We celebrate the 40th anniversary of the No. 1 disco hit “Ring My Bell,” Anita Ward’s pair of 1979 albums, and discuss the upcoming 2020 Ultimate Disco Cruise with Anita, The Jacksons, Sister Sledge, Maxine Nightingale and many more acts.
By Warren Kurtz
GOLDMINE:Congratulations on the 40th anniversary of “Ring My Bell,” which I know fans will love hearing from you on the 2020 Ultimate Disco Cruise in mid-February.
ANITA WARD: “Ring My Bell” was written by Frederick Knight, who is also a singer, and had a Top 40 hit on the Stax label, here in Memphis, in 1972 with “I’ve Been Lonely for So Long.” I hadn’t gotten in with the Memphis clique. By the time I was in college, Stax had folded and I got started in Jackson, Mississippi. I went to Rust College in Mississippi. I met my manager, Chuck Holmes there when I was auditioning for the the musical play Godspell. He asked me if I would be interested in becoming a recording artist. I was in the choir, which was quite famous, which is the reason why I went to that school. My high school teacher told me that I needed to get to Rust College and that it would be a great thing for me and little did I know that she was absolutely correct. The school was also big into classical music and had recorded with Leontyne Price. Chuck took me to the studio. I was singing all the time with the choir, the female gospel group, and in the studio, trying to get songs ready for me for a demo of a few songs to shop to the producers. Frederick had an independent label at that time called Juana, and that is who we ended up hooking up with, with Juana distributed by T.K. Productions, who were extremely successful in the disco market. Thank God for T.K., as they were able to get the records out there. Ironically that song came out one year after I graduated from college.
GM:I finished college a half-year after you and heard “Ring My Bell” a half-year after that. I loved it! As radio play picked up, did you do any television support of the song?
AW: Yes. As a matter of fact I had started doing substitute teaching while we were waiting to see if the music was going to take off. I didn’t have to wait very long. I subbed for four months and then the song went gold after two weeks. My manager called and said they wanted me to do “The Midnight Special” with Wolfman Jack. They flew in a dancer and others, including a guy from New York to vigorously work with me, showing me how to dance with parts of my body I didn’t even know I had. Tuesday morning we taped the show to be aired that weekend. Then I did “The Merv Griffin Show” and more television appearances, including a music awards show which was my favorite. Then I went overseas to support the record as it did very well there too. I received an award from the United Kingdom for sales that happened there. I was in England a lot and The Netherlands, too. I traveled extensively because of that record. There was no rest and it was real nice.
GM:At that time, my girlfriend Donna was a preschool teacher where the kids would sing another song on the radio, Peaches & Herb’s “Reunited.” Then “Ring My Bell” reached the No. 1 spot, and speaking of rings, I proposed to Donna while you held the top spot, so “Ring My Bell” has special meaning to me. We celebrate our 40th anniversary at the end of the year.
AW: Congratulations on your anniversary. 40 years! That has to really mean a lot to you and your wife as well.
GM:It certainly does. Thank you. Also in the Top 40 at the same time were Sister Sledge with “We are Family,” Maxine Nightingale with “Lead Me On,” and The Jacksons with “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground),” all of who will be on the 2020 Ultimate Disco Cruise with you in February.
AW: I haven’t worked with The Jacksons before, so that will be nice. I had worked with Sister Sledge and Maxine before and it will be great being with them again, too. I was on a cruise tour about two to three years ago and Tito Jackson was also on that tour, performing alone.
GM:After “Ring My Bell” ended its two week run at No. 1, Donna Summer, who is sadly no longer with us, was back in the top spot with “Bad Girls.”
AW: That is one of the cover songs that I will do in my set on the cruise as people may not be familiar with some of my music, so I try to do songs that were No. 1 hits that people really know. I will also perform Tina Turner’s “What’ Love Got to Do With It.” Of course, “Ring My Bell” is always the last song.
GM:I have been playing your pair of 1979 albums and have been enjoying them so much for their 40th anniversary. These recordings still sound great.
