The release of The Strokes’ landmark debut album, Is This It, was anything but smooth, but once it made its way into the hands of rock fans, its impact was profound.
After a staggered international release of the album beginning in August 2001, Is This It was set to arrive in the United States on September 11th on vinyl and September 25th on the then-more-popular CD format. For the US release, the cover artwork was changed from a woman’s naked hip and rear end to the less-risque image of subatomic particle tracks.
While the vinyl did come out on September 11th as planned, that day’s horrific terrorist attacks forced the New York band and its label to rethink the release of the CD. The scathing tune “New York City Cops” was dropped from the tracklist of the CD version in the wake of the heroic actions of police officers on 9/11. The band swapped in the newly-recorded “When It Started” and the label delayed the CD release until October 9th.
Despite the delayed arrival in the US, The Strokes started a musical revolution. At the time of the album’s release, both active rock and alternative rock radio were nearly identical. Bands like Creed, Staind, Limp Bizkit, and Linkin Park were dominating both charts, and the alternative scene lacked an identity.
The Strokes, along with acts like The White Stripes, brought a refreshing unpolished down-and-dirty sound to alternative music. Harkening back to bands like The Stooges and The Velvet Underground, The Strokes’ sound was both familiar and modern. Songs like “Last Nite,” “Someday,” and “Hard to Explain” were undeniably catchy, but carried with them a grit not heard in the polished rock and pop music of the time.
From there, countless imitators would follow, but Is This It still stands as one of the strongest rock albums of the 21st century. (It would also go on to top our Top 100 Albums of the Decade list in November 2009.)
To celebrate the album’s 20th anniversary, we’ve asked a few of our favorite musicians (and fellow Strokes fans) to share their own stories about the record.