Before covering the top 10 Archie Bell & the Drells songs, let’s take a closer look at the singer-songwriter and his bandmates who founded this R&B group in Houston, Texas. Born on September 1, 1944, Bell grew up in a large family that included six brothers. One was older than Archie while the others were younger. As young as ten years old, Bell was singing in nightclubs as he was already inspired at such a young age to follow in the footsteps of Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson. In 1956, he formed the Drells while he was in junior high school.
Archie Bell & the Drells included Bell’s school buddies, Billy Butler, Willie Parnell, and James Wise. This was the lineup that recorded and released its debut hit single, “Tighten Up.” At first, it was a regional hit before Atlantic Records caught wind of it, secured the band to its label, and had this song become a nationwide hit. During this time frame, Bell was drafted into the United States Army and was stationed in Germany. Prior to his departure, he was so depressed about the draft that Butler attempted to cheer him up with a dance number that would become “Tighten Up.” While in Germany, Bell was in a truck accident and suffered a leg injury. Before the public learned the truth, it was widely believed he was a wounded warrior who went into the trenches of the Vietnam War.
At first, Archie Bell & the Drells had a promoter who felt “Dog Eat Dog” should have been released as a single instead of “Tighten Up.” However, he was convinced to go with the song Bell and Butler wrote and this proved to be exactly what the group needed to achieve stardom. “Tighten Up” not only topped the pop charts and the R&B charts but became certified gold with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) after selling over one million records. This cemented a lengthy career run for Archie Bell as a recording artist. As for the rest of the Drell lineup, some stayed while some moved on before Bell opted to go solo in 1980. After the 1981 release of his solo album, I Never Had it So Good, Archie Bell & the Drells formed again which would span for over twenty years.
Archie Bell was shipped overseas while his group experienced the height of its popularity, thanks to “Tighten Up.” During his absence, his brothers stepped in to keep his name in the spotlight, as well as the Drells. However, when “Tighten Up” was first released and Bell was overseas, there were nine white men from Nashville, Tennessee who posed as Archie Bell & the Drells as the production manager at the time didn’t know what musical category this group and its brand of music should be placed in. “Texas Funk” was the best the industry at the time could come up with.
While Archie Bell was away, a studio album was put together and released in 1969. It was put together with Gamble and Huff as the production and songwriting team that would bring forth I Can’t Stop Dancing as the group’s first full-length album and title track. During the process, Archie’s younger brother, Lee, replaced Billy Butler as a bandmate. He also became its choreographer.
While Archie Bell & the Drells was in the early stages of its career, there was a focus to prove to America and the rest of the world that Houston’s reputation as having “nothing good” come from it was unjustified. As tragic as the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 was, it was agreed an entire city shouldn’t be blamed for it. If anything, Houston was a victim of circumstance as the final city the President of the United States at the time visited before his death.
Archie Bell, his brothers, and the Drells were more than happy to proclaim they were from Houston and that there was far more to the soul of the city than meets the eye. Even before the tragedy that claimed the life of one of America’s most beloved presidents, Houston was known for its production of energy resources such as oil and gas. Thanks to the Bells and the Drells, it also became a city known for its music.
When interviewed about his successful run as such a popular entertainer at a national level, Bell admitted it wasn’t something he expected. It was his assumption his time in the military when “Tighten Up” was released as a single the group he started would have a short career run at best and nothing more. However, he was pleasantly surprised after his return Archie Bell & the Drells would become more than just another one-hit wonder.
Although there were lineup changes along the way, Archie Bell & the Drells continued to record music and expand its fan base. During the second half of the 1970s, this group enjoyed a comeback as it embraced the rising popularity of disco music. After this, Archie Bell opted to go solo in 1981. Along with age and experience, Bell also recorded music in the genres of blues and country, either on his own or as a collaborated effort with other recording artists.
After Archie Bell returned to American soil, he, his brothers, and the Drells worked closely with Thom Bell, Kenneth Gamble, and Leon Huff that would reach the height of prominence in 1971 when Gamble and Huff founded Philidelphia International Records. What Archie Bell & the Drells brought was “Texas Funk” to the infamous “Philly Soul” a brand of music that influenced much of the doo-wop, gospel, and soul music that was released at the time. Upon doing so, the R&B genre experienced an expansion that would increase its popularity among fans worldwide.
When disco was reaching its prime as a genre, Bell and his bandmates were right there, releasing one dance-oriented song after another as one of the most prolific recording artists at the time. Although there were only three full-length studio albums released by Archie Bell & the Drells, there were twenty-four singles that were released between 1968 to 1979. In 1981, as a solo artist, Archie Bell released “Any Time Is Right” from his album, I Never Had It So Good. That one became a modest hit as it peaked as high as number forty-nine on what used to be the US Billboard Hot Soul Singles and at number fifty-three on the US Billboard Dance Club Songs chart.
