19. Ben Folds Five, Whatever and Ever Amen (Sony 550, 1997)

Imagine trying to explain Ben Folds to future generations: "Yeah, this piano man could've stayed in Chapel Hill and earned his graduate degree in musical theory. Instead, he had the gall to unapologetically sound like early '70s Elton John and Billy Joel when everyone was listening to Stone Temple Pilots and Bush!" (Inevitable response: "You mean that Bush was a rock star before he became president?"). Often accused of being insincere or too clever for his own good, Folds had the talent and tunes to answer his detractors. His second album also showed he had enough depth and finesse to pull off those lofty comparisons. True, attention-grabbers like "Song For The Dumped" could be crude (if riotous and adequately cathartic), but more thoughtful, pensive numbers like "Selfless, Cold and Composed" and "Evaporated" and the somber, poignant "Brick" (a surprise hit ballad) still reveal the honest, vulnerable soul behind the smart-ass.