Overlooked are playlists and write-ups that focus on artists that didn’t get the attention their music deserved during their time. Click on the streaming service of your choice below to listen to the playlist as you read along. Note that due to lack of availability of several albums, YouTube is the only complete playlist.
If you’re a fan of good old fashioned rock n’ roll and perhaps much of the music profiled on Ceremony is a little too off the beaten path for your tastes, then you may warm up to Dramarama. The band was formed in New Jersey in the early ‘80s, mining the same Jersey shore clubs as Bruce Springsteen and contemporaries like The Smithereens. When famous Los Angeles DJ, Rodney Bingenheimer, caught on to them and gave them very warmly received exposure on the legendary progressive station KROQ, they moved to LA and propelled their career to greater (but not great) success from the West Coast.
The driving force behind the band was John Easdale, who was the singer and wrote all their songs. The other force of the band’s sound was a trio of guitarists, Mark Englert (Mr. E Boy), Chris Carter, and Peter Wood. They were rounded out with Jesse Farbman on drums and Ted Ellenis on keyboards. It’s understandable why Bingenheimer was enthused by their debut LP, Cinéma Vérité, released in 1985 and during an era when guitars were hard to find outside of heavy metal and glam-hair rock bands. The direct and unadorned sound contradicted the band name, but their energy, strong hooks, and strong, blues-driven ballads made for a complete album. It also featured a couple of cover songs, the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale” and David Bowie’s “Candidate.” “The song, “Anything, Anything (I’ll Give You)” didn’t give them a national profile from their indie label, but was one of the most requested songs ever on KROQ.
The second album, Box Office Bomb, was less consistent than the first. Their sound didn’t grow and lacked the sparkling moments and infectious energy of their debut, and no songs jumped out to grab a wider audience. The same could be said for their third release, Stuck in Wonderamaland, in which their sound remained consistently strong, but short of outstanding. However, it did include their best song, “Last Cigarette,” the kind of driving rock song that was so lacking during the dying days of the 1980s. The song reached #13 on the US Modern Rock chart and the band managed a promotion to a major label. They responded with their heads-and-shoulders better album, Vinyl, which remains their definitive work and one of the best albums of the early 1990s, which was a strong era for music.
I discovered Dramarama during a 1992 visit to Los Angeles. My future sister-in-law (my brother and she had just started living together) was working for WEA and had a huge store of compact discs in her apartment with lots of new music for me to explore. Vinyl quickly became a favourite and soon after I started discovering their earlier work through a compilation she sent my way, 10 from 5, which was combined with their fifth album, Hi-Fi Sci-Fi. It was another solid album, not quite as elevating as Vinyl, but cut from the same cloth and included another standout track, “Shadowless Heart.” I eventually assembled all their albums and they remain stalwarts in my collection to this day. The fact that someone like myself, who followed music closely (admittedly more attuned to Canadian and British music than American), had completely missed this band over its eight year recording career was indicative of how overlooked Dramarama had been. “Haven’t Got A Clue” from Vinyl cracked the top ten on the US Modern Rock chart, but otherwise this high quality band couldn’t catch any attention outside of the college and indie scenes in the US.
Notable on over the last two albums were contributions from pedigreed musicians. Clem Burke from Blondie joined on drums during the Vinyl tour after Farbman left after the third album (session players did the recording for Vinyl). Burke remained for the recordings of Hi-Fi Sci-Fi. Ellenis had also left the band and the keyboards for the last two albums had been provided by Benmont Tench from Tom Petty’s band, The Heartbreakers, and Nicky Hopkins on piano (session player for The Stones, Jeff Beck Group, The Kinks, and The Who). Vinyl had also received contributions from ex-Stones guitarist Mick Taylor.
Maybe it was being an LA-based band that afforded Easdale and crew such access to legendary talent, or perhaps it was respect for the quality of the music that they were willing to show up for Dramarama (set aside of course, that session players are always picking up a paycheque, but for the likes of Clem Burke to sign-on as a band member suggests a higher level of comity). Otherwise the lack of success for Dramarama probably resulted from being the wrong sound at the wrong time – not hard and raw enough for grunge, not polished and photogenic enough for mass audiences and MTV, and maybe lacking personality to catch the attention of international audiences – it’s a shame the quality songs and talent of Dramarama never found a sustainable audience.
After Hi-Fi Sci-Fi the band folded up barely a year later. Easdale, Wood, and Englehert reunited the band for the VH1 show Bands Reunited in 2003 and then played at a KROQ festival in 2004. This led to a new album in 2005 with the cheery title, Everybody Dies. It’s remarkably consistent to the band’s original sound, showing maybe the band’s downfall was its overall lack of evolution over the years? It was another decent album with a few notable tracks. It, like the first three albums, are not available on major streaming services which can’t help the band’s cause in ever getting attention, belated or not. They are now based back in New Jersey and continue to tour and make appearances, but it doesn’t look like Dramarama will ever get the chance to have their many good songs heard by a large audience.
The Playlist – song \ album (year)
YouTube is the only complete playlist. Spotify and Google Play Music only include songs 2 (live version) and 7-16.
Scenario \ Cinéma Vérité (1985)
Anything, Anything (I’ll Give You) \ Cinéma Vérité (1985)
Etc. \ Cinéma Vérité (1985)
Emerald City \ Cinéma Vérité (1985)
New Dream \ Box Office Bomb (1987)
Worse than Being by Myself \ Box Office Bomb (1987)
Wonderamaland \ Stuck in Wonderamaland (1989)
Last Cigarette \ Stuck in Wonderamaland (1989)
Haven’t Got A Clue \ Vinyl (1991)
What Are We Gonna Do? \ Vinyl (1991)
Classic Rot \ Vinyl (1991)
Ain’t It the Truth \ Vinyl (1991)
Tiny Candles \ Vinyl (1991)
Introduction / Hey Betty \ Hi-Fi- Sci-Fi (1993)
Shadowless Heart \ Hi-Fi- Sci-Fi (1993)
Where’s the Manual? \ Hi-Fi- Sci-Fi (1993)
Everybody Dies \ Everybody Dies (2005)
Physical Poetry (A-B-C-D-1-2-3) \ Everybody Dies (2005)
Dropping the Curtains \ Everybody Dies (2005)