Friday, September 9, 2011

The Dramatics: "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get" (2011 re-issue) CD Review

Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get was The Dramatics' debut album, and was originally released in January of 1972.

Taking a look at the track list for this CD, I really wasn't sure what to expect. Of course, I knew the title track, but that was basically it. What is one to guess from such titles as "Hot Pants In The Summertime," "Mary Don't Cha Wanna," and "Jim, What's Wrong With Him" (which made me think of Bones saying, "He's dead, Jim")?

And yes, as you might guess, the music here is fun. But this is a band that doesn't shy away from messages in its material. (This is a group that was clearly not into drugs.) One thing I love is how the various voices in the band mix. There are very distinct voices, and they all contribute to build something pretty damn wonderful.

This special re-issue has a lot of bonus material. In fact, the bonus tracks outnumber the regular tracks. That is because this CD is actually two complete records. The first eight bonus tracks compose the band's second album, A Dramatic Experience, which was originally released in 1973. And "Stand Up Clap Your Hands" was included on an earlier CD release of that album.

"Get Up And Get Down"

The first track, "Get Up And Get Down," opens with a long rough scream before going into the slightly slow dance groove. They sing, "Get up and get down/Get up out of your seat." This is a good song for today's audiences, who often seem reluctant to dance. What's up with that? (And folks, don't ever ask me to sit down at a rock concert.) Remember, as they tell us in this song, "You ain't too old/You ain't too hip." Amen.

"Thankful For Your Love"

"Thankful For Your Love" is a mellower tune. It definitely has a bit of that unmistakable 1970s cheese. Though not the CD's strongest track, at moments when there is a bit of crackling energy in the vocals, the song still shines.

"Hot Pants In The Summertime"

Just looking at the title "Hot Pants In The Summertime," I was wondering if this was going to be a parody of "Hot Fun In The Summertime," a wonderful tune by Sly & The Family Stone (a band that certainly has elements in common with The Dramatics). But this is its own entity, a fun song in its own right. There is nothing too serious about lines like "Hey there girl, you sure look good in your hot pants, hot pants, hot pants, hot pants in the summertime." (I love the smooth way "in the summertime" is sung.)

This is a sort of relaxed dance song, with a certain sexiness. Turn off your air conditioning, then dig out an old fan and aim it at your loved one. Maybe give her a popsicle. Enjoy the rest of your summer.

"Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get"

The title track, "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get," is one you most certainly already know. It was a big hit, reaching #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #3 on the R&B chart. And this song still totally holds up. It starts, "Some people are made of plastic/And you know some people are made of wood/Some people have hearts of stone/Some people are up to no good." You might not hear a lot of folks say this in L.A., but it would certainly be refreshing: "I'm as real as real can get."

"In The Rain"

"In The Rain" begins with rain and storm effects, which I detest. But this song was actually a bigger hit than "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get," reaching #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. And overlooking the pointless sound effects, it's a cool song. Like basically every song about being in the rain, this song is about hiding one's tears. But the song has a good sound, a good feel to it. Unfortunately the rain sound effects come back in nearly three minutes in, and then again near the end.

"Mary Don't Cha Wanna"

The original album concluded with a strange song titled "Mary Don't Cha Wanna." It's a sort of anti-drug song, in which Mary's kisses are a substitute for alcohol. They sing, "Some people get their kicks from fire water and cherry wine/But your kisses intoxicate me, Mary/You're all I need to get high." But there is another element to the song, which is touched upon, but not really explained. Lines like "They call you taboo, woman" and "They try to throw me under the jail because I love you so much" make me wonder if perhaps Mary is a tad on the young side.

Bonus Tracks

As noted, this release has plenty of bonus material. The first bonus track, "The Devil Is Dope," was originally intended as the title track for the band's second album. This odd tune starts with voices saying,"Where am I? I smell fire." And there is a wicked laugh, apparently from Satan himself. How serious are they with this one? It's hard to tell, but "dope" didn't have the same positive spin that it does in current slang. And this song actually functions as an anti-drug message.

"Fell For You" reached #45 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #12 on the R&B chart. It's an interesting love song - interesting mostly in the vocals, especially in the "falling, falling, falling" part. There are moments when this song sounds completely unlike any other song, and those are its best moments.

"Jim, What's Wrong With Him" is another song that mentions the devil and drugs, but this one has a good funky edge. And the lyrics feel heartfelt.

The Rolling Stones have a cloud they don't want to share with you. The Dramatics have a mountain. In "Hey You! Get Off My Mountain," they sing, "Hey you! Get off my mountain/You're just trying to bring me down." This song reached #43 on the Billboard chart, but there's not much going on in this one, nothing original or special.

"Beware Of The Man (With The Candy In His Hand)" is another anti-drug song. This one begins with a scream similar to the one that opens "Get Up And Get Down." Check out these lyrics: "Warm is his smile/But his heart is cold/He'll sell you dope/For he loves only gold/He'll turn you on/And he'll freak you out/He'll get you hooked/And turn your mind inside out."

The final two bonus tracks are fun, positive dance tunes. The first, "Stand Up Clap Your Hands," has a great rock beat and energy, and is one of my favorite tracks on this release.

CD Track List

  1. Get Up And Get Down
  2. Thankful For Your Love
  3. Hot Pants In The Summertime
  4. Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get
  5. In The Rain
  6. Gimme Some (Good Soul Music)
  7. Fall In Love, Lady Love
  8. Mary Don't Cha Wanna
  9. The Devil Is Dope
  10. You Could Become The Very Heart Of Me
  11. Now You Got Me Loving You
  12. Fell For You
  13. Jim, What's Wrong With Him?
  14. Hey You! Get Off My Mountain
  15. Beautiful People
  16. Beware Of The Man (With The Candy In His Hand)
  17. Stand Up Clap Your Hands
  18. Hum A Song (From Your Heart)

This special re-issue of Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get is scheduled to be released on September 13, 2011 through Concord Music Group as part of their Stax Remasters series. Other titles to be released that day include Shirley Brown: Woman To Woman and Rufus Thomas: Do The Funky Chicken.

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