The adage says: You take your entire life to write your first album and 18 months to write your second.
Strictly from a time standpoint, that's true. Record labels sign you on what you've already got in hand, but they keep you on the strength of what you give them afterward.
That's why some artists never surpass that first record. Pressure and time constraints make it impossible to step up to the same level again. They may have some great songs in the future, but taken as a whole, their records don't have the same impact as that first one.
All of us know one of those artists that you grabbed their first album, quickly snagged the second when it came out and thought: Well, it's good, but ...
Let's look at a few of those unmatched debuts:
* Guns N' Roses. "Appetite for Destruction." Undoubtedly in the Top 5 of best hard-rock albums ever released and certainly in the Top 10 for best debut. Ferocious, melodic and unforgettable.
* Counting Crows. "August and Everything After." Kind of impossible to live up to "Omaha," "Rain King" and especially "Round Here," whose aching plaintiveness and raw emotion can still hit your heart hard.
* Kiss. "Kiss." You might say Kiss never made a good record, and that has some merit. "Kiss Alive" was so bad the only thing they could use was the drums; everything else was re-recorded in the studio. You also might say "Destroyer," their fourth studio album, is their best, but only "Detroit Rock City" is a standout track. Don't mention the pathetic "Beth," which takes months off your life every time you listen. The band's first album has songs they played at concerts throughout their career.
* Van Halen. "Van Halen." Almost every song is a classic, and Eddie Van Halen's instrumental "Eruption" birthed an entire generation of guitarists and changed the way the instrument was played from then on.
* Boston. "Boston." Nothing else they ever did came within light years of their debut. "More Than a Feeling" would have made this one a classic all on its own, but there was so much more. It also has one of the best Side Ones ever, too.
* Matchbox Twenty. "Yourself or Someone Like You." Overplayed to the point of annoyance, sure, but that's because songs like "Push" and "3AM" were so good. Don't think so? Listen — actually listen — to the lyrics of "Push." They are emotionally complex, painful and real. Hard to do that in a three-minute pop song.
Contact Shawn Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.