The 50 best debut singles

15 October 2023, 12:00

Some of the greatest debut singles of all time...
Some of the greatest debut singles of all time... Picture: Press

Which artists have kicked off their career in style? Here are 50 of the very best first-time releases.

Radio X

By Radio X

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  • Do you remember the first time?
  • Time and time again, the music trade press report that the humble 7" single is dead... but this hardy format keeps coming back on a regular basis, capturing the attention of another generation.
  • First launched in 1949 by the RCA Victor company, the single became a statement of intent for an artist. It's the ideal format to make a quick, indelible impression: the genius of the 7" is that it's compact, self-contained and comes with an extra treat in the shape of an extra track for you to investigate on the b-side. Nice.
  • Here are 50 great examples of when the debut single has done its job perfectly: setting the scene for a great career, offering up a two to three-minute blast of adrenalin and encouraging you to pick the needle up and listen all over again.
  • Some ground rules: EPs, compilation tracks and so on are NOT included! We're looking at singles that were made specifically as singles.
  • We're listing them in strictly alphabetical order, not in order of quality!
  1. Arctic Monkeys - I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor

    Released on 14 October 2005 after the Five Minutes With Arctic Monkeys EP, this storming track shot straight to No 1 in the UK singles chart. However, Alex Turner was keen to emphasise: "Don't believe the hype."

    Arctic Monkeys - I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor (Official Video)

  2. Bjork - Human Behaviour

    After a successful career as the singer in the Icelandic band The Sugarcubes, Bjork went solo with this idiosyncratic outing that teased ahead to her acclaimed album Debut. The video, featuring a malevolent teddy bear stalking through the woods helped, too.

    björk - human behaviour

  3. Bloc Party - She's Hearing Voices

    The original version of this track was Bloc Party's first release, on the Trash Aesthetics label in February 2004. The song, plus its B-sides and the follow-up single, Banquet, were subsequently re-released on the Bloc Party EP.

    Bloc Party - She's Hearing Voices (EP version)

  4. Blur - She's So High

    The first outing by the band formerly known as Seymour was released in October 1990, but only made a lowly No 48 in the UK charts. The cover, featuring a painting by Mel Ramos depicted a naked girl riding on a hippo… which immediately brought the band accusations of sexism. She's So High was backed with the equally excellent I Know.

    Blur - She's So High

  5. Bon Iver - Skinny Love

    Justin Vernon gave buskers the world over a new standard to play with this charming acoustic ballad.

    Bon Iver - Skinny Love - Music Video

  6. Catfish And The Bottlemen - Homesick

    Van McCann proved he was a talent to watch with the first single from the Bottlemen - it’s a typically honest tale of relationships.

    Catfish and the Bottlemen - Homesick

  7. The Charlatans - Indian Rope

    Before The Only One I Know came this great debut single, released on the band's own Dead Dead Good label in February 1990. Copies quickly sold out, so it was released in June the following year.

    The Charlatans - Indian Rope

  8. The Clash - White Riot

    March 1977 saw the first broadside in the Clash's manifesto, this tribute to the troubles on the streets of the UK back in that turbulent year. They drove the point home on the b-side: 1977.

    The Clash - White Riot (Official Video)

  9. Courteeners - Cavorting

    Liam Fray captured the imagination of Manchester and beyond with this brutally honest slice of life.

    The Courteeners - Cavorting

  10. The Doors - Break On Through (To The Other Side)

    “You know the day destroys the night / Night divides the day…” With that piece of pure poetry, Jim Morrison established himself as a major lyric writer and the band brought a new take on psychedelia.

    The Doors - Break On Through HQ (1967)

  11. Editors - Bullets

    Originally released in January 2005, this was the Birmingham band's first release, which was reissued that September off the back of the excellent album The Back Room.

    Editors - Bullets

  12. Elastica - Stutter

    Originally released in November 1993 on the excellent Deceptive label, this was one of the key early Britpop songs and later appeared on the band's self-titled debut album two years later.

    Elastica - Stutter

  13. Elbow - Red

    Released on 23 April 2001 as a teaser for the debut Asleep In The Back, this followed the Noisebox EP, which was issued over three years earlier!

    Elbow - red

  14. Embrace - All You Good Good People

    This instant classic was released on the much-loved Fierce Panda label back in February 1997 as a limited edition of 500 copies.

