"Disco Mystic" is indeed played in a disco style, and the lyrics consist of those two words repeated. "I Want to Boogie With You" has a doo-wop flavor (even if underneath the horns are the synthesizers which permeate this album), a IV-to-I plagal cadence repeated throughout. "City Lights" is a tribute to Charlie Chaplin, taking its name from the film of the same name. "Families" is an explicitly personal entreaty to his own parents and sister, with the closing line "Families that live out in the suburbs often make each other cry". The title track is said to be a favorite of Reed's, and he claims the lyrics were made up extemporaneously. Three tracks were co-composed with Nils Lofgren and their joint compositions are also included on Nils, Lofgren's 1979 album.
In a contemporary review for Rolling Stone, music critic Lester Bangs wrote, "With The Bells, more than in Street Hassle, perhaps even more than in his work with the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed achieves his oft-stated ambition—to become a great writer, in the literary sense." In a less enthusiastic retrospective review, Select magazine wrote that "The Bells saw his music disappearing down the pan ... Even self-parody is barely achieved in these half-assed songs played by a bunch of dullards, with Lou sounding painfully uninspired."