“Tighten Up” was written by Archie Bell and Billy Buttier. 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 music for “Tighten Up” had been developed by the T.S.U. Toronadoes in their live shows before and they brought it to Archie Bell & the Drells at the suggestion of Skipper Lee Frazer, a Houston disk jockey who worked with both groups.
Soon afterwards Bell was drafted into the U.S. Army and began serving in Vietnam. 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.
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.”
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.
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.