Archie Bell & The Drells – ‘The Albums 1968-1979’ (2024)

Uncategorized March 25, 2024

Archie Bell & The Drells – ‘The Albums 1968-1979’ (2024)

Formed in 1966, Archie Bell & The Drells was a Houston, Texas based R&B vocal group consisting of Bell and friends James Wise, Willie Parnell and Billy Butler, accompanied by Reid Farrell who traveled with the band and played guitar.

Between 1968 and 1979 Archie Bell & The Drells released seven albums and more than two dozen singles, including the smash hit double-sided ‘Tighten Up’ which topped the Billboard Hot 100 Pop and R&B charts when issued as their debut single, taken from their album of the same title, released in 1968 on Atlantic Records. The hit single, written by Bell and Butler, with its distinctive guitar riff by Farrell, is ranked number 265 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time and was one of the earliest funk hits in music history. Cherry Red Records has compiled all the albums and singles on a new five disc box set, appropriately titled ‘The Albums 1968-1979’ and issued on the Robinsongs imprint.

Disc one contains the group’s two 1968 LPs released on Atlantic Records. ‘Tighten Up’ opens with the two parts of the title track, which along with excellent covers of ‘Knock On Wood’ and ‘In The Midnight Hour’, popularized by Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett respectively, propelled the album to #1 on the Billboard R&B charts and a quite respectable #142 on Billboard’s Top 200 Pop chart. Before the release of the band’s sophomore album ‘I Can’t Stop Dancing’, produced by the legendary duo of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, Butler had departed to become the group’s choreographer, replaced by Bell’s brother Lee. Despite the LP’s title track reaching #5 on Billboard’s R&B chart and #9 on the Hot 100, it peaked at #28 on the R&B chart but failed to hit the Top 200. The album contains two other tracks of note, the Gamble and Huff penned ‘Doo The Choo Choo’, which peaked at #17 and #44 on the R&B and Pop charts, and a tasty take on Otis Redding’s classic (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.’

Disc two opens with the twelve tracks comprising 1969’s ‘There’s Gonna Be A Showdown’, the group’s final release on Atlantic, highlighted by the Gamble/Huff composed title track, a soulful slice of R&B which peaked at #6 on the R&B chart and gave the group its final Hot 100 appearance, topping out at #21. The LP itself marked a return to the Top 200 chart, reaching #163. Another highlight is the Archie Bell/Kenneth Gamble/Thom Bell (no relation) composition ‘Girl You’re Too Young’ a breezy soulful tune which peaked at #13 on Billboard’s R&B charts. It would be six years before the release of ‘Dance Your Troubles Away’ which appeared on Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International label. The album produced two sizable R&B hits in ‘Let’s Groove (Part 1)’ and ‘I Could Dance All Night’, reaching #7 and #25 respectively. The LP was much more funk oriented than its predecessors, with plenty of dance appeal. The album sold well, reaching #11 on the R&B chart and was the group’s first and only to reach the top 100 on the Pop chart, topping at #95.

Disc three consists of the band’s two 1977 long players, ‘Where Will You Go When The Party’s Over’ and ‘Hard Not To Like It’, both issued on the Philadelphia International label. The former opens with the melodic ‘Don’t Let Love Get You Down’ featuring a tasty guitar hook. The tune, however, failed to chart when issued as a single. The LP’s melodic title track may well have been a better choice, but the hard driving disco tinged ‘Everybody Have A Good Time’ did manage to reach #68 on the R&B chart, with its infectiously funky, wah wah aided guitar riff. The LP peaked at #47 on the R&B chart. The latter album is a more disco oriented effort, highlighted by its two singles, ‘Glad You Could Make It’ and ‘I’ve Been Missing You’ which kept the group on the charts, peaking at #63 and #56 respectively. The long player maintains a funk feel with plenty of guitar on display, while offering plenty of dance appeal, but sales waned as it marked the first and only long player not to dent either of the Billboard charts.

Disc four contains the group’s 1979 LP ‘Strategy’ consisting of eight melodic, danceable tunes and reached a quite respectable #37 on the R&B chart. The album’s title track, its longest at just under seven minutes, sold well and reached #21 on the R&B chart. However, the long player proved to be the band’s swan song, as they called it a day in 1980.

Disc five closes out the box set with a total of sixteen bonus tracks, drawn mainly from non-album singles and b-sides from the group’s early period. Especially notable is ‘Dog Eat Dog’ which had originally been intended as the a-side of ‘Tighten Up.’ One can only wonder what the group’s fortunes would have been if that intention had come to fruition. Also of note are the single versions of ‘Let’s Groove’ and ‘Soul City Walk’ from 1975’s ‘Dance Your Trouble Away.’

The five discs of ‘The Albums 1968-1979’ come in mini-LP replica cardboard sleeves which slip into a clamshell box. The set also includes a 20 page full color booklet, with complete track listings, band and release artwork photos, and an extensive essay by Charles Waring. Archie Bell & The Drells sound better than ever thanks to the mastering job of Alan Wilson. The box set will appeal to fans of 1960’s and 1970’s funk and soul music as well as fans of dance music of the period.

Kevin Rathert

Archie Bell & The Drells – ‘The Albums 1968-1979’ (Robinsongs / Cherry Red Records, 2024)

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