Debut albums are a bit special. Often the result of a long gestation period that may well have begun in someone’s teenage bedroom, there is an exuberance and excitement to a first offering that combines confidence (“Look at me! Listen to my music!”) and nervousness (“Is it OK? Will anyone like me?”).
Over the life of Vinyl Connection I have written some fifteen pieces on memorable debut albums. Here is a selection, in no particular order, that deserve to be dusted off and re-appreciated.
Album: Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)
Often referred to as the first ‘supergroup’ (in the US – many Brits would cite Cream), David, Stephen and Graham produced a wonderfully melodic suite of songs that somehow blended their influences as successfully as their voices. Though commenting on the tense geo-political times (“Wooden Ships”) and recent events (“Long Time Gone” / Kennedy assassination), the songs avoid preaching and sound committed rather than strident. What I love are the variations in texture; from Crosby’s limpid “Guinevere” to the rollicking sea-shanty “49 Bye-byes”. From the psychedelic-tinged “Pre-road Downs” to the wistful ballad “Helplessly Hoping”. And let’s not forget the opening track, the gorgeous, sprawling “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”.
Album: Now Here Is Nowhere (2004)
Gotta love a brash young trio who hammer out a glorious amalgam of melody and distortion. The Secret Machines debut boasts the swagger of Zeppelin and the groove of Neu! plus a seasoning of Metal Machine Music. Yet it still manages to sound totally 21st Century. And though young in years, there is a persistent weltschmerz permeating the album. The ship may be sinking but let’s make a high-density racket until the power goes off.
Album: A Walk Across The Rooftops (1983)
Suffused with a melancholy beauty as ethereal as a pre-dawn mist, the debut of Glasgow band Blue Nile sounded as clear and as detailed as a space-age sound lab while inhabiting a place of quiet resignation and ancient sadness. Even the more hopeful songs (“Stay”) are made poignant by Paul Buchanan’s keening voice. Don’t talk about the audiophile qualities, embrace the heartbreaking beauty.
Album: Neu! (1972)
One of the bands who define the German independent music of the 70s, Neu! comprised guitarist Michael Rother (bass also) and
Thomas Klaus Dinger (voice, drums). This first outing lays out the template for both melodic beauty and ‘motorik’ percussion. Fans include David Bowie and Julian Cope. The former said, “I was completely seduced by the setting of the aggressive guitar-drone against the almost-but-not-quite robotic/machine drumming of Dinger.” The Archdrude offered, “Neu! was the epitome of Krautrock.” Still fabulous.
Album: Living In The Seventies (1974)
The article on this iconic Australian album was one of those memoir pieces that re-visit generally embarrassing aspects of Vinyl Connections younger days. But the shameless nostalgia should not obscure the piercing lyrical gaze and irrepressible energy of Skyhooks debut. Does it hold up forty years on? Well, TV news is still a suppurating “Horror Movie”, the 10s are no less disorientating than the 70s, and I drank a cappuccino on Lygon Street this afternoon. So there.
Album: Here Come The Warm Jets (1973)
Brian Eno is one of the giants of popular music. His electronic bullying of the Roxy Music sound added massively to their sonic interest (and the enduring regard in which the first two albums are held), while his production work – beginning with Bowie but including U2, Talking Heads and other heavyweights) has changed the climatic conditions in which those artists have created. This, his first album, is diverse, restless, ragged in places and polished in others; you can almost see his sparky brain revealed. And it’s fun too.
Album: Diamond Head (1975)
Talking of Eno, he helped out on Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera’s first solo album while also supporting the recording of the one-and-only Quiet Sun album simultaneously. It’s all there in the original article. Suffice to say, Manzanera’s 70s work has been unfairly overlooked; he is a guitarist with that rare capacity to sound inventive and fresh while remaining identifiably himself. Diamond Head is wildly eclectic and most enjoyable.
Album: In The Court Of The Crimson King (1969)
There is a real tension in choosing to feature a well-known album. On the one hand, the desperate-for-validation blogger is highly likely to receive a spike in page views by featuring a ‘classic’ album. Case in point: by far the most viewed Vinyl Connection post is the one on Led Zeppelin. On the other hand, how to find something new to say about an album that most people know (or have at least heard of) and already have opinions about? Here I went with a longer story to snuggle up to a concise review of the album. On reflection, maybe if someone spins an old favourite and derives pleasure, then that is enough.
Album: Tubular Bells (1973)
A grab for votes reared its ugly head again in this post which attempted to cover the formation of Richard Branson’s Virgin Records and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield’s first two albums. Without saying anything negative, I tried to impart the idea that fine though the debut is, the second effort is better. The position holds. Listen to Hergest Ridge and discover inventive folk-influenced progressive instrumental music of great charm.
Now that suggests a new series. Second albums that are better than the first…