1. "The Velvet Underground & Nico" - The Velvet Underground
A common choice, I know, but there it is. The original primer of anti-rock rock (or something like that), this includes balanced helpings of all the sides of their sound, from the grindy to the pretty to the droney to the damaged. You can always find at least one song on here that fits your mood of the moment. And if you buy a copy, you will start a band. It's a fact.
2. "Help!" - The Beatles
This album falls on the trailing edge of their original Beatlemania phase and the beginning of their brief folk-rock/art-pop phase (a phase I wish had lasted a little longer before they went pepperdelic). A nice place to be. I'll have an extra helping of Rickenbacker 12-string jangle, please.
3. "Rumble! The Best of Link Wray" - Link Wray
Link Wray is the man who showed us how to operate an electric guitar like a switchblade. His sharp rock 'n' roll instrumentals still sound brand new.
4. "Hunky Dory" - David Bowie
This has always been my favorite Bowie album. A surprisingly mature work, with loads of variety and inventiveness, from cabaret ballads to cheery pop to weirdo acoustic plonking and even a bit of glam grind.
5. "A Love Supreme" - John Coltrane
It may sound corny to say this, but there have been times when the radiant humanity of John Coltrane has been the only thing to pull me through. This album channels it full strength.
6. "Horses" - Patti Smith
Some people love Patti, some people hate her, but she was the first to be thrown into the mainstream and take the abuse for being a "punk rocker" -- I tip my hat to her for handling it pretty well. I think this album is a classic. It's like a Shangri-Las song (and I wish I could have fit them into this list) grown into a wild, fever-dream novel.
7. "Uncle Meat" - The Mothers of Invention
For my money, this includes some of Frank Zappa's best melodies, played in various formats, though generally with a unique electric chamber ensemble vibe. It's like a musical encyclopedia of the Zappa Method.
8. "Wild Gift" - X
Their superior second album, with more songs, shorter songs and Ray Manzarek staying in the control room where he belongs. Rich and muscular punk rock, with lyrics more mature and humane than the rest of the pack. "Punk rock for grownups" sounds like a putdown, but I think it's a good thing here.
9. "Thelonious Alone In San Francisco" - Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk, on his own with a piano. A pure look into his musical world.
10. "Here Come The Warm Jets" - Brian Eno
Like the Velvet Underground, another blueprint for punk sounds to come, though in this case it's all about the boiling cauldron of electric sound. Inventive musical structures and absurdist lyrics are at the service of building twisty sonic sculptures with some of the grunchiest guitar sounds ever.