The Debut Album Project: March (“SC in the UK”)

Debut Album Project

In March, Strange Currencies turned our debut album focus toward the United Kingdom – largely prompted by my first visit there. Of course, Britain’s influence on modern popular music is paramount. The thirty-one albums represented this month – as well as the many that will be scattered throughout the rest of the year – include debuts from some of the most iconic artists of all-time. While some still find their creators in a developmental phase, plenty of these are full-fledged classics.

Unsurprisingly, England dominates here. And while Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, and other cities make a fine showing for themselves, London affirms its status as a global cultural capital. Elsewhere in the UK, Scotland lands a few entries, and Northern Ireland is represented, but Wales is shut out this month (though Young Marble Giants’ classic Colossal Youth featured on last month’s “one-album wonders” list).

Aside from the aforementioned trip to the UK, this month in Strange Currencies was also defined by the temporary loss of our social media accounts (via a widespread Facebook hack). However, as of today, our Instagram and Facebook pages have been restored. To see our April picks in real-time, give those pages a follow.


March 1 (#60)

The Kinks

Kinks

(1964)

Rating: 7.1

What We Said: “…the good certainly outweighs the bad, and while the outright greatness is limited to just the earth-shaking hit around which the album is built, there’s still plenty here that hints at something better beginning. Ray Davies’ best original material is either charming or ass-kicking, and most of the covers display a band that could already create a formidable racket.”


March 2 (#61)

Dusty Springfield

Stay Awhile – I Only Want to Be With You

(1964)

Rating: 9.1

What We Said: “The opening pair of title tracks are the biggest attractions, mostly because they were first associated with Springfield. However, Dusty also gives fantastic renditions of a number of songs that were previously hits in the hands of other artists. While these rarely match the original versions, these spirited takes keep [the album] sounding like a veritable hit parade.”


March 3 (#62)

Elvis Costello

My Aim is True

(1977)

Rating: 9.7

What We Said: My Aim is True is still a classic: the impressive first volley in an opening three-album salvo – four, if you consider Get Happy!! to be on the same level – that on their own are enough to make Costello a legendary figure.”


March 4 (#63)

Donovan

What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid (aka Catch the Wind)

(1965)

Rating: 7.6

What We Said: “[It] won’t win over anyone expecting something on the level of Dylan’s contemporaneous work, but it contains one legitimate masterpiece, and several solid supporting tracks. Besides, apart from the vocal melody on ‘Ramblin’ Boy,’ nothing here screams ‘Dylan knockoff.'”


March 5 (#64)

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones (aka England’s Newest Hit Makers)

(1964)

Rating: 6.9

What We Said: “Well, you gotta start somewhere, right? The Rolling Stones’ first LP presents a talented group, but one still very much in its formative stages. The charisma and energy are there, which would help set the band apart from their contemporaries.”


March 6 (#65)

Nick Lowe

Jesus of Cool (aka Pure Pop for Now People)

(1978)

Rating: 8.7

What We Said: “Lowe is in fine form as a songwriter, and each of the twelve tracks presented here possesses its own unique sound and arrangement. And while the opening four-song stretch outclasses the rest of the set, lyrical and musical gems appear throughout.”


March 7 (#66)

Pink Floyd

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

(1967)

Rating: 9.4

What We Said: “Throughout Piper, [Syd] Barrett’s reputation is solidified in his forward-thinking guitar work and lyrical whimsy. These aren’t songs that sound good on paper, but given the arrangements and production that they receive here, they’re rarely short of spectacular.”


March 8 (#67)

PJ Harvey

Dry

(1992)

Rating: 8.8

What We Said: “In eleven (mostly) ferocious songs, Harvey and her backing band take a scorched-earth approach to the blues. It’s raw, visceral, and appropriately dry, but it’s far from just sizzle. Listening to the album’s demo recordings, the depth and substance of Harvey’s ‘arrived fully-formed’ songwriting is laid bare, but when added to the forceful rhythmic backing, it becomes powerfully intense.”