    Embrace - All You Good Good People

  15. Sam Fender - Play God

    Sam Fender came out of the traps as a fully-rounded, accomplished and passionate musician. Play God is an incredible start to any recording career: it was first issued as a self-released indie single in 2017, but when the North Shields musician was signed to the major label Polydor, Play God was his debut standalone single.

    Sam Fender - Play God (Official Video)

  16. Florence + The Machine - Kiss With A Fist

    The controversial debut from Ms Welch was released on 9 June 2008 on the uber-cool Moshi Moshi label. It later appeared on Flo's debut album Lungs.

    Florence + The Machine - Kiss With A Fist

  17. Foo Fighters - This Is A Call

    Drummers in rock had historically not been too successful when going solo (see: Ringo Starr, the guy out of Kiss), so hopes were not high when Dave Grohl announced his solo project. But he surprised the world with this excellent track, issued in June 1995.

    This Is a Call

  18. Franz Ferdinand - Darts Of Pleasure

    Huh, you thought Take Me Out was the debut? No, it was Darts Of Pleasure, back in September 2003, which just missed out on the UK Top 40.

    Franz Ferdinand - Darts Of Pleasure (Official Video)

  19. Gorillaz - Clint Eastwood

    Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's fictitious cartoon band had released an EP, Tomorrow Comes Today, at the tail end of 2000, but this was their first single, trailing the forthcoming self-titled debut album.

    Gorillaz - Clint Eastwood (Official Video)

  20. Jimi Hendrix - Hey Joe

    It may have been a cover, but the distinctive guitar intro grabs the attention from the very beginning. A unique talent.

    The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Hey Joe (Audio)

  21. The Jam - In The City

    “In the city there's a thousand things I want to say to you.” The first words on vinyl from Paul Weller and an amazing way to begin a career.

    The Jam - In The City

  22. Joy Division - Transmission

    After a couple of EP appearances, this was the legendary Manchester band's first custom-made 7", released in the wake of their Unknown Pleasures album. Like all good standlone singles, it complements the LP, but wouldn't fit on the album itself.

    Joy Division - Transmission [OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO]

  23. Kaiser Chiefs - Oh My God

    The witty first single from Ricky Wilson and his pals was initially released on the Drowned In Sound label in May 2004.

    Kaiser Chiefs - Oh My God

  24. The Killers - Mr Brightside

    Brandon Flowers and Dave Keuning's timeless tale of relationships and paranoia was released as the band's debut single in September 2003. It was backed by the equally excellent Smile Like You Mean It and made No 10 in the UK Charts.

    The Killers - Mr. Brightside (Official Music Video)

  25. LCD Soundsystem - Losing My Edge

    Released in July 2002, this memorable rant from James Murphy set out the stall for LCD Soundsystem. Gil! Scott! Heron!

    LCD Soundsystem - Losing My Edge

  26. The Libertines - What A Waster

    The unbeatable combination of What A Waster and I Get Along was the first missive from Pete 'n' Carl, back in June 2002. It didn't get much airplay, obviously.

    Libertines - What A Waster (with lyrics)

  27. MGMT - Time To Pretend

    Another odd one. Time To Pretend was the lead track from a 2005 EP released by the duo, but later received a release as their first single in the UK in March 2008.

    MGMT - Time To Pretend (Official Video)

  28. New Order - Ceremony

    OK, it's a bit of a cheat as New Order had been operating under the Joy Division name for three years. But following the death of singer Ian Curtis in May 1980, the remaining members reconvened to record the band's final material under their new name: New Order.

    New Order - Ceremony (Original Version) + Lyrics

  29. Nirvana - Love Buzz

    Not their best-known song, by any stretch of the imagination, but as a quirky statement of intent, it's second to none. Released on the legendary Sub Pop label in November 1988, it was a cover of a 1969 song by the Dutch band Shocking Blue, best known for their hit Venus. Which was covered by Bananarama. Small world, innit?

    Nirvana - Love Buzz

  30. Oasis - Supersonic

    The first single from the Gallaghers was this no-nonsense statement of intent. "I'm feeling supersonic, give me gin and tonic."

    Oasis - Supersonic

  31. Pearl Jam - Alive

    Eddie Vedder and co rode the wave of grunge when they released their debut single in 1991. Result: an instant classic.

    Pearl Jam - Alive (Official Video)

  32. The Prodigy - Charly

    Frantically brilliant early rave tune from Liam Howlett that incorporates the meowling cartoon cat from a series of 1970s Public Information Films. Dismissed by some as a novelty record, the band’s subsequent career proved the naysayers wrong.

