Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The 1990s: 21 of the Best Debut Albums

Some amazing artists began their career in the 1990s. While some developed stronger albums as their career progressed, others created masterpieces - straight out of the gate. I always find it fascinating how a band/album can mean so much to one person, but nothing to another. For that reason I've encouraged some of my readers and friends to contribute their Top 5 picks for comparison. This list was insanely difficult to compile - way more difficult than the one I did for the 1980s. I found that ranking them changed on a daily basis - so what is presented to you today is a snapshot in time, and definitely not written in stone.

I encourage you to leave your Top 5 list in the comments section at the bottom of the page, or you can always interact with me and my readers over at the Life On This Planet Facebook Page. Please keep in mind that for this list, EPs weren't counted as a debut album, except for an instance where the band didn't ever release anything else. Okay, I think that about covers it. 

Released on July 14, 1994
Produced by Elliott Smith
Key Tracks:  No Name #1, Condor Ave, Roman Candle
Notes and Memories:  Roman Candle isn't the best Elliott Smith album, for me that would probably be his final album - released after his death - From A Basement On The Hill. Roman Candle was recorded and released while he was still a member of the band Heatmiser. In his way-too-short career, he wrote so many amazing, heartfelt songs, and even ended up being nominated for a Grammy for some of his songs that appeared in Good Will Hunting. If you haven't heard Elliott Smith before, now is the time.

Released in September 14, 1992
Produced by Mark Kozelek
Key Tracks:  24, Medicine Bottle, Japanese To English
Notes and Memories:  I am a fan of Mark Kozelek. His work in Red House Painters, the solo albums and the Sun Kil Moon records continue to reveal layers of his musicianship and creativity. I discovered the RHPs around the release of their second album, known as Rollercoaster. Like the Pixies' first release for the 4AD label, Down Colorful Hill was comprised of the band's demo recordings, remixed by 4AD's Ivo Watts-Russell.

Released on June 6, 1996
Produced by Alan Rankine
Key Tracks:  The State I'm In, We Rule The School, Expectations, I Could Be Dreaming
Notes and Memories:  A quirky group of musicians out of Glasgow, with a knack for creating witty, catchy songs - 1996 saw the release of Belle And Sebastian's debut LP. Though the band continues to release quality work, their first three albums stand out as their best. If you're new to the band, I recommend starting with If You're Feeling Sinister, or The Boy With The Arab Strap.

Released on July 23, 1996
Produced by Greg Williamson
Key Tracks:  Explain, Shade And The Black Hat, Abegail Anne
Notes and Memories:  I know what you're thinking... why not Sunny Day Real Estate's debut, Diary????!!!! I mean, yeah SDRE's 'Seven' and 'In Circles' are pretty incredible tracks, but this one just connects with me a bit more. I discovered this album, from the Sunny Day Real Estate frontman, after my brother played me the track 'Been Here Before' - from Enigk's second album, which came out an entire decade after his solo debut. I went back and bought everything available, including the SDRE albums I didn't have. Back in 2008, I was out in LA for the NAMM show and by coincidence, Enigk was doing a show at the Troubadour in Hollywood - it was an amazingly emotional performance.

Released on February 4, 1992
Produced by Robin Guthrie
Key Tracks:  For Love, Nothing Natural, Superblast!, Untogether
Notes and Memories:  Whenever I see the cover of Spooky, it immediately takes me back to 1992 - hanging out all day and all night, in and around the music building of ASU, constantly rehearsing and playing music. Got to see Lush at the second Lollapalooza, out at the former Desert Sky Pavilion in Phoenix - they hit the stage at 3pm in the 110+ degree Arizona heat - yikes. So many great bands have ceased to exist with the death of one of its members. In this case, Lush sadly ended in 1996, with the suicide of drummer Chris Acland. 

Released on September 4, 1992
Produced by Bob Mould, Lou Giordano
Key Tracks:  Helpless, Hoover Dam, If I Can't Change Your Mind, The Act We Act
Notes and Memories:  Okay, next time you walk into a record store and see this CD sitting there in the dollar bin, do yourself a favor and buy it immediately. If you weren't watching MTV in the early 90s, or listening to alternative radio, you may not even know who Sugar is/was. Formed by Husker Du frontman, Bob Mould, Sugar only released two full-length LPs - and lasted only a few years. Copper Blue contains one killer track after another - thank you to some of my blog readers for reacquainting me with this one!

