This Week In History: The Strokes Release Their Influential Debut Album

16 years ago, The Strokes breathed new life into rock music with their debut album 'Is This It'

It’s hard to imagine the early 2000s music scene without the rise of its iconic bands like Franz Ferdinand, The Libertines, Arctic Monkeys and Kings of Leon. But it was The Strokes that ushered in the decade’s renewed obsession with garage rock when they released their highly influential debut album, Is This It.

After recording early demos that earned them four nights at New York City’s popular Mercury Lounge, along with the attention of Rough Trade Records in the UK, The Strokes released their first proper EP The Modern Age in January 2001. The EP was so good that it started a bidding war between record labels who were salivating over the prospect of signing the band.

Heavily inspired by the Velvet Underground and The Ramones, The Strokes’ songwriting and recording philosophy was built around the desire to create a simple rock sound without relying on studio tricks or enhancements. Julian Casablancas stated that the band’s goal was to make an album that sounded like “a band from the past that took a time trip into the future to make their record.” They composed much of the music through live takes during the recording sessions, usually recording the songs in one take. Through a small Peavey practice amp, Casablancas sang about the lives and relationships of urban youth coming of age in New York City.

The album was an immediate success, earning both critical praise and reaching certified gold within just a few months. It peaked at #33 on the Billboard 200, and remained on the chart for two years. The Strokes had suddenly become heavily influential to music and pop culture, and their success renewed appetites for guitar based rock bands. After seeing them live, Noel Gallagher of Oasis called them “the most important band in the world right now for what they might inspire other people to do.”

Thanks at least in part to The Strokes’ success, over the next few years bands like Franz Ferdinand and Kings of Leon would become massively popular. Kings of Leon bassist Jared Followill has stated that Is This It was one of the biggest influences on him wanting to be in a band, and the title track was one of the first songs he ever learned to play.

The album remains a classic, and publications such as Billboard, NME, and TIME have listed Is This It as the best album of 2001. Rolling Stone described the album as “the stuff of which legends are made.”