"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, with whom he also collaborated on Lofgren's 1979 album Nils.
Victor Bockris reported in his biography of Reed (alternately titled Transformer or Lou Reed) that the master tapes to The Bells were lost. Since the book's release, however, remastered CD editions have been released in the United States, showing increased sound quality—or at least, increased loudness—compared to previous releases in other countries.
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."