The early seventies saw some of the most gorgeous soul music ever made. The Stylistics, The Chi-Lites, and Blue Magic all used strings, heartbreaking lyrics, and transcendent falsetto voices to create some of the most bittersweet songs of their time. The irresistible “Oh Girl“ by The Chi-Lites and “Sideshow” from Blue Magic are a couple of examples. Perhaps the finest of all was “In The Rain” by The Dramatics.
The song is a masterpiece of studio construction. Writer and producer Tony Hester recorded the group’s vocals before they went out on tour. While they were away, he had added the storms and falling rain which so perfectly dramatize the raw emotion of the track. As singer Ron Banks says, “When we returned from the road, we knew we had a smash.”
“In The Rain” turned out to be The Dramatics’ biggest hit of all time. In typical record company style, though, the song was almost never released as a single. Stax Vice-President Al Bell did not believe in it at all, but thankfully was eventually persuaded.
Bell’s reluctance may have been due to the previous hit the group had enjoyed, “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get.” This is the other side of the soul renaissance of the early seventies. Funk was all over AM radio back then with tunes like The O’Jays’ “Backstabbers,” and The Isley Brothers’ “That Lady.” The Dramatics fit right in with “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get,” followed by the number sixteen R&B-chart single “Get Up And Get Down.”
As part of their current Stax/Volt reissue program, The Dramatics’ Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get album has just come out. For those who may only know them the hit singles, let me assure you–the whole thing is great. One of the difficulties of the LPs that produced many of the chart-topping R&B songs was the amount of filler on them. This is definitely not the case with Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get though. For funkified album cuts, try “Mary Don’t Cha Wanna,” and “Hot Pants In The Summertime.” On the ballad side, “Thank You For Your Love,” and “Fall In Love, Lady Love” are winners as well.
Although listed simply as bonus tracks, the extra material is actually the entire follow-up record, A Dramatic Experience. It is a complete mystery to me as to why Stax are not trumpeting this fact, because the second album is easily as strong as the first.
A Dramatic Experience was originally slated to appear as The Devil Is Dope, which then would have been the title song. This was deemed too provocative however, and changed at the last minute. In any event, the primary focus remains on the inner-city drug problem. “The Devil Is Dope,” “Jim, What’s Wrong With Him?” and “Beware Of The Man (With The Candy In His Hand)” specifically address the situation. All three give off a heavy Superfly vibe, and should be heard by fans of the Pimps, Players and Private Eyes genre.
The ballads are also outstanding. Two of these, “Fell For You,” and “Hey You, Get Off My Mountain,” were R&B charting singles. The songs are note-perfect displays of sweet soul music at its finest.
For those of us who savor this period, Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get is a gift. It also shows that without a doubt, The Dramatics were one of the most underrated groups of the era.