective rocker “There’s A Place” finds Lennon already bucking the simplistic lyrical conventions of the day.

Pink Floyd Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Pink Floyd
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Powered by the genius of the late Syd Barrett, this debut album from Pink Floyd captured the essence of rock’s psychedelic era in ways that even the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s couldn’t match. “Astronomy Domine,” the opening song, framed technicolor imagery in a carefully structured sonic swirl that was by turns cacophonous and beautiful. Similarly, the instrumental opus, “Interstellar Overdrive,” weaved seemingly random guitar, organ, and bass noodlings into a dazzling fabric that took on the flavor of a cosmic jam. Just as impressive, Barrett’s shorter songs—most notably “Lucifer Sam,” “The Gnome,” and “Bike”—boasted melodies that sound channeled through a character out of Alice in Wonderland.

New York Dolls New York Dolls

New York Dolls
New York Dolls

The New York Dolls didn’t invent punk rock and they didn’t invent glam, and yet no rock band before or since has so successfully fused those genres. Emerging from the bowels of Manhattan in 1972, the group combined a love of trashy pop nuggets and drag-queen decadence to create a style that—both musically and visually—paved the way for such later bands as the Ramones, Blondie, and Television. Sometimes lost in the Dolls’ garish wigs, make-up, and insolence is the fact that the group’s music captured the essence of rock and roll in all its rebellious splendor.

Patti Smith Horses

Patti Smith
Horses

In a way no album had done before, the musically ambitious Horses captured a poetic sensibility in songs inspired by ’60s-style garage rock. Drawing from wildly disparate touchstones—Jim Morrison, the Count Five, William Burroughs, and the Velvet Underground, to name but a few—Patti Smith brought primitivism and a lack of pretense to her painterly musical montages. Artists from Deborah Harry to Chrissie Hynde to Courtney Love owe a heavy debt to this trailblazing effort.

Guns N' Roses Appetite for Destruction

Guns N’ Roses
Appetite for Destruction

Guns N’ Roses didn’t invent hard rock, but the group’s debut found the band assimilating the genre’s primordial ingredients in a way no one had done before. Combining the swagger of late ’60s Stones and vintage Aerosmith with the menace of punk and a trash-glam aesthetic, Appetite for Destruction injected a much-needed dose of ’70s-style rebellion into the frothy pop metal of the ’80s. Rife with riff-driven anthems such as “Paradise City” and “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” the album sounds as fresh today as it did 20 years ago.

Roxy Music Roxy Music

Roxy Music
Roxy Music

Fans who dismiss Roxy Music’s debut album as a campy novelty aren’t looking beneath the surface. Buried in the disc’s grooves are all the ingredients that later gave birth to the ’80s New Romantic movement. Weaving together styles that seemed impossibly disparate—glam-stoked pop, searing guitar rock, synth-crazed electronica, Euro-chic balladry, pastoral soundscapes, and more—the group was something entirely new under the sun.

Never Mind the Bollocks Here Comes the Sex Pistols

Sex Pistols
Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols

Iggy and the Stooges, the Velvet Underground, and the Ramones paved the way, but it took the Sex Pistols to construct punk rock’s defining template. Lyrically, the Pistols heaped contempt on all things pompous and self-important, but implied in their music was equal revulsion for the prog-rock bluster and feeble balladry that, at the time, was threatening rock’s primitive essence. That said, it’s also worth remembering that beneath the spit-froth ferocity of the Pistols’ music lay a strong melodic foundation.

The Velvet Undergound & Nico

Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground and Nico

Released at the cusp of the Summer of Love, the Velvet Underground’s debut album couldn’t have been more out of fashion. Packed with a street-wise, gritty realism that flew in the face of the Paisley crowd, Lou Reed’s songs tackled decadent themes in an adult, literary way that even Dylan hadn’t attempted. Tracks such as “I’m Waiting for the Man” and “Heroin” looked unflinchingly at New York’s drug culture, but it’s also worth noting that, in such Nico-sung songs as “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and “Femme Fatale,” Reed penned ballads that tugged at the heartstrings.

The Doors The Doors

The Doors
The Doors

Seldom has a musical and lyrical aesthetic emerged as fully formed as it did on this seminal debut. Veering between incendiary blues (“Back Door Man”), beer hall cabaret (“Alabama Song”), and carnival pop (“Light My Fire”), The Doors kept one foot in their blues rock roots while exploding preconceptions about what exactly constituted rock and roll. Jim Morrison’s vocals cut a wide swath as well, ranging from the mystical to the sensual to the defiant.

The Clash The Clash

The Clash
The Clash

Though it landed in British record stores six months prior to the release of Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, the Clash’s debut album became available domestically only after import copies started flying off the shelves. Besides the obvious influence of the Ramones, the album drew from vintage reggae artists like Desmond Dekker and Junior Murvin, presaging stylistic directions that would later become more pronounced. From “I’m So Bored with the U.S.A” to “Hate & War” to “White Riot,” The Clash teemed with energy and fire, while also proving that punk rock could accommodate an intelligent lyrical aesthetic.

Other Notable Debut Albums: The Ramones (the Ramones), Are You Experienced? (Jimi Hendrix), Music from Big Pink (the Band), Marquee Moon (Television), Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin), Murmur (R.E.M.), #1 Record (Big Star)