Released on October 15, 1990
Produced by Marc Waterman
Key Tracks:  Vapour Trail, In A Different Place, Dreams Burn Down
Notes and Memories:  Man, just hit play on the track 'Vapour Trail.' Ride's co-frontman, Andy Bell, later went on to play bass in Oasis, and now resides in Beady Eye with Liam Gallagher.

14.  Weezer
Released on May 10, 1994 
Produced by Ric Ocasek
Key Tracks:  In The Garage, No One Else, Undone, Say It Ain't So
Notes and Memories:  I'm really not much of a Weezer fan, but I can recognize a really strong record when I hear it. Produced by Ric Ocasek of The Cars, Weezer's debut was a massive success. Listening to it a few days ago, I always find it fascinating when a band can really come up with their best work on their first offering - as they say, it takes a lifetime of experiences to write your first album, and only six months to write the second. I haven't really heard much that I've liked over the last few albums, so this and it's followup, Pinkerton, are the best Weezer.

Released on August 2, 1994
Produced by Dave Jerden
Key Tracks:  Am I Wrong, Half A Life, Wake Up
Notes and Memories:  After the Psychedelic Furs fizzled out, Richard Butler came back with a new band and a fantastic debut album with Love Spit Love. They only lasted for one more before The Furs reunited, but take a listen to 'Am I Wrong' - truly one of the greatest songs of the 1990s.

12.  The La's
Released in November 1990
Produced by Steve Lilywhite, Bob Andrews, etc.
Key Tracks:  Timeless Melody, There She Goes, Feelin'
Notes and Memories:  I had several VHS tapes that I recorded videos off of MTV back in the late 80s / early 90s. 'There She Goes' by The La's got plenty of play back then. Their one - and only - album took three years to make, as the band went from producer to producer, and then even condemned the final product in interviews at the time. The band broke up shortly after its release, but reunited in the mid-2000s, though no sophomore LP has ever been released.

Released on August 27, 1991
Produced by Rick Parashar
Key Tracks:  Black, Release, Why Go, Alive
Notes and Memories:  I remember walking into Zia Records in downtown Tempe, Arizona after one of my first classes at Arizona State University, and seeing a display setup in the back of the store for a band called Pearl Jam. My brother and I took a chance and bought this one - I still have the original CD longbox it came in. Due to an oversaturation of PJ's music on MTV and the radio, I really stopped paying attention to them after a few singles from Vs. - their sophomore LP. After hearing Eddie Vedder's amazing soundtrack to Into The Wild, I went back and revisited their catalog. I have to say that I'm totally impressed with how this band has continued to put out quality albums, while really staying outside of the normal channels for years. My friend Jaymz Todd shares some thoughts on the band in his list below.

Released on July 12, 1994
Produced by Deconstruction, Ron Champagne
Key Tracks:  L.A. Song, Big Sur, Son
Notes and Memories:  Deconstruction was a one-album project from Eric Avery and Dave Navarro, after the demise of Jane's Addiction. The band never toured in support of the album, as Navarro was then brought on as the new guitarist in the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I remember listening to this album all the time on the way to the Mason Jar for some of the early Audra shows in Phoenix. Whenever I put this on, it always takes me back to those days.

Released on May 14, 1991
Produced by Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Jessica Cocoran
Key Tracks:  Grey Cell Green, Nothing Like, Happy, Cut Up
Notes and Memories:  It's weird how fast time passes. It seems like yesterday that I walked into the old Tower Records that was on the SE corner (the old location) of Mill Avenue and University, in Tempe Arizona. The cassette of Ned's debut was bundled with a promotional t-shirt. 'Grey Cell Green' - totally one of the best songs of the 90s. These guys were just teenagers, but man they wrote some really great stuff on their first outing. Their second record was pretty decent, and then I didn't really feel the third one too much - and apparently the band didn't either, because they broke up shortly after its release. These days, they've reunited - and if you've never heard Ned's Atomic Dustbin, pick up a copy of their debut - with my seal of approval!  :)

08.  Placebo
Released on July 16, 1996
Produced by Brad Wood
Key Tracks:  Teenage Angst, 36 Degrees, Lady Of The Flowers, Come Home
Notes and Memories:  I discovered Placebo thru my friend Gitane DeMone, who highly recommended them to me after the release of their second album, Without You I'm Nothing. I immediately fell in love with the band, having now seen them live lots of times, and buying each new album as they hit the shelves. Their self-titled debut shows the band in its infancy. I dig all of their albums, but if I had to choose a favorite... hmm... Black Market Music or Without You

Released on May 28, 1991
Produced by Butch Vig, Billy Corgan
Key Tracks:  Rhinoceros, Crush, Snail, Daydream
Notes and Memories:  Another album that I bought the day it came out. There was a uniqueness to the sound of the Pumpkins that was immediately noticeable upon first listening to Gish. A lot of people will most likely say that their pinnacle was Siamese Dream, or perhaps Melon Collie, and yes they probably had better singles - but whenever I'm in the mood for some Smashing Pumpkins, I put Gish on the turntable.

