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Ring My Bell - Anita Ward
Anita Ward was born in Memphis, the eldest of five children. She was always interested in music, and while still a student, sang with the Rust College A Cappella Choir on an album with Metropolitan Opera star Leontyne Price. Later, she put out another album with her own gospel quartet.
After graduation, Anita got a job as a substitute teacher in Memphis elementary schools. It was all right, but she longed for a show biz career. Finally, through her manager, she met singer-songwriter Frederick Knight. He knew what it was like to have a hit record; "I've Been Lonely for So Long" had made the Top 30 for him in the summer of 1972.
Frederick agreed to help Anita by producing the three-song session with her. Shortly after recording began, though, he became "so impressed by her ability, that we went out and completed an entire LP. Out of that," said Frederick, "came 'Ring My Bell.'"
Actually, that song was not intended to be on the album. Basic tracks were completed, but after they were played back, everyone agreed that the album needed one more up-tempo tune. Frederick went home, and the next day returned with "Ring My Bell." Anita had a few doubts about the song, but wound up cutting it anyway.
The original "Ring My Bell" was written for eleven-year-old Stacy Lattisaw, whom Frederick had hoped to sign to his production company. "It was then a teenybopper song, about kids talking on the telephone. It was conceived strictly for Stacy, because I believe a kid that young needs a special piece of material. 'Ring My Bell' was something real special, and unique." However, Stacy signed with Henry Allen and Cotillion Records.
"I had to rewrite 'Ring My Bell' when Anita did it," explained Frederick. "The title was so catchy I kept that, but changed the lyrics. They kind of suggest that we play around, but I let the people make up their own meanings.
"I played keyboards and all the percussion parts on the record, including the syn-drum, which stands for 'synthesized drums.' It was one of the first tunes to feature the effect of syn-drums. I also arranged the background vocals with two girls, Valerie Williams and Cheryl Bundy. As a singer myself, that part was pretty easy, since my roots are in barbershop harmony.
"That entire record came together very quickly. In fact, I remember how long the whole production took us -- two days."
It didn't take much longer than that for "Ring My Bell" to start ringing the chimes of radio stations all across the country. After breaking in mid-May, it bounded to the top of the charts in June 1979, and remained a strong seller all summer and into the fall. In total, the song kept ringing for an impressive five months.
"Ring My Bell" as an insidiously infectious record, and a far cry from the gospel Anita had been singing just eighteen months before. It was also an immense disco hit, which surprised Anita, who had never even been to a disco before her first promotional tour.
"Anita is a very clean-cut person," said Frederick. "And we tried to build a respectable image for her. The lyrics of 'Ring My Bell' didn't hurt her. They speak of an everyday situation -- something you'd never be ashamed of in front of the kids."
In the summer of 1979 when "Ring My Bell" reached number one, the Billboard pop chart had a definite distaff slant (see sidebar). Donna Summer had the number two and three singles in the nation ("Hot Stuff," "Bad Girls"), followed by Sister Sledge's "We Are Family," with Rickie Lee Jones' "Chuck E's in Love" at number five. But Anita would never accompany Summer and the others to the top again, with "Don't Drop My Love," her only other charting single, peaking at only number 87 in December later that same year.