March 9 (#68)

Them

The “Angry” Young Them!

(1965)

Rating: 7.5

What We Said: “As was the case for most of their contemporaries’ early work, it leans heavily on covers – particularly the blues-based variety that featured on The Rolling Stones’ debut… Of course, the gem here is an original: one that, in time, would itself become a standard.”


March 10 (#69)

Nick Drake

Five Leaves Left

(1969)

Rating: 9.7

What We Said: “Drake’s virtually perfect discography opens with an album that exists somewhere along the spectrum between the minimalistic Pink Moon, and 1970’s lush Bryter Layter. Joe Boyd’s production is never heavy-handed, and Drake remains the unwavering focal point throughout these ten tracks.”


March 11 (#70)

Radiohead

Pablo Honey

(1993)

Rating: 8.0

What We Said: “It’s the one-two punch that closes the album that best displays the band’s potential. After the jangly first half of “Lurgee” settles into its shoegaze-y conclusion, “Blow Out” arrives like a siren. It’s an auditory version of a late-night, white-knuckled drive through the desert – one that is little less than thrilling.”


March 12 (#71)

The Zombies

Begin Here (aka The Zombies)

(1965)

Rating: 7.4

What We Said: “Nothing else here can quite keep pace with “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No” – a solid take on George Gershwin’s “Summertime” comes the closest – but there’s still some value in hearing The Zombies in a more formative state.”


March 13 (#72)

Pretenders

Pretenders

(1980)

Rating: 8.4

What We Said: “While it is definitively influenced by the contemporaneous punk and new wave movements, Pretenders is every bit as much a power pop record. The hooks are bright, the production is sharp, and the guitars are ‘big’ throughout.”


March 14 (#73)

The Who

My Generation

(1965)

Rating: 8.7

What We Said: “For exactly two tracks in the middle of their debut album, The Who offered up two legitimately perfect songs. There are ten other tracks here. Most of them are also originals, and most of these pretty good too. But surround those two perfect songs by thirty minutes of static, and this is still an excellent album.”


March 15 (#74)

Belle and Sebastian

Tigermilk

(1996)

Rating: 8.7

What We Said: “Recorded as part of a college project, Tigermilk finds Stuart Murdoch and the still-forming band working with an absolutely stellar set of material. Any hesitance in the performances or production is easily made up for in the quality of songwriting: particularly on the outstanding trio of tracks that open the album.”


March 16 (#75)

King Crimson

In the Court of the Crimson King

(1969)

Rating: 9.6

What We Said: “While [it] serves as a signifier of things to come in the seventies, it still bears the aesthetic stamps of the late-sixties: vague psychedelia, warm production, prodigious Mellotron. As such, [it] provides a consistently tantalizing bridge between two distinctly different eras of rock music. It’s great, largely because it retains most of the best elements of each.”


March 17 (#76)

Cleaners From Venus

Blow Away Your Troubles

(1981)

Rating: 8.2

What We Said: “Though it’s not quite as refined as later Cleaners releases – which were still pretty lo-fi themselves – Blow Away Your Troubles consistently displays [Martin] Newell’s knack for hooky riffs and vocal melodies. Some of the best cuts of his lengthy recording career can be found here.”


March 18 (#77)

The Stone Roses

The Stone Roses

(1989)

Rating: 9.3

What We Said: “There’s an inherently transitional quality to The Stone Roses, but one that would ultimately come to define its unique place in time for a generation of British listeners. Anthemic, catchy, and cocksure, it was a portent for a future that was arriving at a rapid pace.”


March 19 (#78)

Joe Jackson

Look Sharp

(1979)

Rating: 8.3

What We Said: “If you’re gonna make comparisons to contemporaneous works by Elvis Costello (that initial four-album run from 1977-80), Look Sharp can’t help but come up short of that high bar. And therein lies the frustration, because when judged on its own merits, Look Sharp is a damn fine album.”


March 20 (#79)

Vashti Bunyan

Just Another Diamond Day

(1970)

Rating: 9.0

What We Said: “If you ever feel like the world around you has grown too loud, put this one on, and let its idyllic grace sweep you away for half an hour.”


