The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is one of the best debut albums of the last 20 years – a masterpiece by a tremendous talent who stood out when she was sharing the spotlight in The Fugees, Lauryn Hill. It was highly anticipated and hit all the marks, earning 10 Grammy nominations and became the first hip hop album to win Album of the Year.
In honour of that album’s release 17 years ago, we’ve put together a collection of the best debut records of the last 33 years. Why 30 years? Because I’m closing in on 37 and trying to go all-time opens up too many generational biases and turns this into a somewhat more obvious list.
Standard Rundown rules apply: this is my list – my Top 10 – so if you don’t agree, cool; let me know what changes you would make in the comment section below.
Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston (1985)
The two things people remember most about Whitney are “And I Will Always Love You” and how her career and personal life spiraled out of control until her passing, but long before Bobby Brown and The Bodyguard, Cissy Houston’s baby girl reshaped female pop music, beginning with her eponymous debut album, which spawned the hits “Saving All My Love for You,” “How Will I Know” and “Greatest Love of All.”
Licensed to Ill – Beastie Boys (1986)
Rap music was just starting to find its footing in the mid-80s and then here come these white boys from New York City that just kind of stumbled into the scene… and became of the most successful and influential acts in the genre. Featuring a number of classic tracks – Paul Revere, Brass Monkey, No Sleep till Brooklyn, Girls – Licensed to Ill landed at No. 1 on Rolling Stone’s list of The 100 Best Debut Albums in 2013.
Appetite for Destruction – Guns ‘N’ Roses (1987)
“It’s So Easy” might have been the first single, but the one that really kicked in the door – and set the table for the rest of the album – was “Welcome to the Jungle,” which was Side 1, Track 1 on this classic. Nearly 30 years later, this album still holds up, with openings that are still easily identifiable (“Paradise City” and “Sweet Child o’ Mine”) and is kind of feels like one of those “lightning in a bottle” situations given how the band kind of came apart at the seams over the next couple albums.
Straight Outta Compton – N.W.A. (1988)
This album has been front and center for the last couple weeks since the movie of the same name has brought been topping the box office. Given that we’re more than 25 years beyond this album’s release and some of the elements that make this record so great are still major talking points in today’s society, I’d say it’s pretty clear that this is one of the best debut albums during that period and of all-time.
People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm – A Tribe Called Quest (1990)
Maybe I’m biased because Tribe is one of my all-time favourite musical acts, but their first three albums (this, The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders) make up arguable the best three-album run in hip hop history. Honestly – what’s better? People’s Instinctive Travels introduced Q-Tip’s laid back delivery and Phife Dog’s rambunctious counter balance on gems like “Bonita Applebum” and “Can I Kick It?”
Ten – Pearl Jam (1991)
Some people fancied Nirvana’s Nevermind in 1991, but I was always a Ten guy – it was more sonically appealing to me and the flow of the album was such that you could put it on and just listen from Track 1 (Once) through to the end (Release) without wanting to fast forward. While Kurt Cobain & Co. blew up quickly and then faded away, Pearl Jam has endured and become one of the best bands of the last 25 years and this was their outstanding starting point.
Definitely Maybe – Oasis (1994)
I love Oasis – always have, always will. Yes, the Gallaghers are obnoxious tools that have thought too highly of themselves for years, but good lord can they make amazing music together and the first indication of that was this beautiful album. Delivering hits like “Supersonic” and “Live Forever” this was the jump off point for a tumultuous run that made these lads from Manchester one of the biggest bands in the world.
Ready to Die – The Notorious B.I.G. (1994)
A couple months after Oasis hit the shelves; a deep, sometimes garbled voice from Bed-Stuy appeared on the hip hop scene and tilted it on its axis. Christopher Wallace was taken from this world way too soon, but his legacy lives on forever in his works. Ready to Die was occasionally accessible and fun (“Big Poppa” and “Juicy” were radio hits), but always autobiographical and raw and remains one of the best debuts in hip hop history.
The College Dropout – Kanye West (2004)
Because he’s one of the biggest artists in the world today, people don’t remember that Kanye wasn’t supposed to be successful on the microphone. He was a producer – an outstanding one at that – but he wanted to spit, so Jay-Z and Damon Dash gave him a chance and the rest is history. The College Dropout went to No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and delivered hits like “Jesus Walks” and “All Falls Down.”
Hot Fuss – The Killers (2004)
Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of The Killers, but even I have to admit that this album hit like a ton of bricks when it dropped. “Mr. Brightside” and “Somebody Told Me” were insanely addictive, wildly successful singles that you couldn’t escape if you tried.