Tighten Up (Archie Bell & the Drells song)

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"Tighten Up"
Single by Archie Bell & the Drells
from the album Tighten Up[1]
Format7", 12"
RecordedOctober 1967
Length3:15 (Part 1)
LabelAtlantic 2478 (U.S.)
Songwriter(s)Archie Bell, Billy Buttier
Archie Bell & the Drells singles chronology
"(There's Gonna Be) A Showdown"
"Tighten Up"
"I Can't Stop Dancing"

"Tighten Up" is a 1968 song by Houston, Texas–based R&B vocal group Archie Bell & the Drells. It reached #1 on both the Billboard R&B and pop charts in the spring of 1968. It is ranked #265 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and is one of the earliest funk hits in music history.


"Tighten Up" was written by Archie Bell and Billy Buttier.[2] It was one of the first songs that Archie Bell & the Drells recorded, in a session in October 1967 at the Jones Town Studio in Houston, Texas, along with a number of songs including "She's My Woman". The instrumental backing for "Tighten Up" was provided by the T.S.U. Toronadoes, the group which had developed it[3] in their own live shows before they brought it to Archie Bell & the Drells at the suggestion of Skipper Lee Frazer, a Houston disk jockey who worked with both groups. At the recording session, the Drells worked late into the night with the Toronadoes as Archie Bell perfected the vocals.[4][5]

Soon afterwards, Bell was drafted into the U.S. Army and began serving in Vietnam. Meanwhile, the song became a hit in Houston, and was picked up by Atlantic Records for distribution in April 1968. By the summer it topped both the Billboard R&B and pop charts. It also sold a million copies by May 1968, gaining an RIAA gold disc.[2]

In the beginning of the song, Bell introduces himself and the Drells as being from Houston, Texas. According to the Billboard Book of Number One Hits by Fred Bronson, Bell had heard a comment after the Kennedy assassination in Dallas that "nothing good ever came out of Texas." Bell wanted his listeners to know "we were from Texas and we were good."

Bell continues in the song by stating, "We don't only sing, but we dance just as good as we want." This line is often misheard, and mis-transcribed, as "dance just as good as we walk". Asked to clarify by writer Michael Corcoran, Archie Bell responded, "We dance just as good as we want. Hell, we dance a lot better than we walk."[citation needed]

Although their leader was unavailable, the phenomenal success of the single prompted the band to rush out their first album, which included the songs they had recorded in late 1967 and early 1968 with The Toronadoes.[4][6]

In 1969 the group recorded their first full album with Gamble and Huff, I Can't Stop Dancing, which reached number 28 on the R&B chart.

At the 1968 Olympics, American Olympian Wyomia Tyus was doing a dance waiting at the start line of the 100 meter race in which she became the first person to repeat as Olympic Gold medalist in the event. When interviewed later by Olympic documentarian Bud Greenspan about what she was doing, she credited dancing to this song, a current hit at the time that was being sung and played on bongos by American fans near the start line.[7]


Chart (1968) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 1
U.S. Billboard Hot Rhythm & Blues 1




  • Some believe the melody of the song was performed live many times by the Grateful Dead, because some tapes have it listed as "The Tighten Up Jam". For example, some have cited jam segments in the performances of "Dark Star" and "Dancing in the Street" in late 1969 and 1970, as well as a single performance on October 31, 1971. Despite the similarities, no formal connections have been established.
  • Jamiroquai covered the song on their 1993 "Emergency on Planet Earth" tour several times.


Answer records and parodies[edit]

  • The Philadelphia-based rock group Nazz recorded a parody-of-sorts called "Loosen Up", which appeared on Nazz III.
  • The Indianapolis-based group Billy Ball and the Upsetters recorded "Tighten Up Tighter", with vocalist Roosevelt Matthews mimicking Bell's vocal throughout the song. The original single was released on King Records and would later be reissued on the 2001 compilation The Funky 16 Corners.[10]
  • The 1990 song "Do The Brown Nose" by The Dead Milkmen, from their album Metaphysical Graffiti, is a parody of "Tighten Up", with a similar riff and spoken-word element, where "the brown nose" is not a dance but a synonym for being obsequious.

References in popular culture[edit]

  • "The Pirate and The Penpal" by Lifter Puller contains the line "He told her all about the 'Tighten Up'/ The way they used to dance down in Houston, Texas."
  • In The Simpsons episode "Bart Gets Famous", Homer recounts his experience of being "in a band", followed by a flashback of himself as a teen, playing the song at a streetcorner as a one-man band with a guitar, bass drum, leg cymbals, and a harmonica. He introduces the song as, "Hi everybody, I'm Archie Bell and I'm also the Drells!"
  • In the 2001 Spike Lee film A Huey P. Newton Story, the song is referenced by the title character, played by Roger Guenveur Smith, and even includes a sing-along with the audience.
  • In the 2011 film Hall Pass, a cover band makes an appearance at Jason's Hideaway in a club scene playing the song.
  • In the December, 15, 2015 episode "This is your brain on drugs" of the TV show Limitless the song makes an appearance at the 4 minute mark.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Drells' album with the same name
  2. ^ a b Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 236. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  3. ^ Boone, Mike. "Historical ANalysis - Archie Bell & The Drells". Soul-Patrol Newsletter. Retrieved 30 April 2006.
  4. ^ a b "Atlantic Records Discography: 1967". Jazz Discography Project. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  5. ^ Gray, Chris; Koshkin, Brett (12 December 2007), "The TSU Toronadoes: The twisted history of "Tighten Up"", Houston Press, retrieved 30 October 2011
  6. ^ "Atlantic Records Discography: 1968". Jazz Discography Project. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  7. ^ "Wyomia Tyus: The Famous Pre-Race Dance to Out-Psych Everyone". Speedendurance.com. 2010-06-16. Retrieved 2016-10-02.
  8. ^ "Major Lazer feat. Flux Pavilion's 'Jah No Partial' sample of James Brown's 'Tighten Up'". WhoSampled.com. Retrieved 2016-10-02.
  9. ^ Billboard June 8, 1968 Album Reviews page 42
  10. ^ "Clint Jones Interview/Billy Ball Interview with Jason Yoder". Stones Throw Records. Los Angeles. Retrieved November 20, 2011.