Virgin Mobile Festival Preview: Vital Albums

Malitz and I scoured the discographies of each band in the VFest lineup to come up with the 10 albums that belong in your collection. We debated doing 11, just to get Lil Wayne's "Da Drought 3" onto the list; but there's no symmetry to that number. And yes, there was a one-album-per-artist limit. That's Dylan's fault.

The albums are listed in chronological order. Sort of: The Chuck Berry comp was released in 1982, but its songs came out decades earlier, during rock-and-roll's formative years.

(Obligatory programming reminder: We'll be live-blogging from Pimlico Race Course all weekend. Check in often on Saturday and Sunday for updates.)

Chuck Berry - "The Great Twenty-Eight"

Everybody always talks about Berry's guitar work - and not without reason, as his archetypal double-string licks fill more than a few pages in the rock-and-roll playbook. But Berry was also the first truly great rock-and-roll songwriter, an eloquent observational poet with a sly sense of humor. His best songs (generally about girls, cars and rock-and-roll itself - the stuff at the center of the youth-culture soundtrack) still sound potent, especially the classic Chess sides, from "Maybellene" and "Johnny B. Goode" to "Sweet Little Sixteen" and "Rock and Roll Music." They're all included on "The Great Twenty-Eight," which isn't the cleanest-sounding Chuck Berry compilation out there, nor the most comprehensive. But it hits all the right notes and makes for a tidy and thrilling primer on the birth of a genre. - du Lac

Bob Dylan - "Bringing It All Back Home"(1965)

It's the best Dylan album - and therefore the best album - because it captures all sides of his genius. On Side A, you've got the subversive singles ("Subterranean Homesick Blues," "Maggie's Farm"), the tender folk-rock ballads ("She Belongs to Me," "Love Minus Zero/No Limit") and a trio of hilarious, raucous garage rockers ("Outlaw Blues," "On the Road Again," "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream"). Then you flip the record over and are reminded that he can sit there with just an acoustic guitar and blow your mind. - Malitz

The Stooges - "Fun House" (1970)

This remains one of rock-and-roll's most striking albums nearly 40 years after its release. Iggy Pop's howling vocals, Ron Asheton's buzzsaw guitar and Steve MacKay's blasting saxophone are the main ingredients in a swirling mess of primal noise that helped lay the foundations for punk and underground rock. From the churning opener, "Down on the Street," to the chaotic closer, "L.A. Blues," it's a throttling album that never lets up. - Malitz

Underworld - "dubnobasswithmyheadman" (1993)

The rare electronic (or rock, hip-hop, whatever) album to sustain itself for 70+ minutes. It thumps, it soothes, it pulses, it chills, it rocks, it shimmers. - Malitz

Nine Inch Nails - "The Downward Spiral" (1994)

Nihilism has never sounded so great. Literally: Trent Reznor crafted a breathtaking soundscape that positioned him as the Dr. Dre of industrial rock - only the NIN mastermind's worldview was bleaker, more brooding and more depraved than anything coming out of Dre's camp. "Closer" was the album's dark, sneering lead single, but "Hurt" is the superior song, which became obvious when Johnny Cash got hold of it and turned in one of the most powerful performances of the decade. - du Lac

Stone Temple Pilots - "Purple" (1994)

Probably the most inconsistent album on this list, and certainly the one that received the worst reviews upon its release, mostly because STP was so derivative. ("Might as well be an alternative-rock tribute album," Entertainment Weekly wrote. Ouch!) But what the band lacked in originality it made up in songcraft, which peaked on "Purple's" biggest arena-rockers, "Vasoline," "Big Empty" and "Interstate Love Song." Expertly blending heaviness and hooks, they've aged far better than most hits from the era. - du Lac

Moby - "Everything Is Wrong" (1995)

In which the restless studio whiz scratches a dizzying array of stylistic itches (gospelly house, scuzzy blues, breakneck jungle, thrashy industrial metal, new age meditations) and creates something sweaty and spiritual and primal and intellectual and wholly cohesive. - du Lac

Foo Fighters - "Foo Fighters" (1995)

No pressure or anything on Dave Grohl, releasing his debut album 15 months after Kurt Cobain's suicide, with all the eyes of the alt-rock world on him. Turns out the drummer was a pretty great songwriter himself, reeling off a string of hook-filled post-grunge classics including "This Is a Call," "I'll Stick Around" and "Alone + Easy Target." - Malitz

Wilco - "Summerteeth" (1999)

I'm going to cheat and just crib from what I wrote in the Wilco Discographically Speaking: This is where they shed the alt-country tag and Jeff Tweedy got to show off his diversity of songwriting styles while Jay Bennett did his best Brian Wilson impression with his obsessive attention to detail (remember those scenes in "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart"?) resulting in an immaculately produced album. It's got the best Wilco pop songs and also some of Tweedy's most foreboding folk tunes, but it maintains a warmth and brightness throughout. - Malitz

Kanye West - "Late Registration" (2005)

Hip-hop with clear Top 40 - OK, Top One - intentions simply doesn't come much better than this. So what if Kanye only has one rapping cadence? It's a good one and singles like "Touch the Sky" and especially "Gold Digger" are going to be rocking the clubs for years to come. - Malitz

By J. Freedom du Lac |  August 8, 2008; 10:06 PM ET Virgin Festival
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Bringing it All Back Home is, indeed, one of Dylan's greatest, but most people never get beyond his first two or three electric albums to see what Dylan accomplished over the years. What marks the big splash albums, of course, is the fact that there is very little wasted space, or songs, on any of them and each has at least three or four cuts of legendary, take-no-prisoners quality. Those who don't know Dylan well, or who have followed the too frequent advice to listen to his material from the '65, '66 and '67 period, would do well to explore his later work. The "glory years" were glorious, but some of the grooves feel a bit dated (as they did even ten years after the fact), even though Dylan managed to escape the '60s having laid down few, if any, tracks that were heavily marked by period influences of the time. Give yourself a break and go to the '70s and '80s for some Dylan you can discover, or re-discover, on your own. (I'd skip the Jesus period (Saved), unless there is a gem there someone else has found.)

Posted by: Doug Terry at | August 9, 2008 1:54 PM

I agree with Doug about the Dylan albums. Although all of them through this era and into late 60;s and very early 7o's are wonderful, I think Blood On the Tracks and his most recent three albuma plus aspects of Desire are wonderful.

His most recent album that was released almost 2 years ago remains haunting to me and demonstrates a more rueful and thoughtful Dylan as is appropriate considering his age and maturity.

Posted by: Ann | August 9, 2008 6:09 PM

I certainly wouldn't skip over the Gospel years. Don't let the subject matter scare you. The musis is fantastic, Dylan's in great voice, and his way with words is great too.

Posted by: Rod | August 9, 2008 10:06 PM

I too say listen to the JESUS albums they have some very heavy songs or hymns (if you will) I told my pastor in a Q & A session that I thought one of the most moving hymns I ever heard was Every Grain of Sand. As we all know his songs through the years have biblical phrases or Quotes. As for me I listen to all his music and and every so often I pick up a few words that I never heard before. I mean what they are supposed to meanto me.

Posted by: m320753 | August 11, 2008 11:26 AM

I know I'm one of the few who think this, but my I really think Blood on the Tracks is Dylan's best album. It's honestly the only one that really resonates with me on an emotional level. I know it's not his most revolutionary or important, but I really don't think he ever made a better record.

And I really don't feel any compelling reason to ever listen to any of the other albums on this list, except maybe for Wilco and The Stooges.

Posted by: Adam | August 11, 2008 12:25 PM

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