Released on August 30, 1994
Produced by Noel Gallagher, Mark Coyle, Owen Morris, Dave Batchelor
Key Tracks:  Live Forever, Rock 'N' Roll Star, Supersonic
Notes and Memories:  Sooooo many great bands have emerged from the city of Manchester, England - Joy Division, The Smiths, James, The Stone Roses, Bee Gees, and of course... Oasis. They immediately secured their place in rock 'n' roll history with the release of Definitely Maybe

Released in April 1990
Produced by David Roback 
Key Tracks:  Halah, Ghost Highway, Be My Angel
Notes and Memories:  I'm so excited that Mazzy Star is releasing a new album this year - it's been 16 years since their third LP, Among My Swan. Seriously, what a great band - their sound I often describe as a cross between the Velvet Underground and Patsy Cline. An amazing debut, and the other two albums are also stellar.
04.  Suede
Released on March 29, 1993
Produced by Ed Buller 
Key Tracks:  So Young, The Drowners, Sleeping Pills
Notes and Memories:  Suede was truly one of the great bands to emerge from the 90s. While some may say that they never recovered from the departure of guitarist Bernard Butler, I still loved 1996's Coming Up, and many tracks from the subsequent two releases. They've reunited for some touring, and the reissuing of their entire catalog - so it'll be interesting to see what happens next, as they are recording their first album in 10 years. 

Released on April 27, 1993
Produced by Perry Farrell, Matt Hyde
Key Tracks:  Cursed Female, Pets, Sadness, Orgasm
Notes and Memories:  Before this record came out, I would sit by the radio with a blank tape in the deck, and wait for an early Porno For Pyros track to hit the airwaves on the legendary, underground Phoenix radio station KUKQ AM 1060. Completely faded, torn and frayed, I still have both of my Porno For Pyros t-shirts - one of them I got the year before they even released their first album. I got to see them twice - once at a festival put on by KUKQ, which also featured X and Rage Against The Machine; the next time was with Love & Rockets opening - both were great shows. This is the sound of 1993 for me. Sadly, Porno For Pyros only released one more LP before Perry got Jane's Addiction back together (that shouldn't have happened). I'm sure there are some leftover songs from that era, so hopefully someday we'll get a new record.1996's Good God's Urge was a cool record, but this one takes the prize for me.

Released in 1994
Produced by Mark Kramer
Key Tracks:  Words, Lazy, Lullaby, Slide
Notes and Memories:  I've followed Duluth's Low since the beginning - got this album when it came out, and saw them live the following year. They opened for a band called Soul Coughing at Gibson's in Tempe, AZ. During Low's set, for which the crowd sat around on the floor, some loser threw a Big Gulp cup that hit singer Alan Sparhawk in the head. His wife immediately stormed out from behind the drums to scream at the perpetrator. Bizarre night. They continue to grow, releasing great albums, including last year's C'mon. But I won't hesitate to say that their debut is the very best Low record.

Released on August 4, 1992
Produced by John Hampton, Gin Blossoms
Key Tracks:  Lost Horizons, Found Out About You, Allison Road, Hey Jealousy, Mrs. Rita
Notes and Memories:  Surprised? First, I should mention that the GB's released their own record called Dusted, back in 1989. Over half of the songs on Dusted were re-recorded & re-released for New Miserable Experience and its major label predecessor, the Up & Crumbling EP. Therefore I submit that NME was the GB's debut. For me, this is the album I hear when I drive around Tempe, Arizona. When I pass by Mrs. Rita's fortune telling shop on University, I hear this album. When I drive over the Mill Avenue bridge, past the flour mill - I hear this album in my head. While some may discredit this album as being nothing more than radio pop of the 90s, I strongly disagree. Listen to the lyrics - the sadness, the pain and the emotion. Listen to the beautiful melodies, and stunning songwriting. Almost every song could've been a single - and hell, five of the twelve songs were. Shortly after its release, chief songwriter Doug Hopkins took his own life. The band released a followup in 1996 - which I dig - then broke up for a while. They've since put out 2 records, but nothing can touch the sadness and beauty of New Miserable Experience - it's an amazing collection of songs. Singer Robin Wilson sang some backing vocals on my band's last album - check out the tracks 'Everything Changes' and 'I Just Can't Let Go.'

