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Ten Best Rock Debuts of the '80s

Ten Best Rock Debuts of the '80s

Welcome to the latest edition of the Paradise Found Records Blog. Hope you're having a great summer and that you got all the vinyl you wanted at our June and July Record Store Day events. This month I am continuing my review of the greatest rock debut albums by decade. I've already covered the sixties and the seventies; it's time to dive into the eighties. Here are my top ten, in order of release date:

X--Los Angeles (April 1980)

Punk may have flowered in the mid-seventies, but the Southern California variant didn't garner national attention until X's powerful debut in the spring of '80. Led by the intertwining vocals of bassist John Doe and Exene Cervenka, the original Devil Doll, X rocked hard while adding Americana and protest elements that separated them from their punk peers. The thrash was still there, but with a little more melodicism and less aggression than other local punk acts like Black Flag and the Circle Jerks. Billy Zoom's guitar hero riffing and posturing and Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek's production gave the group SoCal credibility.

The English Beat--I Just Can't Stop It (May 1980)

England's two-tone ska revival was, in the hands of founders The Specials, highly political and embraced punk's disillusionment even as it deployed sunny Caribbean rhythms. The English Beat (they added the word "English" to their name in the USA to avoid confusion with Paul Collin's Beat) retained the multi-racial component of other two-tone acts but focused their musical sights on creating the most danceable beats imaginable. Their debut--featuring an amped-up cover of Smokey Robinson's "Tears of a Clown"--exploded on to the radio and made them the most popular two-tone export on this side of the pond. Tracks like "Mirror in the Bathroom" and "Big Shot" mixed menace and hooks to make a dark but happy sound unlike anything else at the time. 

Rockpile--Seconds of Pleasure (October 1980)

This supergroup featuring pub-rock all-stars Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds only joined together for one LP under the Rockpile moniker, but what a record!  Seconds of Pleasure distilled the best parts of Lowe's Labour of Lust and Edmunds' Repeat When Necessary (both featuring the same backing band) into sly rock who's goal was to impart humor without sacrificing integrity or infectiousness. Rockpile evoked the harmonies of the Everly Brothers (the original release even included a 7-inch of Everly covers) but polished Chuck Berry and Joe Tex songs with a New Wave sheen. And much like the Everly Brothers, Lowe and Edmunds couldn't stand to be in the same room together, making this debut their first and last hurrah. 

U2--Boy (October 1980)

Ireland's most notable musical export came out of the chute with a bang. The Edge used skill, reverb and technology to create the sound of a thousand guitars screaming, while Bono's passionate, youthful vocals spoke of universal teen longing. From the first chiming notes of "I Will Follow" through the powerful riffs of "Twilight" and "Out of Control," U2 made stadium rock that announced their beyond-their-years musical presence from the get-go and made world conquest (which happened with 1987's The Joshua Tree) a fait accompli. 

ABC--The Lexicon of Love (June 1982)

Punk and New Wave may have ruled the music culture of the early eighties, but that didn't stop Brit/ABC leader Martin Fry from making a pop record that updated Phil Spector's orchestral tendencies for a new generation. The Lexicon of Love stormed the charts in the UK and US and sounded classic, fresh and unique. "The Look of Love" and "Poison Arrow" were deservedly big hits. ABC focused attention on pop's sixties glory days at a time when forward-thinking seemed to be a prerequisite for new music.

REM--Murmur (April 1983)

REM came out of Georgia and added elements then-new to New Wave: Michael Stipe's largely incoherent, narrative-less lyrics and vocals and guitarist Peter Buck's love of Byrds-influenced jangling guitars. The group would go on to be one of the most successful acts of the decade--and make far better records--but Murmur staked out their turf in a manner that made them easily identifiable, and "Radio Free Europe" was an unforgettable first single.

Camper Van Beethoven--Telephone Free Landslide Victory (June 1985)

Here's a band that threw in everything but the kitchen sink. Camper Van Beethoven emerged from Santa Cruz with a debut that included punk, reggae, folk, ska, rock and middle eastern musical stylings on the same album, often within seconds of each other. It's no surprise that "Take the Skinheads Bowling" became their most famous track; that song featured the whimsy, hooks and low-fi spirit that made them indie darlings while ensuring they'd never reach a mass audience; the band broke up and leader David Lowery started Cracker in 1990, although CVB has reunited and toured with Lowery often in the last two decades.

Big Audio Dynamite--This is Big Audio Dynamite (October 1985)

Did Joe Strummer regret firing Mick Jones from The Clash after Combat Rock, their biggest commercial success? Probably, considering he later tried to recruit Jones back into the fold. By that point Jones had moved onto Big Audio Dynamite, his group with London scenester Don Letts. Their debut abandoned the punk fury of The Clash for a heavily sampled pop sound that was at least a decade ahead of its time. "The Bottom Line" took the main riff from Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines" and repurposed it for rock radio, creating a sampling template that's embedded in modern hip-hop.

Guns'n'Roses--Appetite for Destruction (July 1987)

Guns'n'Roses didn't win any points for originality, but that doesn't take anything away from their sound, which combined elements of the Rolling Stones, Stones wannabes Aerosmith and hair metal to create one of the biggest selling albums of the decade. Axl Rose's wailing and Slash's power chords made the old sound new again, and "Sweet Child o 'Mine" appealed to fans across the entire spectrum of music. Few bands ascended to stadium-level crowds as quickly as Guns'n'Roses. If they never reached those musical heights again, it was only because their debut was impossible to top.

Morrissey--Viva Hate (March 1988)

Part of the mystique surrounding The Smiths was guessing how much of the group's sound was attributable to mopey lead singer/lyricist Morrissey versus lead guitarist/musical composer Johnny Marr. The band perpetuated this facelessness by never appearing on any of their album covers. Morrissey's 1988 debut made a powerful argument that Marrs needed him more than the other way around. Viva Hate sounded like another Smiths record except that its hit "Everyday is Like Sunday" was even more accessible to non-indie-focused listeners. Stephen Street and Scritti Politti leader Vini Reilly filled in adeptly for Marr to maintain the melodic quality and helped Morrissey kick-off off a long, successful and often controversial solo career.

Honorable Mentions: The Go-Go's -- Beauty and the Beat (July 1981); New Order -- Movement (November 1981); Violent Femmes -- Violent Femmes (April 1983); The Smiths -- The Smiths (February 1984); Beastie Boys -- Licensed to Ill (November 1986); World Party -- Private Revolution (1986); They Might Be Giants -- They Might Be Giants (November 1986); Eric B. & Rakim -- Paid in Full (July 1987); NWA -- Straight Outta Compton (August 1988); Jane's Addiction -- Nothing's Shocking (August 1988)

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