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“Hi, everybody, I’m Archie Bell…”

archie-bell-1

Among the select group of great pop singles that last no more than two and a quarter minutes, “Here I Go Again” by Archie Bell and the Drells stands pretty much supreme. From Bobby Eli’s electric sitar opening to the jammed fade, not a single one of its 135 seconds is wasted.

It was written and produced in Philadelphia in 1969 by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, and arranged by Bobby Martin and Thom Bell. The principal musicians will have been Eli and his fellow guitarist Norman Harris, Ronnie Baker on bass guitar, Earl Young on drums and Vince Montana on vibes (or possibly, in this instance, xylophone). I give them special prominence because the heart of the record is not to be found in the vocal verse and chorus but in the little four-bar instrumental interludes that punctuate the song so memorably.

The record starts with a 12-bar intro featuring Eli’s Danelectro Coral electric sitar before going into the 16-bar verse and the eight-bar chorus, all built on an E flat-A flat-B flat sequence and a blithe backbeat with double-time bass guitar fills. That’s followed by the first of the four-bar interludes, in which the rhythmic emphasis changes subtly but significantly, driving deeper into the “one”, anchored by a grunting baritone saxophone; more important, there’s also a radical harmonic shift from the E flat base (by my amateur musical forensics, which someone more expert might well correct) to a G-B-A-D pattern*. The combined effect of the two elements gives an exhilarating lift to this mini-break, somehow heightened by the absence of a solo instrument.

The effect is like suddenly changing the lighting in a room — and then back again, just as suddenly, when the tension is released by a return to the original mode. They run through the 16-8-4 pattern again, and then the chorus is repeated once more before the instrumental section returns and is played three times, with Archie Bell wailing on top this time, to the fade. And then it’s over, quite abruptly, and you want to play it again.

When it came out on a 45 in the US in 1969 it was as the B-side to “A World Without Music”, which failed to make the US Top 1oo. Three years later, however, it was discovered by Northern Soul dancers, who took it into the UK pop charts, where it peaked at No 11. Archie told Blues & Soul magazine that when he was informed of its belated and unexpected success, he had trouble recalling the song.

It’s included in Let’s Groove: The Archie Bell & the Drells Story, a new 2-CD anthology on Big Break Records. The compilers include the obvious hits, beginning with the first from 1967, introduced thus: “Hi, everybody, I’m Archie Bell and the Drells, from Houston, Texas. We don’t only sing, but we dance just as good as we want.  In Houston, we’ve just started a new dance called the Tighten Up. This is the music we Tighten Up with…” That rough but irresistible debut single, “Tighten Up Pt 1”, duly went to No 1 in the pop and R&B charts.

I confess that I never kept the closest watch on their career, and among the 44 tracks are many that are new to me, including “A Soldier’s Prayer 1967”, a ballad in which Archie — who was wounded in Vietnam — sings about the experience of thinking about his family while preparing to go into combat. (This turns out not to be quite true: see the comment below from Blaise Pascal.) There’s also the charming “Archie’s in Love”, written by Philip Mitchell, produced by Brad Shapiro and Dave Crawford, and introduced with a nostalgic snatch of a country waltz before snapping into a hip-swinging 1971 disco beat.

The second disc includes a selection of the dancefloor favourites they recorded for Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International label in the second half of the ’70s, many of them produced by John Whitehead and Gene McFadden. In”Let’s Groove”, “The Soul City Walk”, “Dance Your Troubles Away” and the rest, the textures are smoother, the grooves slinkier, and the instrumental breaks much longer. It’s the generic disco music of its time, washed in the spangled rays of a mirror ball, beautifully executed and captured by a great bunch of session musicians and studio engineers. But nothing, I have to say, beats the magical 135 seconds of “Here I Go Again”.

* It’s quite possible that the speed of the track was altered during mixing or even mastering, and that the respective chord sequences might originally have been E-A-B and A flat-C-B flat-E flat.

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7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Classic use of the electric sitar. The insistent ringing bell was disconcerting though – had me reaching for my mobile phone a couple of times.

    December 29, 2016
  2. Another great piece Mr Williams. But what really caught my attention was “…a new dance called the Tighten Up” – does this explain the title of the wonderful Trojan reggae series I grew up with? Or do both disco dance, and reggae collection title, have a common (slang? patois?) origin? These are important questions that need answers!

    December 29, 2016
  3. WKB #

    Great post. One of the tracks on my soul playlist for those long retiree suburban afternoons dancing behind drawn curtains. Young, Harris and Baker really were the nimblest half-back line in the seventies & eighties. Listen to “This will be a night to remember” by Eddie Holman if you doubt this. My current infatuation, “Drop my heart off at the door” by Barbara Hall, deserves similar analysis from you.

    December 29, 2016
  4. “The sunglasses are off, and he’s smiling. He puts a positive spin on his Army duty. Because of it, early success couldn’t really spoil him. He was across an ocean and living in barracks. Bell talks about being blessed, and it’s hard not to believe him.

    Accounts of him sustaining a war wound are untrue. He injured his leg in a truck accident on the autobahn while stationed in Germany. “Nah, man, I never saw any combat,” he says. “That was an act of God. I had no control over that.”

    His oldest brother did fight in Vietnam. Bell says every member of his first unit eventually spent some time in Vietnam. He never did.

    http://www.chron.com/entertainment/music/article/Archie-Bell-lets-loose-on-his-long-storied-career-1584537.php

    December 30, 2016
  5. Jonathan Spencer #

    You’ll find “A Soldier’s Prayer” on the excellent Kent compilation ‘Does Anybody Know I’m Here? Vietnam Through the Eyes of Black America’ – a startling reminder of the disproportionate impact of the war on African Americans, made all the more poignant in its refraction through contemporary pop culture.

    December 30, 2016
  6. puppylicious28 #

    Happy Holidays Richard

    ‘Liked’ and really enjoyed this article having danced to Archie Bell and the Drells and this song in particular in my long ago youth.

    All best wishes Danielle

    Danielle White Raestar Promotions Tel: +44 (0)7841 675 263 Skype: daniraestar daniraestar@aol.com http://www.daniraestar.com

    >

    December 30, 2016

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