CD Review: Various Artists – Dallas: The Music Story (RockBeat, 1985/2012)
The nighttime soap opera Dallas dates to an era before music coordinators ruled television soundtracks and used the network exposure to turn obscure indie bands into well-known music stars. Instead, a program’s soundtrack was the province of a composer (in the case of Dallas, it was Jerrold Immel) and spin-off albums were novelty byproducts of the show’s fame, often populated by the show’s cast (Donny Most, anyone?). The latter is the ticket on this 1985 release, featuring music purpose-written to the show’s themes, and starring cast members (Steve Kanaly, Howard Keel and Jenilee Harrison) alongside then-contemporary country stars Karen Brooks, Crystal Gayle, Gary Morris and Johnny Lee. With the show starting its slide down the ratings ladder, this could have been a quickie knock-off, but the productions are solid, and the songwriting is good.
The opening track offers a disco march arrangement of the show’s famous theme, and the cast tunes include Lorne Greene-like spoken efforts from Kanaly and Keel, and an unsteadily warbled double-tracked melody from Harrison. Much better are the country stars, recorded in Nashvilleby Scott Hendricks, produced by Jim Ed Norman and Barry Beckett, and featuring A-list studio players Eddie Bayers, John Hobbs, Paul Worley, Billy Joe Walker and others. Though the songs are linked to the show with subtitles like “Jock and Miss Ellie’s Song,” the lyrics aren’t specific, and play as smooth country. It’s a tribute to these vocalists that their vocals warm the chilly, synth-and-glycerin-guitar mid-80s production sound.
The album spun off the Gayle-Morris duet “Makin’ Up for Lost Time (The Dallas Lovers Song),” which topped the country chart in early 1986, and Johnny Lee’s “The Loneliness in Lucy’s Eyes” rumbled around at the bottom of the Top 100. Several other tracks seem chart-worthy, including Karen Brooks’ Linda Ronstadt-styled “I Wanna Reach Out and Touch You,” the twang, piano and vocal harmony of The Forrester Sisters’ “A Few Good Men,” and even Morris’ solo closer “If I Knew Then What I Know Now.” This is a great deal better than one might expect from a nighttime soap spin-off, serving as both a nice artifact of the show’s popularity, and a decent collection of mid-80s mainstream country.