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Top 5 Debut Albums in the Grunge Genre

Emerging from the Pacific Northwest in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Grunge became a defining sound of a generation.

Characterised by its raw energy, distorted guitars, and introspective lyrics, grunge captured the disillusionment and angst of youth. Here, we highlight the top 5 debut albums that helped shape the grunge movement.

Nirvana Band Photo - Black and White
Nothing was ever quite the same after Nirvana.

Official Definition of a Debut Album

A debut album is the first commercially released studio album by a musical artist or band. It marks their initial venture into the recording industry as a professional entity.

Debut albums often set the tone for an artist’s career, introducing their musical style, themes, and artistic direction to the audience. These albums are typically highly anticipated and can be crucial in establishing the artist’s identity and building a fan base. With that out of the way, let’s crack on!

5. “Ultramega OK” by Soundgarden (October 1988)

Ultramega OK” is the debut studio album by the American rock band Soundgarden, released in October 1988. It was recorded at Reciprocal Recording Studios in Seattle, Washington, and produced by Drew Canulette. The album showcases Soundgarden’s early sound, which blends elements of heavy metal, punk rock, and alternative rock.

One notable aspect of “Ultramega OK” is its critical reception and subsequent reevaluation. While the album received positive reviews upon its release, some members of the band later expressed dissatisfaction with the final mix, feeling that it didn’t fully capture their vision.

“We made a huge mistake with “Ultramega OK,” because we left our home surroundings and people we’d been involved with and used this producer that really did affect our album in a kind of negative way.” – Chris Cornell on “Ultramega Ok”

In 2017, “Ultramega OK” was reissued with a remixed and remastered version of the album, overseen by Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil. This reissue aimed to present the album more accurately according to the band’s original intentions, addressing the concerns they had about the initial mix.

Interesting fact: The album’s title, “Ultramega OK,” was originally meant to be a humorous response to the band’s dissatisfaction with the mix of the album. They felt that the final mix didn’t fully capture their vision and sound, so they sarcastically labeled it as “Ultramega OK” as a way to downplay their frustration.

4. “Ten” by Pearl Jam (August 1991)

Released in August 1991, “Ten” is the debut studio album by the American rock band Pearl Jam. Produced by Rick Parashar and Pearl Jam, the album was recorded at London Bridge Studios in Seattle, Washington.

“Ten” was a massive commercial success, catapulting Pearl Jam to fame. It peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart and became one of the best-selling rock albums of the 1990s. It has since been certified 13 times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

“All I really believe in is this fucking moment, like right now. And that, actually, is what the whole album talks about.” – Eddie Vedder on “Ten”

The album spawned several successful singles, including “Alive,” “Even Flow,” “Jeremy,” and “Oceans.” These songs received heavy airplay on rock radio stations and helped to establish Pearl Jam as one of the leading bands of the grunge movement.

Interesting fact: Initially, “Ten” was not well-received by all members of the band. Guitarist Stone Gossard once described the recording process as a “bizarre” and “intense” experience, with the band feeling uncertain about their direction and the sound of the album.

3. “Core” by Stone Temple Pilots (September 1992)

Core” is the debut studio album by the American rock band Stone Temple Pilots, released in September 1992. Produced by Brendan O’Brien, the album was recorded at various studios in California

The album was a commercial breakthrough for Stone Temple Pilots, reaching No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart. It was certified 8 times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), indicating sales of over 8 million copies in the United States alone.

“I guess I tend to find the darker shades of life more attractive than the yellows and oranges. I know it’s something that I relate to when I listen to music.” – Scott Weiland on “Core”

“Core” spawned several successful singles, including “Sex Type Thing,” “Plush,” “Wicked Garden,” and “Creep.” These songs received significant radio airplay and helped to establish Stone Temple Pilots as one of the leading bands of the alternative rock movement.

Interesting fact: According to legend, the band initially left “Plush” off the album’s tracklist because they felt it sounded too similar to the rest of the songs. However, producer Brendan O’Brien pushed for its inclusion, recognising its potential as a hit single.

Eventually, the band relented, and “Plush” was added to the album. It went on to become one of Stone Temple Pilots’ biggest hits and a staple of 1990s rock music.

2. “Facelift” by Alice in Chains (August 1990)

Facelift” is the debut studio album by the American rock band Alice in Chains, released in August 1990. Produced by Dave Jerden, the album was recorded at London Bridge Studio in Seattle, Washington.

The album showcases Alice in Chains’ unique blend of heavy metal, grunge, and alternative rock, and features dark and brooding melodies, powerful guitar riffs, and haunting vocal harmonies, which would become hallmarks of the band’s sound.

“I believe that on “Facelift”, Layne (vocalist) was portraying a dark world from the outside looking in. It’s only later that they were right inside it looking out.” – Dave Jerden, “Facelift” producer

“Facelift” was a commercial success, reaching No. 42 on the Billboard 200 chart. The album was propelled by the success of singles like “Man in the Box” and “Sea of Sorrow,” which received heavy airplay on rock radio stations and helped to establish Alice in Chains as one of the leading bands of the grunge movement.

Interesting fact: The album’s lead single, “Man in the Box,” initially faced resistance from radio stations due to its controversial lyrics and themes. Some radio stations even censored or refused to play the song because of its references to censorship and religious hypocrisy.

Despite this, “Man in the Box” gained traction through MTV airplay and eventually became one of Alice in Chains’ signature songs, propelling the band to mainstream success.

1. “Bleach” by Nirvana (June 1989)

Bleach” is the debut studio album by the American rock band Nirvana, released in June 1989, through the independent record label Sub Pop. Produced by Jack Endino, the album was recorded over a period of just 30 hours at Reciprocal Recording Studios in Seattle, Washington.

The album showcases Nirvana’s early sound, which combines elements of punk rock, heavy metal, and alternative rock, featuring raw and aggressive guitar riffs, pounding drums, and Kurt Cobain’s distinctive vocals.

“I still love the album, but that’s probably because I’ve only been in the band for six weeks. I’m sure I’ll get sick of it soon.” – Dave Grohl on “Bleach”, December 1990

“Bleach” is regarded as a seminal album in the development of the grunge and alternative rock movements of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It laid the groundwork for Nirvana’s subsequent breakthrough with “Nevermind” and helped to establish the band as one of the most influential rock acts of all time.

Interesting fact: “Bleach” was recorded in just a few sessions on a shoestring budget of just $606.17.