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Only 1 Chance At A First Impression: Celebrating Great Musical Debuts

Jimi Hendrix Experience's <em>Are You Experienced?</em> was released 50 years ago Friday.
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Jimi Hendrix Experience's Are You Experienced? was released 50 years ago Friday.

As the old adage goes, "you never get a second chance to make a first impression." Fifty years ago — May 12, 1967 — the Jimi Hendrix Experience made about as tremendous a first impression as it gets. The band's first full-length record, Are You Experienced?, is widely considered one of the greatest debuts in rock and roll. It introduced audiences to pyrotechnic psychedelia, amps that were at once incendiary and melodic and an artist that would define the dreams of nearly anyone who picked up a guitar for years to come.

We're celebrating the album's anniversary with a round-up of some of the greatest debuts in music. (At least, according to us.) But what makes a truly great debut? Maybe it's an album that becomes historically impactful by shaping the trend of future soundscapes — the way The Smiths shaped U.K. pop with the band's 1984 self-titled debut or Kanye West innovated hip-hop on The College Dropout. Maybe it's an album that goes so sharply against the grain of its time that it flops in the moment and is only heralded in retrospect, like The Velvet Underground & Nico. Maybe it's an album so well-loved that it eclipses all of the artist's future work and damns them to a career of trying to live up to that first time, like Licensed To Ill may have done to the Beastie Boys. Maybe it's a debut that introduces a fully-formed singular voice who becomes the stuff of legend, like Patti Smith on Horses or Elvis Presley's self-titled full-length debut in 1956. Maybe it's a combination of all of the above --or a different alchemy entirely.

We've taken on the near-impossible task of assembling some of the greatest all-time debuts in the Spotify playlist below. Some of our picks may make us unpopular, but we're cool with that. Because unlike releasing a debut record, for us there's always next time to get it right.

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Talia Schlanger hosts World Cafe, which is distributed by NPR and produced by WXPN, the public radio service of the University of Pennsylvania. She got her start in broadcasting at the CBC, Canada's national public broadcaster. She hosted CBC Radio 2 Weekend Mornings on radio and was the on-camera host for two seasons of the television series CBC Music: Backstage, as well as several prime-time music TV specials for CBC, including the Quietest Concert Ever: On Fundy's Ocean Floor. Schlanger also guest hosted various flagship shows on CBC Radio One, including As It Happens, Day 6 and Because News. Schlanger also won a Canadian Screen Award as a producer for CBC Music Presents: The Beetle Roadtrip Sessions, a cross-country rock 'n' roll road trip.
David Dye is a longtime Philadelphia radio personality whose music enthusiasm has captivated listeners of World Cafe® since 1991. World Cafe is produced by WXPN, the public radio service of the University of Pennsylvania.