Review: The Dramatics - Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get

The debut album from the soul legends
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The Dramatics - Whatcha See Is Whatcha GetToward the end of the 1960s, Stax vice president Al Bell diversified his talent pool by looking outside of Memphis, Tennessee for his artists. They went to Detroit, home of their competitor, the legendary Motown Records, to bring producer Don Davis down to Memphis. Initially, Davis worked with Carla Thomas and then Johnnie Taylor, but by the end of 1969, Davis had produced the first Stax single by another Detroit import, The Dramatics on the label's Volt imprint.

When that single failed to chart, Davis released the group from their contract and they went back to Detroit to work with songwriter Tony Hester. Hester came up with some great songs for the group and Davis resigned them, but let Hester handle the production chores. His first single with the group, "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get," became not only the title of the group's first Stax album, but also hit number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 3 on the R&B charts. After nearly a decade, the group finally hit big.

The track blends a Latin feel with an early 70s soul sound and the group's members trading vocals ala the Temptations, making for an exciting, dynamic listen while album opener "Get Up And Get Down," mixes alternating vocals over a hard-funk groove with great string arrangements from Johnny Allen. Get up and get down? From the song's opening scream, it's impossible not to do just that.

The group slows the tempo down with the ballad, "Thankful For Your Love," featuring an impassioned lead vocal from William "Wee Gee" Howard who also takes the lead on "In The Rain," an atmospheric track with sounds of rainfall contrasted against Dennis Coffey's trippy, echo-drenched guitar. The song proved a big hit for the group, hitting number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The CD has 10 bonus tracks, including "The Devil Is Dope" and "Beware Of The Man (With The Candy In His Hand," two tracks warning of the evils of drugs. The former is a dramatic song — both literally and figuratively — with a nightmarish backdrop set against a gritty lead vocal performance while the latter is more of the same, but no less effective. The group's second album was originally to be titled The Devil Is Dope, but the label thought better of it for marketing reasons.

Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get is where it all came together for The Dramatics. After a long period with little success, it came in droves with their fine debut album and lasted throughout the 1970s.