    The Prodigy - Charly (Official Video)

  33. Radiohead - Creep

    The 'Head released the Drill EP in May 1992, but it was this bona fide classic that was their first single proper that September. On its first release, it only made No 78 after Radio 1 refused to play it for being "too depressing". A re-release the following year made No 7. In your face, Radio 1!

    Radiohead - Creep

  34. Rage Against The Machine - Killing In The Name

    What a way to kick off a career! Released in the UK in 2 November 1992, it only made No 25 in the UK charts on its first issue... but famously hit the top spot at Christmas 2009.

    Rage Against The Machine - Killing In the Name (Official Video)

  35. Ramones - Blitzkrieg Bop

    Da Brudders opened their account at the Bank Of Rock And Roll with this immortal 45, released in April 1976 on Sire Records. A lot of soon-to-be-punks were listening on both sides of the Atlantic.

    RAMONES - Blitzkrieg Bop

  36. Royal Blood - Out Of The Black

    An astonishing noise from just two people - Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher backed this big tune with the equally awe-inspiring Come On Over.

    Royal Blood - Out of the Black (Royal Blood Album) [HD]

  37. Saint Etienne - Only Love Can Break Your Heart

    A dancefloor take on Neil Young’s gentle ballad, the innocent vocals of original Etienne vocalist Moira Lambert make this one of the best cover versions ever.

    Only Love Can Break Your Heart - Saint Etienne

  38. Sex Pistols - Anarchy In The UK

    The incendiary call to arms from the greatest punk band of all was released on the EMI label on 26 November 1976. However, the label kicked them off the imprint following a foul-mouthed TV appearance... That's showbiz!

    Sex Pistols - Anarchy In The UK

  39. The Smiths - Hand In Glove

    Morrissey called the release of the band's debut single on the Rough Trade label in May 1983 as one of the most important events in musical history. He was kind of right.

    The Smiths - Hand in glove (Hatful of hollow)

  40. Stereophonics - Local Boy In The Photograph

    Originally released in March 1997, this everyday tale of rail-based tragedy only made No 51 in the UK charts, but hit 14 on its re-issue a year later.

    Stereophonics - Local Boy In The Photograph

  41. The Streets - Has It Come To This?

    Original Pirate Material! The world was introduced to Mike Skinner and his lyrics with this excellent tune.

    The Streets - Has It Come to This? (Official Video)

  42. Suede - The Drowners

    First released on 11 May 1992 and boasting pleasingly androgynous sleeve artwork, this was the opening salvo from Brett Anderson and company. Britpop was just around the corner.

    Suede - The Drowners

  43. Supergrass - Caught By The Fuzz

    An absolutely stonking first effort from the trio of Gaz Coombes, Danny Goffey and Mick Quinn, telling the story of a young chap who is caught red-handed in possession of some illicit substances. It just missed out on the UK Top 40, making #43.

    Supergrass - Caught By The Fuzz (Official Video)

  44. Temper Trap - Sweet Disposition

    The Australian band's best-remembered song was also their debut, released in September 2008, making No 6 in the UK.

    The Temper Trap - Sweet Disposition (Official Video)

  45. The Undertones - Teenage Kicks

    Originally released by the young Derry band in September 1978, it was re-issued a month later on the major label Sire. Despite being one of the most famous songs to come out of the punk era (and John Peel's favourite song of all time), it only made No 31 in the charts.

    The Undertones - Teenage Kicks (Official Video)

  46. The Vaccines - Wreckin' Bar (Ra Ra Ra)

    One minute and 22 seconds of manic perfection as the London band open their recording career. It’s the most bracing debut single since White Riot from The Clash.

    The Vaccines - Wreckin' Bar (Ra Ra Ra)

  47. Weezer - Undone (The Sweater Song)

    Uber geeks Weezer made a splash in June 1994 with their ironic debut single, aided by an excellent Spike Jonze video.

    Weezer - Undone -- The Sweater Song (Official Music Video)

  48. The Who - I Can’t Explain

    The mod legends began their recording career as The Who with this dancefloor classic about not being to express yourself.

    The Who - I Can't Explain (Live)

  49. The Wombats - Moving To New York

    Young Murph had problems with his sleep when this song was originally released in October 2006. A reissue in January 2008 made No 13 in the UK charts.

    The Wombats - Moving To New York [OFFICIAL VIDEO]

  50. The xx - Crystalised

    One of the band's best-loved songs was also their debut single, back in April 2009. It later appeared on their debut album, XX.

    The xx - Crystalised (Official Video)