“Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You”
Written by Hugh Moffatt and Pebe Sebert
#1 (1 week)
September 27, 1980
After borrowing from the songwriting catalog of disco legend and fellow future Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Donna Summer, Dolly Parton scored a second No. 1 hit from her Dolly, Dolly, Dolly album with a cover of a hit country single from just two years earlier.
Joe Simon went top fifteen in 1978 with “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You.” Dolly Parton’s husband, Carl Dean, liked to bounce around the radio dial, and he heard it on the local country station. He loved the song enough to suggest that his wife record it, and given how rarely he embraced a country song, she took his advice.
“Old Flames” counters the prevailing narrative of where Parton was musically at the time. It’s as simple a country record as anything she recorded before she went Hollywood. The sparse arrangement puts all of the burden on Parton’s performance, and she gives a beautiful, restrained reading of the lyric. The lonesome steel guitar provides a warm accompaniment to her flawless vocal. Also of note are the gorgeous harmony vocals from Parton’s brother Randy and Herb Pedersen, who later joined the Desert Rose Band.
Parton’s version was later followed by more notable covers of the song, most recently from pop star Kesha, who is the daughter of co-writer Pebe Sebert.
Parton followed “Old Flames” with the title track from her next album and first feature film. We’ll cover that in early 1981.
“Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You” gets an A.
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