I’ve been thinking about this for a while, a couple years even. I’d suggested it to other people, but no one’s taken me up on it, so far as I know. Side note, I am aware of Rolling Stone Magazine’s list, but I have to question what they mean by great artists when they include the artists like Kid Rock, John Mellencamp and Yes.
To clarify the title, here’s a list of artists whose first album fell short of what would later be their reputation. This isn’t to say their debut was terrible, more so that as soon as more albums of theirs came out it’s hard to even care about the first. These are debut albums that very likely wouldn’t have sustained them if it’d been the bands only release. At first that sounds unfair, but there are plenty of bands with only one album (or at least who had only one album before getting together like 30 years later to make another), for example The Vaselines, Life without Buildings, Terrorizer, Sex Pistols.
Slayer — Show No Mercy
Probably the biggest problem with this album is the production value, as evidenced by the fact that a bunch of these songs appear on the Decade of Aggression: Live double album, and are awesome. The album artwork is pretty lame, too. Nonetheless, they went on to make four flawless albums in a row: Hell Awaits (1985), Reign In Blood (1986), South of Heaven (1988), Seasons in the Abyss (1990). This album sounds like Anthrax and/or Exodus; the riffs are ok, but the vocals are way off.
Most Noteworthy Tracks: “Die By The Sword” & “Evil Has No Boundaries”
The Minute Men — The Punch Line
Nothing can ever compare to Double Nickels on the Dime. (And, even when you get tired of that one, there’s always What Makes Man Start Fires?) The Punch Line is the Minute Men developing, but not quite hitting their full potential. It’s got the basis of what makes them great, ripping bass lines and trebled out guitar work, but they never hit the highs of “This Ain’t No Picnic” or even “Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs.” These are the elements that they eventually perfect. The relationship between “History Lesson” and “History Lesson (Part 2)” pretty much sum up exactly my thoughts here.
Most Noteworthy Tracks: “Monuments” & “Boiling”
The Stooges — The Stooges
Sure this album has “1969” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” but beyond that, there isn’t much to care about. Aside from those two songs, the album is much more of a psychedelic experience, which I think we can all agree is not what we turn to The Stooges for. I mean, really, consider Funhouse & Raw Power. There’s no need for the eponymous album.
Most Noteworthy Tracks: “1969” & “I Wanna Be Your Dog”
Tegan & Sara — The Business of Art
This one is an outcast on this list. What can I say, I love Tegan & Sara. Except for this first album, which is just some weird folkish, white girl rap. It’s just hard to listen to. Once If It Was You came out, it made this album totally forgettable. Although I have met at least one person who loves this album, I’m pretty sure it was ironic.
Most Noteworthy Tracks: n/a
Radiohead — Pablo Honey
Another really solid release, but it falls undeniably short when considering their whole discography. Admittedly, it’s hard to look at Radiohead’s discography as a cohesive block. I can’t imagine wanting to listen to The King Of Limbs right after having listened to OK Computer. But even if we consider their discography in the context of the era of Radiohead in which it was released (these eras being: “mostly guitar”, “a little less guitar” and “is there any guitar?”) Pablo Honey doesn’t even compare to The Bends (my favorite) and OK Computer.
Most Noteworthy Tracks: “You” & “Creep”