THE DRAMATICS-A DRAMATIC EXPERIENCE.
THE DRAMATICS-A DRAMATIC EXPERIENCE.
Some time ago, I reviewed The Dramatics debut album Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get, which had recently been rereleased and remastered. What many people didn’t realize was that included on the album was their second album A Dramatic Experience. Their first album Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get had been a huge commercial success reaching number twenty in the US BIllboard 200 and number five in the US R&B Charts. The album had featured three top twenty US R&B singles, Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get, which reached number nine in the US Billboard 100 and number three in the US R&B Charts, while Get Up and Get Down reached just number seventy-eight in the US Billboard 100 and number sixteen in the US R&B Charts. The most successful single was In the Rain, which reached number five in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts. This was quite a remarkable turn in fortune for a group who’d waited ten years before recording their debut album. However, would their second album A Dramatic Experience match the success of Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get?
By February 1973 when The Dramatics recorded their second album for Stax, Tony Hester was back producing the band. However, there had been a couple of changes in the group’s line-up, with Willie “Wee Gee” Howard and Elbert Wilkins leaving The Dramatics, to be replaced by L.J. Reynolds and Leonard “Lenny” Mayes. With the new members onboard, the pressure was on The Dramatics to record a successful follow-up album to Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get. Eight tracks in total were recorded, with Hey You! Get Off My Mountain and I Fell two of the album’s best tracks. However, as regular readers of this blog are well aware, good music doesn’t always equate to commercial success.
Sadly, as good an album as A Dramatic Experience was, it didn’t match its predecessors success. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad album, quite the opposite, It’s just The Dramatics set the bar high with Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get. For a debut album, it had been hugely successful, and it isn’t easy to either match, or better. On the release of A Dramatic Experience, it reached just number eighty-six in the US Billboard 200 and number eleven in the US R&B Charts. Two singles were released from the album, Hey You! Get Off My Mountain which reached number forty-three in the US Billboard 100 and number five in the US R&B Charts. The second single was Fell For You, which reached number forty-five in the US Billboard 100 and number twelve in the US R&B Charts. After A Dramatic Experience, The Dramatics would record just one further album for Stax/Volt And I Panicked. However, what did their second album A Dramatic Experience sound like? That’s what I’ll now tell you.
A Dramatic Experience opens with The Devil Is Dope which opens with an almost sinister spoken word vocal, accompanied by a searing guitar, swirling strings and rhythm section. It’s only then that the powerful vocal enters, with the other members of the group singing harmonies, about the evils of drugs, comparing drugs to the devil. A contrast to the passionate and powerful vocal and sinister sounding sound effects, are the lush swirling strings, that are almost ever-present throughout, this anti-drugs song, Together with the sinister spoken word vocal, sound-effects and some tight harmonies, The Dramatics finish off where they left off on Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get, with another stunning track.
When You Could Become the Heart of Me opens, you think that L.J. is going to sing the song tenderly, but you’re wrong. Quickly, his voice grows in emotion and passion,. Meanwhile, the interplay between the other Dramatics sees them play their part in the track, while the arrangement features quivering strings, chiming guitars and braying horns, as a bass meanders along. It’s a really catchy sounding track, made all the better by the inclusion of some subtle, muted horns and swirling, shimmering strings that combine perfectly, with the guitars and rhythm section. However, regardless of how good the arrangement is, it would’t count for anything without a standout vocal from L.J. that’s neither short of emotion nor passion.
Now You Got Me Loving You is a very different, much more tender track, with rasping horns, a wandering bass line and piano accompanying a beautiful, gentle vocal. With lush strings slowly sweeping in, combining with the horns that occasionally punctuate the track, the rest of the arrangement has a lovely understated sound in parts. Once the track grows, this is lost, but the beauty is omnipresent, the emotion in the vocal growing similarly, while a chiming guitar shivers across the track, and the rest of the group contribute backing vocals. This is a very different, soulful track and one that’s quite beautiful.
One of the singles was Fell For You which reached number forty-five in the US Billboard 100 and number twelve in the US R&B Charts. When Wee Gee quit the group, L.J. Reynolds had to rerecord the vocal, which was shared with Ron Banks. Their shared vocals come together perfectly, while the rest of the group song stepped harmonies. This they do against a gorgeous arrangement, where bursts of drama from the drums and horns and combined with flourishes of piano and some of the sweetest, lushest strings on the album. With new members having joined The Dramatics, this neither hindered the group, nor spoil their sound and dynamics. It could be that the addition of L.J. Reynolds’ vocals on this track helped lift this song, and transformed it into a tender and thoughtful track, with some of the best harmonies on A Dramatic Experience.
