Underrated Albums of the 1980s

Ah, the 1980s: the cool era of leg warmers, saturated colors, and big hair. Despite its reputation for pop-culture ephemera, the decade of decadence offered us rich musical surprises that extended beyond MTV glitz and party-hearty excess. Here are a few nuggets worth chasing down.

By Bryan Reesman

Tori Amos, Y Kant Tori Read (1988)
Amos's long-lost debut is a footnote in her fantastic career - it hit the bargain bins really fast - but it presents her in a more traditional (and fun) pop setting, featuring the spunky "Pirates"; funky pop-rock "The Big Picture"; and delicate, piano-driven "Etienne Trilogy." Members of Cheap Trick and Guns N' Roses also surface. The album is out of print, but check eBay and secondhand stores.

Black Sabbath, The Eternal Idol (1987)
It's a decidedly unpopular opinion, but Sabbath worked best when neither Ozzy Osbourne nor Ronnie James Dio was fronting the band. With a revamped lineup spotlighting founding guitarist Tony Iommi as well as the powerful pipes of new vocalist Tony Martin, this gripping gothic-metal album is ripe with snarling riffs and a deliciously dark atmosphere. And it's as catchy as anything Sabbath's ever done.

Harold Budd, Lovely Thunder (1986)
A peer to Brian Eno, Budd, with his seductive slow-motion swirl of piano, keyboards, and - on the eerie 20-minute epic "Gypsy Violin" - a stirring synth violin slicing through the ether, is a master of ambient minimalism. Turn off the lights, don your headphones, and intoxicate yourself with Lovely Thunder's surreal, otherworldly power.

Kate Bush, The Sensual World (1989)
This sensuous, delicate singer who paved the way for Tori Amos has always created magical, mystical music that bears her own distinct stamp. She reached her peak with this highly personal, musically eclectic, and groove-oriented pop album, which integrates Irish instrumentation and Bulgarian singing and includes the stirring "Love and Anger."

Cocteau Twins, Blue Bell Knoll (1988)
Before it made waves in the early 1990s, the Scottish trio gave us this heavenly album, in which dreamy guitars and synths, accompanied by a gently propulsive rhythm section, embrace the exquisite, if nonsensical, vox of Elizabeth Fraser. A sweet, syrupy sonic cocktail that's endlessly addicting, this is pop music made for the Garden of Eden.

Marillion, Misplaced Childhood (1985)
A stunning, emotionally rich masterpiece of progressive music, this interconnected, genre-crossing album, espousing vintage Pink Floyd and Genesis influences, tells the compelling story of a man who's coping with relationship and identity woes and with his struggle to redefine himself and renew his life.

Sarah McLachlan, Touch (1989)
If you're longing for the days of Solace and Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, when moody chanteuse McLachlan had more fire, grab her solid debut, Touch. There's still plenty of poetic soul-searching going on, but the songs are folksier and perkier than her recent work and are dominated by her angelic singing, piano, strings, and acoustic guitar.

Roxy Music, Avalon (1982)
Simply put, this is the most romantic pop album of all time. Bryan Ferry's elegant crooning glides over gorgeous, shimmering pop landscapes, where the open spaces are as important as the notes themselves. Produced by former Roxy Music member and U2 sound sculptor Brian Eno, Avalon blends melancholia and romanticism into luscious, timeless tunes.