March 21 (#80)

Roxy Music

Roxy Music

(1972)

Rating: 8.5

What We Said: “While the flip [side] is decidedly less direct, its experimental tendencies would be more fruitfully mined in the band’s future work – and especially in Brian Eno’s post-Roxy career. And even if it didn’t preview better things to come, Side B provides a fascinating complement, and a gentle comedown after the thrilling initial run of tracks.”


March 22 (#81)

Kate Bush

The Kick Inside

(1978)

Rating: 9.0

What We Said: “Perhaps the most fascinating thing about The Kick Inside is coming to the realization that – unlike someone like Tom Waits – Bush did not have to grow into her eccentricity; it was already there from the start. And sure, it’s damn impressive that this record was released when she was only nineteen, but considering that she had written many of these songs years earlier is both staggering and humbling.”


March 23 (#82)

The Smiths

The Smiths

(1984)

Rating: 8.9

What We Said: “Just as R.E.M. tapped into something of an idyllic response to the overindulgence of contemporary pop productions, The Smiths also adhered to a sound that remains refreshingly ‘laid bare.’ What you see is what you get, and what you get here are ten immaculately composed, performed, and recorded gems.”


March 24 (#83)

Stereolab

Peng!

(1992)

Rating: 8.5

What We Said: “All of the hallmarks of Stereolab’s thrilling early work are accounted for here: those warmly buzzing vintage organs, that thick guitar tone, the motorik beats, and Lætitia Sadier’s charming vocals. But more than just sounding great, there are legitimately outstanding songs as well.”


March 25 (#84)

The Specials

Specials

(1979)

Rating: 8.8

What We Said: The definitive record of the 2 Tone scene, Specials lovingly captures the influence of the first wave of Jamaican ska music, and matches it with the energy of contemporaneous British punk. The result is an album that still offers up a refreshing sound, almost forty-five years after its release.”


March 26 (#85)

The Beatles

Please Please Me

(1963)

Rating: 9.1

What We Said: “The band’s undeniable charisma shines through in even the most perfunctory tracks. While it’s true that the group’s next set of singles would provide their American breakthrough, these are songs that kick-started “Beatlemania” in Europe, and rightfully so. Their palpable energy and charm were light years ahead of the rest of the pop field in 1963, and are still impressive all these years later.”


March 27 (#86)

Billy Bragg

Life’s a Riot With Spy vs. Spy

(1983)

Rating: 8.3

What We Said: “The passion in these tracks is undeniable, and even though the shorthand read is that Bragg would find himself increasingly invested in ‘personal’ songwriting as his career progressed, these songs often straddle the line between matters of the head, and matters of the heart.”


March 28 (#87)

Kaleidoscope

Tangerine Dream

(1967)

Rating: 9.3

What We Said: “Beautifully written, arranged, and produced, Tangerine Dream is a record of highlights: one that takes the approach that ‘psychedelia’ is found every bit as much in childlike wonderment as it is in hallucinogens. Bear in mind that both of those impulses are represented here, and often at the same time.”


March 29 (#88)

Oasis

Definitely Maybe

(1994)

Rating: 8.6

What We Said: “…even when the songwriting sags a little, it sounds absolutely fucking great – especially the guitars. Looking back from the vantage point of today, it seems inevitable that this was going to be massive, and of course, it was.”


March 30 (#89)

The Jam

In the City

(1977)

Rating: 7.7

What We Said: “So sure, when judged against the three-album run of All Mod ConsSetting Sons, and Sound AffectsIn the City feels hesitant, but it’s still exciting hearing a special band in the process of finding their footing.”


March 31 (#90)

Portishead

Dummy

(1994)

Rating: 9.4

What We Said: “Though it deftly merges samples, haunting instrumentation, and frigid atmospherics, Dummy arguably would have been a mere footnote without the arresting vocals of Beth Gibbons. Her presence throughout is commanding, despite the cold vulnerability that it suggests.”


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