Top 10 Archie Bell & the Drells Songs
#10 – Do the Choo Choo
“Do the Choo Choo” was the third single released by Archie Bells & the Drells while Bell was still overseas in Germany, serving the United States military. On what is now referred to as the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, it became a number seventeen hit. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it peaked as high as number forty-four. It was the third funky dance-oriented song in a row from a group that made this sound its official trademark going into the first half of the 1970s.
Backed by Leon Huff and the Bobby Martin Orchestra, “Do the Choo Choo” was written by Huff and his longtime partner, Kenneth Gamble. These two men served as the management and production team that orchestrated the career run of Archie Bell & the Drells, first with Atlantic Records, then with Philadelphia International Records, until Bell opted to go solo and sign up with Becket Records in 1981.
Since the start of his career, Archie Bell has proudly proclaimed who he is, where he came from, and how much he loved good music. He also loved to dance, which became known as the story got out that his friends introduced “Tighten Up” as a new groove in an effort to cheer him up. Upon learning he was to be drafted to go overseas to fight in the Vietnam War, Bell became depressed and despondent.
Before leaving, he recorded music with his buddies Archie Bell & the Drells. Little did he know “Tighten Up” would serve as an official launching pad that would turn his group into a big hit across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. “Do the Choo Choo” was among the hits that came after the band’s debut single that would keep Bell’s name in the music charts throughout the rest of the 1960s and then into the 1970s.
#9 – Dancing to Your Music
Released as a standalone single in 1973, “Dancing to Your Music” peaked as high as number eleven on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and at number sixty-one on the US Billboard Hot 100. Much like the rest of the music from Archie Bell & the Drells, “Dancing to Your Music” was a song that fused the best of funk and soul music together as a groovy, lighthearted number.
In the song, Bell admitted to his love interest he’d be more than happy to dance to any kind of music she played before him. As the popularity of “Philly Soul” grew, so did the clubs that catered to the trendiest music that won over the crowd at the time. “Dancing to the Music” was a favorite for guests to hop out onto the dance floor and bust at least a move or two.
#8 – The Soul City Walk
1975’s “The Soul City Walk” was a single released from Dance Your Troubles Away, an album Archie Bell & the Drells recorded with the intent to load it up with disco music. As the trend of disco continued to rise in popularity, this group fused some of its “Texas Funk” into a disco hit that peaked as high as number forty-two on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
It was even more popular in the UK as it peaked as high as number thirteen on its Official Singles Chart. 1975 marked the first year Archie Bell & the Drells began to perform music with The Melting Pot Band, a union that would continue until 1979. Where Bell and his bandmates excelled in funky grooves, McNasty McKnight and his band added the infamous “Philly Soul” that became a Philadelphia International Records trademark after it was founded as a label in 1971.
#7 – Here I Go Again
On the UK Singles Chart, “Here I Go Again” became a number eleven hit after it was released as a single by Archie Bell & the Drells in 1972. This came about three years after it was released in the US but at the time didn’t quite break into its US Billboard Hot 100. This came the group’s second full-length album, There’s Gonna Be a Showdown. What made “Here I Go Again” so much fun to listen to was Archie Bell’s confession he couldn’t resist running back to his love interest, over and over again. Adding to the charm of the song was the chime of what sounded like a dinner bell ringing through from time to time as if it behaved as an alarm clock.
#6 – Love Will Rain on You
“Love Will Rain on You” was a slow jam written by, then performed by Archie Bell & the Drells that became a number twenty-five hit on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart after it was released as a single in 1968. From the album, I Can’t Stop Dancing, this ballad had Archie Bell demonstrate there was more to him than belting out catchy dance tunes. Loaded with soul, “Love Will Rain on You” had Bell pour his heart out on his sleeve as he lamented over the loss of a woman who decided to move on without him.
He also sang it would be a decision she’d regret as she’d look back and realize she’d thrown away a good thing while she had it with him. What also made this song such an underrated gem was its timing. Bell was sent overseas to take part in the Vietnam War, a military conflict that would see many loving couples separated due to a variety of circumstances. One of the most common reasons was the fear of loneliness by women who didn’t want to see their man sent to the other side of the world knowing there was a possibility they wouldn’t return.
#5 – There’s Gonna Be a Showdown (featuring Thom Bell, Leon Huff, and Bobby Martin’s Orchestra)
“There’s Gonna Be a Showdown” was a hit single that peaked as high as number six on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in 1968. It was the title track from Archie Bell & the Drells’ second studio album, a recording that was sent out before its frontman would return home from serving the United States military overseas. On the US Billboard Hot 100, “There’s Gonna Be a Showdown” became a number twenty-one hit.
