Every No. 1 Country Single of the Eighties: Alabama, “Old Flame”

“Old Flame”

Alabama

Written by Donny Lowery and Mac McAnally 

Radio & Records

#1 (3 weeks)

March 27 – April 10, 1981

Billboard

#1 (1 week)

April 18, 1981

“Tennessee River” and “Why Lady Why” may have kicked off Alabama’s string of 21 consecutive No. 1 hits, but it was “Old Flame” that signaled the arrival of their superstar era.

“Old Flame” serves as the lead single to their first full-fledged studio album for RCA, Feels So Right, which would eventually sell over four million copies.  While the next two singles would be significant crossover hits, “Old Flame” only impacted on the country charts, which is understandable, given it is one of their more traditional country recordings.

Okay, it’s not that traditional, but it’s a simple ballad performed with the delicacy that the lyric warrants.  It’s very hard to go wrong with a solid Mac McAnally song, and the Alabama boys do just fine with it.  They’re still honing their signature sound, and the harmonies aren’t as distinctive as they are on later efforts.  But that works in the favor of “Old Flame,” which is really an internal monologue presented as a conversation.

It’s a perspective on a relationship that isn’t explored very often, even though last year’s “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You” would work perfectly as a response record. Perhaps “Old Flame” can be its unofficial prequel, since it captures so well the uncertainty of a man doubting he can measure up to his predecessor in his lover’s heart:  “Now that old flame might not be stronger, but it’s been burnin’ longer than any spark I might have started in your eyes.”

Superstar careers can be sustained with mediocre records but they’re very rarely launched with them.  “Old Flame” is the first in a string of classic singles that will make clear why this band broke out on such a massive scale in the early eighties.

“Old Flame” gets a B+.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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3 Comments

  1. I think what makes this song work so well is its simplicity. It doesn’t try to be something it isn’t, and the production is clean and feels less dated than a lot of Alabama’s work. One of the few Alabama songs I still go back to.

    4
  2. As good as this single sounds, I know Alabama well enough to expect disappointment soon, just dancing like a yo-yo when they pull that string!

  3. I’m not a huge Alabama fan. Radio played them ad nauseum where I lived. But 1981 was the best year for them IMO.

    Old Flame is my favorite Alabama song. I just connected with it. Beautiful lyrics, nice production, nice vocals. Definitely one of their best songs.

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  1. ≫ Alabama, “vieja llama” – Country Universe

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