AW: That is wonderful, after all this time. James Griffin, not to be confused with the musician of the same name from the group Bread, was the studio engineer at Malaco Sound Studios in Jackson, Mississippi for my 1979 albums.
GM:The first album, Songs of Love, includes the flip side of “Ring My Bell” called “If I Could Feel That Old Loving Feeling Again,” written by David Camon, which is so pretty. With your vocal and piano backdrop from Carson Whitsett, it reminds me of one of my favorite Anne Murray songs from that late 1970s era, “I Just Fall in Love Again.”
AW: Oh, that is one of my favorites as well. That is such a beautiful song and comparing my song to Anne Murray’s song is a nice compliment. Thank you. I always loved ballads and the audiences also like that song.
Flip side: If I Could Feel That Old Feeling Again
A side: Ring My Bell
Top 100 debut: May 12, 1979
Peak Position No. 1
GM:“There’s No Doubt About It” is another song from the album that I thought could have been a potential hit.
AW: You really have been doing your homework. Absolutely. That is a very nice song.
GM:Your Songs of Love album ends with a dramatic closer called “You Lied” that you co-wrote and sounds like a Leiber and Stoller-type classic composition.
AW: Chuck Holmes and I wrote that with Jimmy Lowe who was a dear friend of ours. He had an RV camper that you ride in with the kitchen inside and we wrote that together there.
GM:Your next album in 1979 was Sweet Surrender, and my favorite of the album’s three singles, is “Can’t Nobody Love Me Like You Do,” reminding me of McFadden and Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” which was another song in the Top 40 with you at the time of “Ring My Bell.” It is a catchy, mild disco song that goes on for seven minutes.
AW: Ha ha. You like that? That is a very good song to do in concerts. People enjoy it. We were on tour with McFadden and Whitehead and they were a great team.
GM:Our daughter Brianna loves Broadway and the song before “Can’t Nobody Love Me Like You Do,” sounds to me like it would be ideal for musical theater, “Caught Between a Good Thing and Goodbye,” like a song she would introduce me to.
AW: Oh yes, that song is gorgeous.
GM:Also on your second album is a pair of “forever” songs on the second side that I enjoy, “Forever Green” and “Forever Love You More.”
AW: Oh yes. Unfortunately we may not have had the money to really push those songs, but I think with each recording, the songs got better, but that’s the way life goes. “Forever Green” is a very beautiful song.
GM:We talked about covers earlier that you will be doing on the cruise. That album’s second side has you performing two covers that I love, beginning with Paul Davis’ “I Go Crazy.” While he didn’t make it to No. 1 like you did with “Ring My Bell,” his “I Go Crazy” single had one of the longest runs in the Top 40 in the 1970s at 25 weeks.
AW: And even so, I was unfamilar with that song at the time, until my producer shared it with me and I loved it.
GM:The album ends with a song that was on the first prerecorded cassette tape I ever bought, Cream of the Crop, by Diana Ross and The Supremes with the hit single “Someday We’ll Be Together,” which you cover beautifully without the male vocal pre-rap exchange. Your voice on this song and some of the others certainly reminds me of Diana Ross’ timbre.
AW: Thank you so much. As a matter of fact, I expect to do that No. 1 song as well in the show and usually when I do it, I get a very good response. “Someday We’ll Be Together” is such a great song and unless you can’t carry a tune in a bucket, the audience will accept it really well. I just love doing that one and I use my high soprano tricks. When I am not singing, my intention is to greet and meet people on the cruise. Last time I just went to the room. The ship is so large and my sense of direction is just awful. Thank God for GPS, which is my favorite feature in my car. On the ship you could really get lost, but it is such a wonderful opportunity that I intend to spend more time, getting out there and mix and mingle. In the meantime I have a New Year’s Eve show to do in the Los Angeles area. Thank you so much for your interest in my music and sharing this 40th anniversary celebration with me.
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, writing the In Memoriam and Fabulous Flip Sides series. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.