And now let's hear from some of my readers and friends... 


Jaymz Todd
Phoenix, AZ

Adorable - Against Perfection (1993)
Catherine Wheel - Ferment (1992)
Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt (1996)
Pearl jam - Ten (1991)
Sunny Day Real Estate - Diary (1994)

"As lame as it sounds, I'm finding it hard to choose these in any order or pick a #1. I believe they all hold up in their own right. Two have longevity in their career as most originally thought they would be a flash in the pan, and no longer chart after the 90's (pearl jam, jay-z) and the other three were pretty much the anchors of a couple musical movements that have come and gone, and come back again. Sunny Day is believed to have coined the phrase "emo" and for good/bad launched a million sad kid bands on to the market (though none - besides maybe Death Cab - could achieve the same fine art and accolades). While Adorable and Catherine Wheel  helped bring the shoegaze movement to the foreground - with two critical albums each - before their careers crashed and burned beneath them. Pearl Jam what could not be said about this band? Seriously, if you were to travel back to 1993 .. would you think they would still be here? Recording albums and playing sold out world tours? Ten is a brilliant album and only made that much better with its remastered addition from a years back. And for Jay, though I don't believe is his best album (I reserve that to the black album, or the blueprint), is a brilliant debut that started a hustle that couldn't be knocked 16 years, and 11 solo albums later. So those are my picks. love em, hate em, whatever..."


Joseph Russomanno
Chandler, AZ

05.  Mazzy Star - She Hangs Brightly
04.  Oasis - Definitely Maybe
03.  Gin Blossoms - New Miserable Experience
02.  Kenny Wayne Shepherd - Ledbetter Heights (Released while KWS was in high school, it went platinum)
01.  Pearl Jam - Ten

Why is it my #1?  "Even Flow. Jeremy. What else needs to be said?"


William Kilby
Los Angeles, CA

05.  Foo Fighters
04.  Fiona Apple - Tidal
03.  Pearl Jam - Ten
02.  Tori Amos - Little Earthquakes
01.  Smashing Pumpkins - Gish

Why is it my #1?  "Though to me, Siamese Dream was their masterpiece, Gish is an album I always go back to. A nice peek into what the band would become, thanks mostly for Butch Vig's production full of layered guitars and dreamy landscapes. Later on, Butch would produce the mega selling Nevermind from Nirvana, and albums from Sonic Youth, Green Day and Nirvana. This album defined the 90s for me."


Mark Heaton
Detroit, MI

05.  His Name Is Alive - Livonia
04.  Moby
03.  Lush - Spooky / Ride - Nowhere / Majesty Crush - Love 15
02.  Pretty And Twisted (Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde)
01.  Saint Etienne - Foxbase Alpha

Why is it my #1?  "Utterly fantastic english pop. A mashup of the 60's and synth/techno. The beginning of a stellar 15 year career. They are releasing new music next week. Can't wait. Definitely one of my favorite all time bands."


Thom Gabaldon
Phoenix, AZ

01.  The Geraldine Fibbers - Lost Somewhere Between The Earth And My Home

Why is it my #1?  "Brilliant album that transcends the country rock tag with lyrics as far diverse as a story from the bible to the dismissal of a dog. One track hits me so hard emotionally that I cannot listen to it much. When the radio was all about the Soundbarfin and Nirdvana, this gem escape the ears of many but the most learned of critics. So sad as this album was simply perfect in raw sound and raw emotion from start to finish."


Lew Breeze
San Diego, CA

05.  Garbage
04.  Love Spit Love
03.  Daniel Ash - Coming Down
02.  Terry Hall - Home (Terry Hall of The Specials, Fun Boy Three, The Colour Field)
01.  Booth And The Bad Angel

Why is it my #1?  "Always a fan of the soundscapes Angelo Badalamenti created in many of David Lynch’s films. I was thrilled when he teamed up with Tim Booth (James) in 1995/1996.  This is one album I can whole-heartedly say I like every track!"

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  1. Awesome list Bret, I'm going to have to check out some of those albums that I have not already heard.