Earlier in October 2011, six albums which were originally released on Stax, were released having been remastered by Joe Tarantino. Previously, I’ve reviewed Shirley Brown’s Woman To Woman and Johnnie Taylor’s Taylored In Silk, both of which were great albums, and have hugely benefited from being remastered. The remastering brings the music to life, and allows the listener to hear the music much better. Another album that has been remastered is The Dramatics debut album Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get.

Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get was released in January 1972, and was a huge commercial success, reaching number five in the US R&B Charts and reaching the top twenty in the US Billboard 200. The album consisted of three of the groups existing tracks Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get, In the Rain and Get Up and Get Down, with five new tracks. Of the eight tracks, In the Rain was released as a single, and provided the group with a number one R&B hit, while reaching number five in the pop charts. This proved Stax Vice-President Al Bell wrong, as he’d had doubts about whether the track would prove to be a successful single. 

Sadly, by the time the group reconvened to record their next single the brilliant Hey You! Get Off My Mountain, songwriter and producer Tony Hester, had acquired a drug problem. This resulted in engineer Don Davis using the nom de plume Arthur Snyder, producing the single. By February of 1973, with Tony Hester back at the helm producing, The Dramatics recorded their second album A Dramatic Experience. When the album was released in 1973, it only reached number eleven in the US R&B Charts and number eighty-six in the US Billboard 200. After that, The Dramatics only released one more album for Stax, 1974s’ And I Panicked. The Dramatics then changed labels, heading first for Checker, part of the Chicago’s Chess Records, then heading to ABC Records. However, many people feel that the albums they recorded for Stax, were their best. This includes their dubut album Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get which I’ll now tell you about.

Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get opens with Get Up and Get Down, one of the songs The Dramatics had previously recorded, before the recording sessions begun for this album. It bursts into life, a combination powerful rolling drums, screams, whoops, driving rhythm section, grand sweeping strings, chiming guitars and blazing horns before the vocals enter. They’re a a contrast between deep and high, and owe much to the vocals on Sly and The Family Stone albums. By now, a meaty slice of funk is unfolding, albeit one that has many elements of the soulful Stax sound. The arrangement is fuller, has a fast tempo and is a constant combination of joyous vocals, grandiose, sweeping string, blazing bursts of horns, and guitars that shimmer and chime brightly. Together with the myriad of contrasting vocals, it’s a track where so much is happening at the one time, and is a powerful, sweeping and quite joyful track to open this debut album. However, there are similarities with the sound of Sly and The Family Stone throughout the track.

There’s a change in sound and style on Thank You For Your Love a beautiful, tender, slow ballad. A combination of chiming, shimmery guitars, subtle rasping horns, lush strings and rhythm section open the track, before a slow, tender vocal sings about being thankful for the love they’ve found. As moving and heartfelt as the vocal is, the arrangement really adds to this. It’s slow, full of atmosphere, designed to tug at your heartstrings, thanks to the combination of strings, guitars and horns. Adding drama are interjections from the drums and horns. Backing vocalists accompany the vocal, their tenderness a contrast the now strong and passionate vocal. Together, they help produce a beautiful, melodic track, one that’s the polar opposite to the funk drenched opening track.

Immediately, similarities between the opening track Get Up and Get Down and Hot Pants In the Summertime. This is because of the way the deep and higher voices contrast and the way the strings, horns and rhythm section combine. If anything, I much prefer this track, as it’s not as frantically funky as the opening track. This is much more soulful, with a slightly “looser” arrangement. When the track opens it’s a mixture of sweeping, stirring strings, piano, gently chiming guitars and rhythm section before those contrasting funk influenced vocals enter. From there, the arrangement moves quickly along, with a floaty flute sitting atop the arrangement, while short, sharp bursts of horns interjects. Their rasping sound is contrasted by sweeping strings. Meanwhile, the vocal is a combination of a soulful sounding lead, with a deeper almost baritone accompanying it, providing another contrast. By the end, this fuller, faster arrangement that combines elements of funk and soul, I’ve come to the conclusion that although there are similarities with the opening track, of the two I much prefer this one. Although there’s a similar joyous sound, there’s slightly more space within the arrangement which is less funky and fulsome, and the vocals are better, much less Sly and The Family Stone influenced. After all, if I wanted to hear their sound, I’d put on one of their albums. 

The title track Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get was another of the tracks the group recorded before they secured the contract to record their debut album. Like the other tracks on the album, it was arranged by Johnny Allen and produced by Tony Hester, who both helped make this such a good track. When the track opens, it has a faster tempo, and a lovely bright sound. That’s due to the combination of bright, bursts of horns, percussion, guitars and rhythm section, which open the track. It’s only then that the vocal enters, and it’s one of the best examples of the contrasting vocals being used to their best advantage. This allows different vocals, from almost a baritone to falsetto, to effectively sing different parts of the track. Behind them, the arrangement has a real Latin influence because of the percussion, especially congas and claves, as well as, drums and horns. Augmenting this are some effective strings, which sit at the top of the arrangement, while the Latin influenced arrangement moves quickly, and infectiously, catchy along. Together with some of the best vocals on the album, this is an excellent track, one of the album’s highlight.

