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You're both probably right, each in his own way - VLC may very well come with a complete set of codecs in a specific distribution (as does Audacious in Ubuntu, at least as far as MP3 is concerned). The fact that there are discussions of this kind hints at the real problem: The fact that there are proprietary codecs and drivers that might cause licensing issues - which is moronic, but still a main issue as long as you maintain a distro.
But with the right set of codecs in place, every player on Linux can play MP3s. So it all boils down to the question as to where to get the codecs. For Ubuntu, it's pretty easy thanks to what has been called Codec Buddy (no idea if they still call it that, I've never used it yet), so that's pretty close to what hand_of_fate suggested.
That said, there's *no* need whatsoever to use proprietary bloatware like RealPlayer to play MP3s! There may be uses for that player, but I can't think of anything that couldn't be achieved with open source players - given the right selection of codecs!