Joe Carter at the Evangelical Outpost asks "What are the essential non-obvious albums of the 1980s" You have to read his post to get his criteria and his picks. I agree with many of his picks and those of his commentators, but, If we're really going for nonobvious I'm going to have to add a few (in no particular order):
1. The soundtrack to the Musical Les Miserables (the musical that re-established the rock opera as a viable genre...This 1980 composition is now the longest running production in London's west end and has been an inspiration to countless theatre geeks)
2. Jimmy Buffett Songs You Know By Heart. This 1985 Best of Album marked a transition from a Bacchanalian Buffett of the 70s to the more contemplative Buffett of Floridays, Hot Water, and Off to See the Lizard (these three arguably his best later career work). For most Parrothead geeks, this was a landmark release.
3. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack. John Williams cements his position as THE composer for film orchestration for the decade...particularly with the all powerful empire march (Dum Dum Dum, Dum De Dum, Dum De Dum). Pride of place probably should go to his work in the 1970s (on the Star Wars Soundtrack)... but on this album, his music evokes the darker themes of the second film. Nothing less than brilliant.
4. Harry Connick Jr, Harry Connick Jr This self titled 1987 release brought the classic jazz of the 40s and 50s to a new generation. Fans said that the young Gen X Harry was positvely channeling Frank Sinatra at his best. Through Harry, Jazz became cool again for a young audience.
5. Amy Grant Lead Me On. Released in 1988, Amy Grant's album was a huge hit, particularly in the Bible belt. However its importance lies in the first hints of Amy moving toward a "crossover artist" from CCM to the mainstream. Several of her songs were not explicitly about faith, and she mastered pop vocal style. This transition was fully realized in her 1991 release Heart in Motion, a completely secular album. This album also was one of the portents of CCM moving out of being a weird subculture into being a massive media machine, as realized in the 1990s.
So that's my first pass... let me know what you think.