It’s not often an artist hits it out of the park on their debut record. Some of the greatest country artists of all time started with only modest successes — including George Strait, Garth Brooks and Loretta Lynn, whose debut albums only really got the love they deserved after future fame.
And some artists flopped right out of the gate. It takes time to really find your voice and your audience.
But every now and then an artist bursts onto the scene with a record that leaves us asking, “Wow, where did they come from?” These albums don’t just sell amazingly well, they sound amazingly good and have songs that are sure to endure. Here are 14 of the most successful debut country albums.
14. Margo Price — Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
It may feel premature to start the list with an album that only came out a few months ago, but Midwest Farmer’s Daughter has all the makings of a classic debut album. It’s received universal critical acclaim. Price became the first solo female in country history to debut in the top 10 on the Billboard Country Albums chart. And, she has already locked up two Americana Association Award nominations, including “Emerging Artist of the Year.”
13. Toby Keith — Toby Keith
Keith landed four singles in the top 5 with his 1993 debut and shot to the top of everybody’s “artists to watch” list. With nearly every song being written by Keith, it also established him as a serious songwriter. The record sold over one million copies and sent Keith on the way from his humble Oklahoma beginnings to now being worth more than half a billion dollars.
12. Brett Eldredge — Bring You Back
Brett Eldredge’s debut album came out at the height of bro country gooberdom. Released in 2013, most solo male acts came nowhere near the vulnerability, honesty, songwriting or vocal abilities as Eldredge. It was rare, but both radio and critics rallied around Eldredge at the time. He eventually won the CMA New Artist of the Year award on the strength of the record.
11. Roger Miller — Roger and Out
Roger Miller’s 1964 debut surprised a lot of people. For starters, it sounded nothing like The Beatles or any other part of the British Invasion music dominating the radio. It also was incredibly short but featured two tunes that became instant classics, “Dang Me” and “Chug-A-Lug.” He nabbed 5 Grammy awards from his debut album and carried that momentum to another 6 wins on his follow-up record the next year.
10. LeAnn Rimes — Blue
What Rimes accomplished with her 1996 debut Blue is still nothing short of amazing. Not even old enough for a learner’s permit in Texas, Rimes earned two Grammy’s off the strength of the record, including the coveted Best New Artist. She became the youngest artist to get a No. 1 album on the country charts and inspired a wave of new youthful signings at record labels.
9. Sugarland — Twice The Speed Of Life
Before Kristen Hall left to do her own thing, then-trio Sugarland exploded onto the scene with 2004’s Twice The Speed Of Life. It’s lead single “Baby Girl” became a staple on radio and Jennifer Nettles was introduced to the country world as one of the most powerful new female voices in a decade. The album ultimately garnered multiple awards and nominations, produced four Top 20 singles and went platinum three times — even at the height of file sharing.
8. Eagles — Eagles
Before the Eagles transitioned to “California rock” in the mid-70s, they started out as “California country.” Their debut album in 1972 was an immediate success, anchored by the heavy harmonies and smooth co-vocals of Don Henley and Glenn Frey. “Take It Easy” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” are among the band’s most successful songs, with Travis Tritt’s version of the former still getting regular radio rotation. Eagles was ranked No. 368 in Rolling Stone‘s list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
7. Kacey Musgraves — Same Trailer Different Park
Despite never getting the radio attention it deserved, Kacey Musgraves’ 2013 debut Same Trailer Different Park was an instant classic and introduced Musgraves as a bold new traditional female voice in the land of bros and jabronies. It didn’t hurt that Musgraves proved she could write a Nashville hit before the album even came out (Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart”). Despite not getting enough radio love, the album nabbed her the Grammy for Best Country Album and the ACM Award for Album of the Year.
6. The Judds — Why Not Me
With four No. 1 singles, The Judd’s 1984 debut Why Not Me was a smash hit and completely obliterated fears that the mother-daughter duo would be seen as a novelty act. The album also produced two Grammy awards. Naomi and Wynonna never let up from there, becoming one of country’s most successful acts in the 8 short years before Naomi was diagnosed with Hepatitis C.
5. Radney Foster — Del Rio, TX 1959
Though the 1992 solo debut of Radney Foster produced five singles (and four Top 40 hits), the most amazing thing about the album is how many hit artists today cite the record as one of their favorites. When Darius Rucker made the jump to country music, he remarked that he’d be happy doing a note-for-note reinterpretation of the album (and also named one of his own records in homage). Foster went on to become one of the most respected and sought-after songwriters in country music.
4. Zac Brown Band — The Foundation
Few artists established their own identity as quickly as the Zac Brown Band with their 2008 debut The Foundation. It’s an aptly named record, because it set the tone for what has become one of the most successful careers of any country artist in the past 10 years. Another instance of an artist writing nearly all of their own songs, The Formation produced four No. 1 singles and one No. 2, including “Chicken Fried,” “Highway 20 Ride” and “Free.” It earned them the Best New Artist Grammy and more than validated a struggling Brown, who had for years tried to earn the ear of Nashville execs.
3. Chris Stapleton — Traveller
Chris Stapleton’s Traveller ignited a fire in the country music world. It came out right at the moment where fans, critics and artists were all saying they’ve had enough of the bro country days. Stapleton, who had worked for years as a successful writer in Nashville, released the solo debut as a tribute to his father, not realizing it would soon become a record-breaking album that earned him awards at every major award show. Despite having relatively little radio support, the album amazingly topped three Billboard album charts.
2. Johnny Cash — With His Hot and Blue Guitar
Not many artists can say their debut album contained possibly the most famous song in the history of country music, but that just adds to the legend of Johnny Cash. His 1955 debut produced “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Walk The Line” and “Cry! Cry! Cry!” among many others. With His Hot and Blue Guitar is a staple in any budding artist’s collection and one of the most iconic releases in American music.
1. Dixie Chicks — Wide Open Spaces
It’s difficult to imagine an artist accomplishing what the Dixie Chicks did on their first record ever again. After selling 14 million albums worldwide and winning two Grammy’s, 1998’s Wide Open Spaces turned country music on its head with the arrival of three supremely talented and headstrong women. Battling rampant sexism, shady label practices and expectations of what it takes to make it as a female act in music, The Dixie Chicks created two of the most culturally relevant albums in country music in a matter of two years. The Dixie Chicks would go on to become America’s best-selling female group of all time.