In honor of the 50th (!) anniversary of Bob Dylan's debut album, NPR Music has a list of 50 debut albums that failed to light a fire with the public. This is a list of artists who needed more than one record to become the musician(s) we know today. I would add Genesis, Amy Grant, Billy Joel, Chris Botti, and Peter Gabriel to that list.
But what about the artists who nailed it the first time out? Here are a few that strike me as having it all down on that first album.
Chicago Transit Authority (1969)
It might come as no surprise to anyone that my very favorite Chicago song is "Introduction," which is track 1 on side 1 of this debut double LP. Everything that Chicago had become in the bars around the midwest was present at the creation. Killer horn licks, smoldering guitar solo, and Terry Kath's vocals waiting over it all. It goes on from there. This is the album from which two concert staples emerged: "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It It?" and "Beginnings" Throw in "Questions 67 & 68," the Steve Winwood cover "I'm a Man," the underrated "Poem 58," the anti-war song "Someday," and the 14-minute "Liberation," this album pretty much told you all you needed to know about this band. Sure, they'd hone their artistic direction with Chicago II, their songwriting skills with Chicago V, and, yes, their pop sensibilities with Chicago 17, but all the elements were there on album #1.
While technically 1975's KISS: Alive! is the album that vaulted the foursome from concert oddity to stardom, all the basic elements can be heard on this debut. At least half of the album's 10 songs are still played regularly (Deuce, Cold Gin, Strutter, Nothin' to Lose, Firehouse, 100,000 Years) and that, in itself, should show you the heft of this album. Yes, the live versions of these songs are heavier and more propulsive, but the template was there on that first album.
Sting - Dream of the Blue Turtles (1985)
You might call this a cheat since Mr. Sumner already had a debut with The Police back in 1978. But Sting's first solo album deserves separate mention. In nearly all ways, you'd be hard pressed to compare Outlandos d'Amour and Blue Turtles and say that the same brain made this music. Jazz rules on Blue Turtles and, if I'm being honest, I'd have to say that this album helped solidify the joy of jazz in my head. There was a time, there, when I stopped listening to my Police cassettes precisely because it was so unlike Blue Turtles. I have always been more of a Sting fan rather than a Police fan and it was Dream of the Blue Turtles that did it.
What are your favorite debut albums where the artist got it right from the start? Or other artists who needed a few albums to come into their own?