Happy Birthday to Archie Bell, Houston's Multi-Hit Wonder
Photo by Marc Brubaker
Sixty-eight must be a pretty significant number to Archie Bell these days. Not only was 1968 the year that "Tighten Up" -- his million-selling single with Archie Bell and the Drells -- was released, but the man himself turns 68 years old tomorrow.
A seminal piece of endlessly danceable proto-funk, "Tighten Up" hit No. 1 on both the pop and R&B charts in '68 after it was picked up for release by Atlantic Records. Archie's unforgettable intro to the dance number includes one of the most prominent and memorable shout-outs to the city in music history.
A native of Henderson, Texas, who later moved to Houston and competed in local talent shows while attending Wheatley High School, Bell was inspired to proudly declare the hipness of his home base after hearing a radio DJ proclaim that nothing good ever came out of Texas in the wake of the JFK assassination. The Drells were backed by the TSU Toronadoes on the track--legends in their own right.
Strangely enough, Bell didn't get to experience the phenomenal chart success of "Tighten Up" first-hand. While the song was enjoying its run on top, Archie was living in an overseas barracks and peeling potatoes.
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He'd been drafted into the Army shortly before the song was recorded. His forced absence from the touring circuit created a bizarre situation that saw phony versions of "Archie Bell and the Drells" crop up around the country to play gigs, including at least one group of all-white fakers.
During Bell's deployment, his military leaves were spent cobbling together material for a proper album release to capitalize on the single's popularity. The Tighten Up LP went on to hit No. 15 on the Billboard R&B album chart.
Contrary to urban legend, Bell didn't die in Vietnam, nor was he wounded there. In fact, he never saw any combat, but he did injure his leg in a truck accident while stationed in Germany. An even more easily debunked bit of false history often ascribed to Bell is that he and the Drells were one-hit wonders.
It's no crime that the rest of Archie Bell and Drells' music has come to be overshadowed by "Tighten Up" over the years. Heck, Rolling Stone named it No. 265 on its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. But it wasn't the group's only hit. Between 1968 and 1986, the band charted 11 songs on Billboard Top 100, including three in the Top 40 and 14 in the R&B Top 40.
In honor of Archie's birthday and the lasting legacy of "Tighten Up"--Houston's long-running unofficial theme song--Rocks Off happily presents Bell and the Drells' five biggest hits besides "Tighten Up" for your listening (and dancing) pleasure:
5. "Let's Groove," 1976
Talk about smooth funk! "Let's Groove" never cracked the Hot 100, but it was a big hit in the club all the same. Riding atop a fantastic, propelling bass line, the song reached No. 3 on the Dance chart and No. 7 on the R&B chart.
Once again, Archie makes sure to let the world know exactly where he's from in the song's introduction. That's why he's the man. Well, that and his sharp fashion sense.
4. "The Soul City Walk," 1976
This delightfully funky disco-era dance track "only" climbed as high as No. 52 on the U.S. Hot 100, but in the UK it was a Top 40 smash, peaking at No. 13. That was high enough to score the Drells an appearance on Top of the Pops, which we recommend that you watch above.
3. "(There's Gonna Be a) Showdown," 1968
The tight harmonizing on this single from Archie Bell and the Drells' third LP was the result of a fertile partnership with the songwriting duo of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff at Philadelphia International Records. The originators of the "Philly Soul" sound, Gamble and Huff are perhaps most famous for writing ""TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia)," which would be adopted as the theme song for Soul Train.
"Showdown" peaked at No. 21 on the Hot 100 and No. 6 on the R&B chart in 1968.
2. "Here I Go Again," 1969
"Here I Go Again" only made it to No. 112 on the U.S. chart as the B-side to "A World Without Music" in 1969, but a few years later, a funny thing happened. The song was re-released as a single in the UK in 1972 and became a hit in the burgeoning "Northern Soul" scene, a movement taken up by club-going Mods in Northern England who embraced lesser-known American soul records from the Motown era.
The track peaked at No. 11 on the UK chart, becoming the Drells' biggest hit across the Atlantic.
1. "I Can't Stop Dancing," 1968
Archie Bell and the Drells' follow-up single to "Tighten Up," "I Can't Stop Dancing," was another monster. The same great elements from "Tighten Up" are there, including the sweet guitar line punctuated by horns. The song reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 5 on the R&B chart.
Such is the enduring power of "Tighten Up" that, 44 years later, it completely overshadows this legit Top-10 hit released during one of the greatest years in pop music history.
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