Ring My Bell Original
Who can forget Collette and her bike pants? Well, a lot of people, I suppose. But her version of “Ring My Bell” came out when I was 14 so it will be forever part of my teenage memories, as perplexing as I found the bike pants. At the time, I didn’t realise that in 1979 Anita Ward performed the “Ring My Bell” original version. I guess this is because of the age I was when Collette’s version came out. Is that as bad as thinking Gwyneth Paltrow performed the original “Bette Davis Eyes“?
There were quite a few covers of “Ring My Bell”. In Australia and New Zealand, at least, Collette’s would be the most well-known version. However, a fantastic dub version by Blood Sisters came out the same year as Ward’s version. Also, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince released a rap version in 1991.
Writing & Recording the Ring My Bell Original
In 1979, American R&B singer, songwriter and record producer Frederick Knight wrote “Ring My Bell”. He wrote it for then eleven-year-old American R&B singer Stacy Lattisaw. It was intended to be a teenybopper song about kids talking on the telephone to their friends.
Lattisaw moved to a different label, so Knight rewrote “Ring My Bell” with more grown-up lyrics and asked Memphis gospel singer Ward to record the song. She didn’t like “Ring My Bell” and had concerns about being a one-hit wonder who jumped on the disco bandwagon. Knight, however, insisted that a dance track was just the thing to bolster Ward’s second album, Songs of Love. And so Ward relented.
Chimes & Synthesized Drums
“Ring My Bell” features chimes and a synthesized drum, playing a high-pitched tom tone on the first beat of every bar. It was hard work to create this innovative sound – the result of three studios, four engineers, three remixers and Knight’s production. Knight also provided backing vocals and Grammy-nominated arranger/composer Carl Marsh contributed to the synthesizer work.
Several disco songs copied the synthesized drum sound of “Ring My Bell”. “Ring My Bell” is a very disco song. I think the chimes add a nice touch with their link to bells plus they just sound good. Ward sings well, particularly when she hits the high notes. This is a great-sounding song all round.
Success of the Original
The “Ring My Bell” original went to number one on the disco charts, Billboard Top 100, soul singles charts and the UK and Canadian charts. It earned Ward a nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance at the 1980 Grammy Awards, although Dionne Warwick won with “Déjà Vu”.
Ward didn’t even realise “Ring My Bell” was being played on the radio, let alone going gold. She was working as a substitute school teacher when the song hit the charts. Ward almost turned down an invitation to appear on late-night music television show, The Midnight Special, because she had a class to teach the next morning.
Some saw the “Ring My Bell” lyrics as sexually suggestive. The phrase means to give someone a call, which makes sense considering back in the day telephones had actual bells. But “ring my bell” can also mean getting “down and dirty” in the bedroom. Billboard magazine listed the song in their top 50 sexiest songs of all time. However, Knight said that although he rewrote the “Ring My Bell” lyrics to suit an adult singer rather than eleven-year-old Lattisaw, he avoided overly suggestive lyrics, wanting to preserve Ward’s clean-cut image. Ward herself has always denied any sexual connotations in the song.
I’ve had people ask me many times, ‘What does that song really mean?’ And I said, ‘Whatever you want it to mean.’ But it was just a simple love song. Totally innocent.”Anita Ward, 2018 interview with Memphis Downtowner Magazine
A combination of contractual disputes with Knight, a serious car accident and the fading appeal of disco slowed down Ward’s music career. Her concern about being a “one-hit wonder” was unfortunately realised.
Ward didn’t know that she was owned royalties from “Ring My Bell” until it was used for a Burger King (aka Hungry Jack’s in Australia) commercial in the 1990s. Knight sold the song to Malaco Records, who licensed it to Burger King. Malaco didn’t pay Ward her royalties because they thought she’d died! Luckily this got sorted and Ward was paid what she was owed.
Blood Sisters Version
In 1979, the same year Ward’s version of “Ring My Bell” was released, UK band Blood Sisters released a reggae disco version of the song. This is a fantastic mix and is actually my favourite version of “Ring My Bell”.
The most famous cover of “Ring My Bell” (if you’re an Antipodean) is by New Zealand-born, Australian pop singer Collette Roberts (usually known as Collette).
In 1988, Collette teamed up with Australian film and television composer Guy Gross. They co-wrote songs and recorded demos for her proposed solo music career. They presented the tracks to Tony Briggs from CBS Records Australia. Briggs gave Collette a list of four songs and asked her to record a demo. One of the songs was “Ring My Bell” which Collette recorded. She was subsequently signed to CBS.
Collette worked with producers Peewee Ferris and Kirke Godfrey to record a new version of “Ring My Bell”. In 1989, the song was released as her debut single from the album Raze the Roof. To promote the single, Collette performed in fluorescent lycra bike pants, bras and braces.
Collette’s “Ring My Bell” reached number 5 on the ARIA Charts and was certified gold. Raze the Roof featured two other top 40 Australian hits in 1989 – “All I Wanna Do Is Dance” and “That’s What I Like About You”.
What Else Did Collette Do?
In the 90s, Collette adopted the more serious image of short hair and black clothes with the release of her second album, 1991’s Attitude. Unfortunately it yielded limited commercial success. Collette played Isabelle Britton briefly on Australian soap opera Home and Away that same year. In 1995, she retired from the music industry to focus on her work as a stylist and makeup artist. However, she occasionally performs “Ring My Bell” at Pride events, dressed in her lycra finery.
Collette’s version of “Ring My Bell” sees a shift from disco to 80s pop. There’s a decidedly Stock Aitken Waterman sound to the song. This makes sense seeing at the time all young female pop musicians were encouraged to jump on the Kylie Minogue bandwagon. Collette doesn’t have Ward’s voice and it sounds like her vocals had some mixing help. But she’s fresh faced and energetic, although I never saw the point of the bike pants.
It seems like Collette got a bit typecast. It would have been cool to see what else she came up with. She retired from music at a young age and most of her songs, written by herself or covers, were commercial pop. But I think she would have created some interesting material at some point.