Archie Bell & The Drells were a soul group signed to Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff's record label. Gamble and Huff were prolific songwriters, but this song was written by Bell and the group's guitarist, Billy Butler. The song is about a dance, and the title has a double meaning: "Tighten Up" can mean to play music together in tempo or tune, with a psychological element that the band is emotionally engaged in the music. The phrase can also mean moving closer together on the dance floor, or to engage in sexual activity.
At the time of the release of this record Archie Bell was drafted into the US Army and began serving in Vietnam. He was shot in the leg and the song went to #1 while he was in a military hospital trying to convince people the song on the radio was his.
Originally a B-Side, by Archie Bell's return it had sold 4 million copies.
The line, "We dance just as good as we walk" was a little ironic, given that Bell was lying crippled in a hospital bed at the time this was a hit.
Archie Bell & The Drells had another American hit the same year: "I Can't Stop Dancing," which peaked at #9. However they had to wait until 1972 for their first British chart entry, when "Here I Go Again" peaked at #11. Their only other UK Top 20 entry was in 1976 with "Soul City Walk," which reached #13.
James Brown performed this song at some of his live shows - it's one of the few songs he performed but did write. His version can be found on the 1968 album Say It Live And Loud: Live In Dallas.
This was used in the 2007 movie Talk To Me, which is about Washington D.C. radio personality Ralph "Petey" Greene.
Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff explained in a 2008 interview with National Public Radio that along with Bunny Sigler, who was a producer at their record label, they often sang backup on records for their artists, so in the studio, they were "The Drells." They sang on a lot of the Stylistics and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes records as well.