Of all the tracks on the album, In the Rain is easily the standout track. It has a hugely atmospheric and effective opening, with rain and gusts of wind combining. if you’re listening to it either on a good quality hi-fi or headphones, it’s a hugely impressive sound. That gives way to chiming guitars which echo, creating an atmospheric, deeply sad sound, perfect for the lyrics. The guitar combines with piano and rhythm section, providing an understated arrangement, that allows a vocal laden in sadness and regret to take centre-stage. Adding to the sad and atmospheric sound are lush strings and subtle backing vocals. On this track, the lyrics are some of the best on the album, getting across the heartache and loss experienced. Later in the track, rasping horns briefly enter, their sound subdued, in keeping with the rest of the arrangement, which to me, is the best on the album. It’s atmospheric, dramatic and full of sadness and regret.

Gimme Some (Good Soul Music) is quite different from the previous track, and features an almost playful sounding Dramatics. Guitars chime, a piano plays, while horns rasp gently and the rhythm section fill out the sound, before the vocal enters. Each of The Dramatics take a turn singing lead, while the arrangement grows. The rhythm section provide a steady heartbeat, while the horns rasp, and combine dramatically with the rhythm section, while guitars, floaty flute and stirring strings play. During the track, The Dramatics plead and instruct Gimme Some (Good Soul Music), which although is an admirable sentiment, is hardly among the best lyrics ever written. Regardless of this, the arrangement mixes elements of soul with a sprinkling of funk, while the interplay between The Dramatics allows them to showcase their considerable vocal talents on a track that although lacking any meaningful lyrics, sounds fantastic.

Demonstrating their versatility as a group is Fall In Love, Lady Love a slow ballad. This shows how the group can seamlessly move between slow and fast songs, and soulful and funky ones with ease. Here, the tempo is slow, when a piano opens the track, combining with the rhythm section and grand, sweeping strings before a tender, heartfelt vocal enters. Horns and drums combine dramatically, as the vocal changes from one Dramatic to the next. They sing some lovely lyrics about love, and trying to woo they lady of their dreams. The track doesn’t suffer for the switching of vocal, quite the opposite, it seems to help and improve the track. Here, the arrangement is lush and quite beautiful, with bursts of brief drama which includes the spoken ending and brief burst of drama courtesy of the strings and drums. It seems The Dramatics excel on the other slower tracks on the album. They carry them of quite wonderfully, singing them with feeling, emotion and passion.

Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get closes with Mary Don’t Cha Wanna, which opens quickly, with a funky bass, horns, piano, dramatic strings and drums combining before the vocal enters. When it does, it’s strong and full of character, accompanied by rasping, braying horns, quick, sweeping horns, a bluesy piano and driving rhythm section. By now, the arrangement has opened out, and has much more in common with Get Up and Get Down and Hot Pants In the Summertime than the previous track. There’s a similar joyous, good-time sound here, with whoops and hollers aplenty, with a melange of bright, joyful horns, sweet strings, and funk influenced rhythm section accompany the similarly joyous, enthusiastic vocals. This seems a fitting end to The Dramatics debut album. They seem determined to close the album on a high, which they certainly do, with a track that certainly isn’t short of hooks or a joyous, good-time sound.

Like the other Stax remasters I’ve reviewed recently, Joe Tarantino’s remastering has hugely improved the sound quality. This brings the music to life, and allows you to hear the music the way you were meant to. For a debut album, Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get is an impressive album. It’s long on quality and short on filler. Of the eight tracks on the album, there isn’t a bad one on it. There’s a combination of faster, sometimes funk influenced tracks and some beautiful, slow, ballads. On each of the tracks, the vocal switches between the five members of The Dramatics, with some tracks featuring each member. The vocal interplay between them works really well, and the contrasting voices can be heard to its best advantage on several of the tracks including Get Up and Get Down where all five Dramatics share vocal duties, and Hot Pants In the Summertime. Using various members of a group to sing different vocal parts, was something favored by Sly and The Family Stone. On Get Up and Get Down and Hot Pants In the Summertime, I could hear a Sly and The Family Stone influence. However, on the other six tracks, The Dramatics sound is unique. Although The Dramatics may not be the best known group on Stax, but Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get is an excellent album, one that I’d recommend to anyone. As if that isn’t enough, also included on the disc is their second album A Dramatic Experience plus two bonus tracks. All of that for a ridiculously cheap price make this a bargain, one I’m glad I didn’t miss. Standout Tracks: Thank You For Your Love, Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get, In the Rain and Fall In Love, Lady Love.


Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get [Stax Remasters]

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