A bass line, shivering strings, piano and wah-wah guitar all enter before Jim, What’s Wrong With Him opens. The track is a combination of soul and funk, with blazing horns joining the rhythm section, chiming guitars and strings as a dramatic vocal unfolds. Again, the track is about drugs, with the character in the song Jim, a drug addict. While L.J. Reynolds passionately sings and howls the lead vocal, the other Dramatics provide harmonies, against a fast, furiously funky arrangement that builds and builds. With wah-wah guitars, funky rhythm section and horns combining with sweeping, swirling strings, this is nearly five minutes of heartfelt, passionate music, so much so, that it almost sounds personal for The Dramatics.
One of the best songs on A Dramatic Experience is Hey You! Get Off My Mountain, another of the singles from the album. It’s a track that’s drenched in drama, from the opening bars onwards. Horns gently rasp, combining with grand shivering strings and a hugely powerful, dramatic vocal, that quickly becomes tender when it changes hands. The rest of The Dramatics contribute backing vocals that veer between tender and thoughtful to passionate and powerful. As this soulful, dramatic track progress, the arrangement grows, just like the vocal, with strings and the rhythm section playing important parts in what must be the album’s best track.
Beautiful People is the title of the song, but the song is also beautiful. A combination of piano, rhythm section and chiming guitars combine with gentle, rasping horns and sad sounding strings. Add to this a heartfelt vocal and some thoughtful backing vocals, and can the track get any better? It can. After a short spoken word vocal, a gentle vocal enters, before the arrangement starts to grow again. Muted horns and drums add drama, while the strings and guitar combine to add subtly and beauty, a suitable accompaniment for such heartfelt, yet gorgeous vocals.
A Dramatic Experience closes with the last of the three anti-drugs songs, Beware of the Man (With the Candy In His Hand). This track was a reaction to the drugs problem that reeked havoc with inner city America. The man with the candy in his was the drug dealer who wrecked the lives of many young Americans. For this track, The Dramatics muster up as much drama as they can, and have reserved a fuller, drama laden arrangement. Straight away strings swirl and sweep, while wah-wah guitars and dramatic rumbling drums combine, before an otherworldly scream gives way to soul with a social conscience. L.J’s angry, frustrated vocal sits atop the arrangement as the track quickens, the arrangement growing fuller and more powerful. It’s as if this reflects the anger and frustration felt by The Dramatics, at the waste of a generation. By now, the arrangement sees the strings, drums and horns add to the track’s drama, with bursts of horns and pounding drums accompanying the roaring, hollering vocals, as The Dramatics desperately seek to get their message across. This they do, their impassioned pleas warning of the pitfalls and dangers to be found in the candy man’s hand.
Having listened to both Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get and A Dramatic Experience back to back, I’ve always thought that although A Dramatic Experience was a much better album. Each of the eight tracks on the album are of the highest quality, with the album an excellent combination of funk and soul with a social conscience. The trio or anti-drugs songs The Devil Is Dope, Jim, What’s Wrong With Him and Beware of the Man (With the Candy In His Hand) all are a reflection on the drugs problem that was sweeping inner city America, and these songs warn of the pitfalls and problems. Of the other five tracks, they’re a combination of beauty, emotion and drama, with Now You Got Me Loving You and Fell For You emotive and beautiful, while Hey You! Get Off My Mountain provides the drama. With quality like this running through the album, A Dramatic Experience deserved to do much better than number eighty-six in the US Billboard 200 and number eleven in the US R&B Charts.
After the success of Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get, this was something of a disappointment, given the standard of music on the album. In the sleeve-notes to the album, it’s quite obvious that The Dramatics and producer Tony Hester also thought the album should’ve been a bigger commercial success, talking in terms of the album being their masterpiece. Personally, A Dramatic Experience joins the list of albums that are hidden gems of funk and soul, awaiting discovery by a new generation of music fans. Maybe they’ll see what the previous generation failed to see, that A Dramatic Experience is a stunning album, one full of some incredibly powerful music, one that deserved to fare much better than it did, when released in 1973. However, now you can revisit both Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get and A Dramatic Experience. Both feature on the newly rereleased and remastered version of Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get. So not only do you get to hear Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get, but you also get to hear A Dramatic Experience. This lets you hear two great albums from The Dramatics. These are the groups the two best albums, wonderfully remastered by Joe Tarantino, allowing you to hear The Dramatics at their very best. Standout Tracks: Now You Got Me Loving You, Hey You! Get Off My Mountain, Fell For You and Beautiful People.
THE DRAMATICS-A DRAMATIC EXPERIENCE.