Debut singles. They don’t always go quite to plan. But when they do, they have the ability to catapult artists to immediate fame and stardom, or pave the way for era-defining careers. Some are statements of intent, such as the Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy in the UK’ – a call-to-arms for disaffected teens across the UK in the 1970s. Others are significant in retrospect, like the Beatles’ ‘Love Me Do’ which marked the birth of one of the world’s most popular bands and arguably kick-started the cultural shift during the 1960s. And then there are the out-and-out pop bangers that just fill the dance-floor and shoot straight to the #1 spot…
As you can imagine, there were lots of debut singles to choose from. But the following 11 songs are some of the most memorable of all time, ranging from pop to rock via disco, new-wave and indie:
1. ‘Love Me Do’ – The Beatles 
Who knew what seismic cultural changes would follow when a young four-piece band from Liverpool released their debut single back in late 1962? Armed with drums, guitar, bass and a seriously catchy harmonica hook, the track launched a career of unparalleled innovation that would eventually kick-start the counterculture of the 1960s. In the UK, ‘Love Me Do’ didn’t fare as well as follow-up singles ‘Please Please Me’ or ‘From Me To You’, but it did top the US charts two years later when Beatlemania swept America. Regardless, this short and light-hearted love song marked the arrival of a band that would change the face of pop music forever.
2. ‘Brown-Eyed Girl’ – Van Morrison 
Get this: as of 2015, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ was the most downloaded and most played song of the 1960s. One of the best-loved pop songs of all time, with an instantly recognisable guitar intro, this classic rock staple was Van Morrison’s debut single and peaked at #10 in the US. Chart success was more evasive in the UK, but nevertheless the song still receives plenty of radio airplay and is a reliable floor-filler for mobile DJs at parties across the country. Despite having a lengthy career spanning over five decades, this debut single is still the song best associated with Van Morrison – a fine example of first impressions lasting a lifetime.
3. Chic – ‘Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)’ 
Chic’s 1977 debut single was funky, sexy and expansive in its sound – everything the dancers in New York’s nightclubs wanted. While by no means the disco legends’ biggest hit, ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’ introduced their infectious sound and was propelled to the upper echelons of the US charts by the city’s disco DJs. By the end of ’77, the track was being played in all the top clubs across the city, including the infamous celebrity hangout Studio 54. Ironically, when guitarist Nile Rodgers and bass player Bernard Edwards turned up at the venue on New Year’s Eve, they were turned away at the door! Fun fact: Luther Vandross ¬¬– a session musician at the time – provided backing vocals.
4. ‘My Sharona’ – The Knack 
Packing a radio-friendly power-pop punch, ‘My Sharona’ was new-wave group The Knack’s first release, written by singer Doug Fieger about his then girlfriend Sharona Alperin. The music, meanwhile, was based around an infectiously catchy guitar riff and drew inspiration from ‘60s bands like the Spencer Davis Group and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. Needless to say, ‘My Sharona’s popularity has spanned decades and generations – so much so that when I formed my first band aged just 14, this was one of the first tracks we learned! The song was also Capitol Records’ fastest gold status US debut single since the Beatles' ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ in 1964.
5. ‘Cars’ – Gary Numan 
Not strictly Numan’s first hit, this new-wave staple was his debut single under the name Gary Numan rather than Tubeway Army. According to the legendary singer, the synth-heavy track was written about a road rage incident in which he was almost thrown from the car and beaten up. Despite the somewhat dark subject matter and Numan’s robotic vocal style, the singer admitted the track was a bid for chart success. ‘Cars’ was indeed poppier than his previous output and went on to become one of the best-selling debut singles of all time, reaching UK #1 in 1979, as well as making #9 on the US Hot 100.
6. ‘Relax’ – Frankie Goes to Hollywood 
If somebody said you could release the most controversial song of a decade, have it banned across multiple major radio stations, and still achieve some of the biggest record sales in the history of pop music, what would you say? Well, it seemed ‘80s pop legends Frankie Goes To Hollywood weren’t stopping to ask questions when they released ‘Relax’ back in 1984. Mike Read refused to play it and the BBC offered its full support. But the ban only added to the controversial appeal of the band’s gay imagery and guerrilla marketing, resulting in huge sales that sent the raunchy track to UK #1 anyway! As of 2017, ‘Relax’ is the 6th best-selling song in UK chart history (2,030,000 copies). Not bad for a debut, ay?
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 89, Pages 46-48.