In 1973, this would be released as a single in the UK and would peak as high as number thirty-six on its official music chart. What made “There’s Gonna Be a Showdown” was the feel of a dancing challenge as Bell and his bandmates encouraged listeners to see how well they could measure up against a group that made dancing music its niche since 1967.
#4 – Everybody Have a Good Time
Released as a single in 1977, “Everybody Have a Good Time” became a number sixty-eight hit on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and a number forty-three hit on the UK Singles Chart. By this time, Archie Bell & the Drells were among the top acts signed to Philadelphia International Records which enjoyed its run of success from 1971 until 2001. This was a label that had Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff, and Thom Bell focus on promoting “Philly Soul” as its own genre of music. Although Archie Bell and Thom Bell share the same last name, they’re not related to each other.
Archie came from Houston, Texas while Thom was born in Jamaica before he and his parents moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. These two met while Archie Bell & the Drells were with Gamble and Huff while they were signed to the Atlantic Records label. Thom Bell was a longtime friend and collaborator with the two men who would take it upon themselves to form a record label that wanted to focus on funk, R&B, and soul music. “Everybody Have a Good Time” was a song performed as a dance number as this was a niche Archie Bell & the Drells capitalized on after the success of 1967’s “Tighten Up.”
“Everybody Have a Good Time” was as energetic as it got as a disco song, encouraging listeners to get up and see how well their feet could keep up on the dance floor. Although it may not have peaked high on the official music charts, it was a huge favorite among fans of disco music who couldn’t help themselves but rush onto the dance floor and groove to what was one of Archie Bells & the Drells’ best tunes ever recorded.
#3 – I Can’t Stop Dancing (featuring Leon Huff and the Bobby Martin Orchestra)
“I Can’t Stop Dancing” was a single that featured Leon Huff and the Bobby Martin Orchestra performing with Archie Bell & the Drells. This was also the title of the first full-length studio album produced by Archie Bell & the Drells. After the song was released in 1969, it peaked as high as number nine on the US Billboard Hot 100 and at number five on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
This would mark the second and final occasion Bell and his bandmates would experience a top-ten hit on the pop charts. The charming opening of this song began with a drum performance before Archie Bell expressed his love for soulful music and how easy it could get him grooving out to the dance floor. Much like the rest of Bell’s musical repertoire, “I Can’t Stop Dancing” was a catchy, addictive number that encouraged people to use the love of music to get together and allow themselves to get caught up in the moment.
#2 – Let’s Groove (Part 1)
Released as a single in 1976, “Let’s Groove (Part 1)” became a big hit on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart as it peaked as high as number seven. On the US Billboard Dance Club Songs chart, it peaked even higher at number three. This established that Archie Bell & the Drells still had the chops to pull off another great song that would trigger listeners to get up and dance to the music. The 1970s was well into full swing with music that focused on disco, funk, and groove.
“Let’s Groove” was the biggest hit from Dance Your Troubles Away, an album that was released in 1975 and featured The Melting Pot as a band that would work with Bell and his bandmates until 1979. Part of Archie Bell’s trademark was to proudly let listeners know he came from Houston, Texas, and was just as influential in the music industry as any other city in America. At the time, Philadelphia was making its mark with its “Philly Soul” as Bell and his bandmates were among a group of talents giving Motown a run for its money in the R&B genre across the nation and beyond.
#1 – Tighten Up
The funky inspiration behind “Tighten Up” came after Archie Bell was traumatized by the draft notice he received from the United States government to join the military. His friend and bandmate, Billy Butler, came up with a dance called “Tighten Up” with the intent to cheer up Bell. When the music was presented to Archie Bell & the Drells’ label at the time, the band’s promoter wanted to promote “Dog Eat Dog” instead. Skipper Lee Frazier’s attempt to play his song of choice was challenged by his own friend who suggested “Tighten Up” would be the better choice.
On the US Billboard Hot 100 and the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, “Tighten Up” peaked at number one. It was even a hit in the UK at number fifty-five. With the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), “Tighten Up” became certified gold after selling over one million copies.
Part of the charm behind “Tighten Up” was Archie Bell’s introduction. As Archie Bell & the Drells, he pointed out they’re from Houston, Texas. He also wanted to let listeners of the song know they were from Texas and they were good. When this song was recorded in 1967, Bell responded to the “nothing good ever came out of Texas” comments made against the state with a statement he hoped would win over an audience.
As it turned out, his strategy worked as “Tighten Up” remains one of the all-time favorites as a catchy dance tune that brings people together to enjoy themselves. “Tighten Up” was also popular enough in Canada to peak as high as number three on its official music chart. “Tighten Up” acted like an instructional song on how to do a special dance as listeners get into the groovy music performed by a group that made a career out of coming up with one great dance tune after another.
Top 10 Archie Bell & The Drells Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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