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Top 10 Best Major Label Debut Albums

VO: Matt Campbell
Script written by Q.V. Hough Big time budgets and timeless recordings. Join as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Best Major Label Debut Albums. For this list, we're featuring artists who released music under indie labels before signing deals with notable music labels. Special thanks to our user jackhammer for submitting the idea using our interactive suggestion tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest.

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Script written by Q.V. Hough

Top 10 Best Major Label Debut Albums

Big time budgets and timeless recordings. Welcome to, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Best Major Label Debut Albums.

For this list, we’re featuring artists who released music under indie labels before signing deals with notable music labels. And while a band like Arcade Fire has achieved international fame over the years, they’ve been with the same indie label since their debut album.

#10: “Rated R” (2000)
Queens of the Stone Age

It was only natural for a desert rock band to record their 1998 debut in their native Palm Desert, however for their follow-up, Queens of the Stone Age signed with Interscope and set up shop in the world famous Sound City Studios, the subject of Dave Grohl’s 2013 documentary. Chronicling a relationship with booze and drugs – among other things - “Rated R” became an immediate hit in the United Kingdom thanks to a stoner rock joint like “Feel Good Hit of the Summer”, while “The Lost Art of Keeping A Secret” became a commercial hit domestically. The title of the album itself comes from an independent outlook, as “Rated R” was the band’s response to the label’s censorship concerns.

#9: “Green” (1988)

Five years after their debut album, Michael Stipe and company were fed up with I.R.S. Records and reached a deal with Warner Bros., allowing for a few perks: a larger following, creative control and perhaps a few more zeroes on their cheques. As per usual, long-time fans and fellow artists had much to say about the label upgrade, but they were quickly silenced when R.E.M. upped the ante with the alternative classic “Orange Crush” and of course, the more pop-friendly “Stand”. Released in conjunction with the 1988 Presidential election, “Green” marked the epoch of a new era, as Michael Stipe utilized his unique voice, musically and politically.

#8: “Siren Song of the Counter Culture” (2004)
Rise Against

When a punk rock band scores a deal with Geffen Records, it’s a pretty big deal. Upon two independent releases, Rise Against hit the big time with their thrashing lead single “Give It All”, and as a follow-up, Tim McIlrath and Neil Hennessy displayed a softer side with the modest yet lyrically proficient “Swing Life Away”. Capable of pleasing both headbangers and the more intellectual types, Rise Against received the platform they deserved and capitalized with their collective Siren Song of the Counter Culture.

#7: “Born to Die” (2012)
Lana Del Rey

Formerly known as Lana Del Ray – with an A – aka Lizzy Grant, the dream pop artist from upstate New York released her debut in 2010, and upon a more focused and stylized approach to her stage persona, she secured a distribution deal with Interscope - but only after “Video Games” spread like wildfire across the Internet. With a baroque pop sound and lyrics of social detachment, Born to Die conveyed the fatalistic ideals of the fresh-faced artist, however the entire package initially caught many critics off guard. Lana Del Rey had a vision, and with the aid of multiple producers and a slick marketing campaign, she made plenty of noise wit her idiosyncratic debut.

#6: “The Moon & Antarctica” (2000)
Modest Mouse

Named after the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s 1982 film “Blade Runner,” this major label debut beholds an intergalactic vibe and was recorded in the final months of the 20th century. As musicians from the Pacific Northwest, Modest Mouse exemplified classic indie intensity on their previous two albums, however with “The Moon & Antarctica,” they were able to expand on their musical philosophies without becoming a packaged product. Written entirely by Isaac Brock, the album was far more than just a pleasant surprise; it became one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the decade.

#5: “good kid, m.A.A.d city” (2012)
Kendrick Lamar

Born and raised in Compton, California, Kendrick Lamar dropped his astounding 2011 debut through Top Dawg Entertainment, which caught the attention of Compton’s own Dr. Dre. With Aftermath and Interscope holding down the business side, Kendrick Lamar wrote a conceptual album about his chaotic upbringing, but in a most unorthodox way. The introspective rhymes that turned heads amongst his fellow artists, and the beats were naturally on point, however it was the creative wizardry that made “Good Kid, m.A.A.d city” a timeless piece of modern art reflecting the influence of a man on the brink of success all while experiencing the harsh realities of the streets.

#4: “Dookie” (1994)
Green Day

While it may seem like Green Day came out of nowhere in 1994 with “Dookie,’ they had actually been together since the late 80s and released two albums with the now defunct Lookout Records. But when Green Day hooked up with Reprise Records, founded by the one and only Frank Sinatra, they were about bring punk to the Billboard charts via their frenetic melodies and the schizophrenic lyrics of Billie Joe Armstrong. The lead single “Longview” referenced common daily activities for young punks and “When I Come Around” touched on romance, but it was “Basket Case” that took America by storm and challenged the comfy ideals of '90s mainstream America.

#3: “Elephant”
The White Stripes (2003)

No computers. No tricks. All rock and roll. That was the concept behind the fourth album from Michigan duo The White Stripes, and whaddya know, the final product earned them a Grammy Award. Already a prominent act in the indie scene after three notable releases with Sympathy Records, Jack and Meg White stripped everything down aesthetically while retaining a heightened intensity, most notably in the international sensation known as “Seven Nation Army”. Before “Elephant,” the White Stripes were respected musicians, and after, they were global rock stars.

#2: “Nevermind” (1991)

The name Kurt Cobain is now synonymous with the emergence of '90s grunge music, however back in the late '80s, he began a rebellion against the conformities of the blossoming Seattle music scene. The album Nevermind was the realization of his vision, and with the addition of Dave Grohl on drums, Cobain drew lyrical inspiration from the intricacies of his daily life while aiming to blend a variety of musical influences for an innovative sound, a sound that would ultimately be defined by critics as “grunge.” With Butch Vig as producer, Nirvana served up something entirely new, as each and every song became part of rock music lore, especially upon the 1994 death of Cobain.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

“New Surrender”
Anberlin (2008)

“Creepin on ah Come Up”
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (1994)

“Second Coming”
The Stone Roses (1994)

“The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me”
Brand New (2006)

“The Fifth”
Dizzee Rascal (2013)

Sonic Youth (1990)

#1: “The Slim Shady LP”
Eminem (1999)

Much like Dr. Dre played a prominent role in Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid, m.A.A.D city”, he was also the man behind another iconic major label debut when he plucked a Detroit rapper from obscurity and made him a prominent voice in hip-hop music. With “The Slim Shady LP, Eminem not only transcended racial barriers, he showed no fear in speaking his mind, and when he wasn’t clowning on pop culture figures on tracks like “My Name Is”, he took a more disturbing approach by investigating his inner demons and confronting his increasing detachment from social norms. Under the tutelage of one Dr. Dre., Eminem became a legend in his own right, but this was only the first step, albeit a major one.

So, do you agree with our selections? What is your favorite best major label debut album? For more mind-blowing Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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