Various Artists

Dallas: The Music Story

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You may have heard plenty of strange records in your lifetime, but you've never heard anything quite as odd as Dallas: The Music Story, a quasi-soundtrack/concept album orchestrated by legendary music biz hustler Artie Ripp. The idea of Dallas: The Music Story is to have songs written -- and sometimes sung -- from the perspective of the show's characters, to dig just a little bit deeper into the psyches of the people who populated the greatest prime-time soap of the '80s. Given its Texas setting, it is no surprise that country is the chosen musical style for Dallas: The Music Story but nothing here sounds like it would be welcome in a honky tonk or even Gilley's. This is all Urban Cowboy country-pop created with an eye on the charts, so it's slathered in synthesizers and set to a precise click track, evoking not the country-pop of the early '80s but rather the warm, shimmering surfaces of soft rock. Frankly, that's the magical thing about the album: it's a transmission from a lost world, evoking every forgotten scrap of bad taste from the Reagan years. Each song is catchy in a purely professional way, lodging in the subconscious through pure persistence, the production anonymous yet keenly commercial, a product of an era where a cheap cash-ins like this still needed to be performed by actual musicians in an expensive recording studio. So, as pure sonics, Dallas: The Music Story is a deliriously appealing pop culture artifact, but just as you're enjoying the sound it sinks in that all of these songs are about Dallas. Sometimes, this fact hits you in the face, such as when Steve Kanaly chants "Who Killed Jack Ewing?" or when Howard Keel bellows "J.R.! Who Do You Think You Are" -- both choruses set to a bit of belligerent country-disco -- but the gentler numbers are just as odd. Johnny Lee -- who, along with Crystal Gayle is the only country star here -- has to sing the unwieldy "The Loneliness in Lucy's Eyes (The Life Sue Ellen Is Living)," but that's slightly less preposterous than the contrived melancholy of "If I Knew Then What I Know No (J.R.'s Lament)," where Gary Morris is given the impossible task of finding the heart within J.R. Ewing. On every level, it is ridiculous, but that's why Dallas: The Music Story is worthwhile: not only do they no longer make records like this, they rarely ever did make records like this. And the strangest thing of all? This was released in 1986, not 1981.

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