“We Can Never Light That Old Flame Again/Old Funky Rolls” (1982)

“We keep clinging to bits and pieces…”

Diana Ross may have been done with Motown by 1982, but Motown wasn’t quite done with her.  Miss Ross had, of course, left the label after releasing her 1980 smash LP diana, taking a huge deal at RCA Records for several albums and the promise of creative control.  She left Motown while on an incredible hot streak; diana produced the massive hits “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out,” which were followed into the top 10 by the theme song to the film It’s My Turn.  Miss Ross then followed that with another movie theme, “Endless Love,” a duet with Lionel Richie that perched at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for nine weeks and became her biggest single (and Motown’s biggest) ever.  It’s no surprise that RCA would pony up a reported 20-million dollars for her…and it’s also no surprise that Motown would want to keep the winning streak going.

In July of 1982, the label issued Single M1626 — “We Can Never Light That Old Flame Again” backed with “Old Funky Rolls.”  By this time, Diana had already triumphantly returned to the charts with her self-produced RCA debut, Why Do Fools Fall In Love, which featured a pair of strong top 10 hits.  “We Can Never…” was obviously not a new recording; in fact, it had been worked up during the sessions for 1978’s Ross LP.  The song is notable for it’s writing credits; Edward Holland, Jr. and Brian Holland co-wrote it with Mack David, and they are the same Holland brothers that along with Lamont Dozier wrote and produced just about every #1 hit recorded by the Supremes.  Though the Hollands had left Motown after a work shortage in the late 1960s, they cut three songs with Miss Ross in the late 70s (the other two remained in the vaults for years; the Hollands also resumed working with the Scherrie Payne-led Supremes).

It remains unclear why the Holland tracks (as well as some other disco cuts, like the Hal Davis-produced “For Once In My Life”) were shelved; considering half of the Ross LP was made up of previously-released tracks, these songs might as well have been featured instead.  In any case, “We Can Never…” was given a chance in ’82, unfortunately having to compete with the buzz sounding Miss Ross’s second RCA LP, Silk Electric.  The single really didn’t perform at all; it pretty much stayed under the radar and failed to chart.  For fans still agonizing over the Queen’s departure from her home label, it gave one last glimpse at what was; though it’s not an important addition to her discography, it is an interesting look back at Miss Ross’s days of experimenting with disco.

***

We Can Never Light That Old Flame Again:  The era of “We Can Never…” is instantly revealed in the swirling strings, which run up and down major and minor notes in a sort of Wicked-Witch-Of-The-West-meets-disco theme set on top of a ferocious, popping bass.  The choir of background voices that open the song don’t help it sound contemporary, either; while the soaring session singers sound terrific, they’re classic 70s-dancefloor.  Miss Ross doesn’t even show up until nearly 40 seconds into the song, interesting considering the entire reason Motown finally released it was to capitalize on Diana and her golden voice.  Her vocal is interesting here; there’s a sluggish quality to her singing that’s almost at odds with the driving instrumental backing.  The kind of youthful spark that Diana had displayed on the songs of 1977’s Baby It’s Me (especially something like “Top Of The World,” marvelous in its crispness and clarity) is missing here; she sounds more morose and a bit taxed during the first verse and chorus.  Though her vocal matches the sadness of the lyrics (with lines like “…now when we’re makin’ love, we make love just to be polite…”), it sounds distinctly lethargic against such a spirited musical backdrop.  She shows a little more power and force starting around 2:14, with her repetition of “It’s all used up!” and then her reading of the chorus with a few vocal flourishes thrown in for color.  The final minute of the song is the most compelling, as the instumental scales back and gives Diana much more of the spotlight; she ad-libs some lines here in an interesting, syncopated manner, which adds a little variation to the piece…although it does nothing to make it feel like a cohesive, single-ready song.  When the track would be released with a different mix on the 2003 reissue of diana, it would isolate Diana’s voice much more, toning down the instrumental and eliminating the single’s “breakdown” in the final minute.  It results in a slightly less-dated song, but still one that seems a little rough around the edges.  Though Diana Ross turned in some spectacular vocals on dance songs over the years — “The Boss” and “I’m Coming Out” for starters — her work here, and the song itself, just aren’t at that level.

Old Funky Rolls:  This b-side has shown up on a couple of releases over the years; read my review here.

***

While Miss Ross’s newly recorded 1982 single, “Muscles,” was a huge seller and helped her second RCA LP go gold, “We Can Never…” pretty much sank without a trace.  Though Motown would continue to issue Greatest Hits collections, it didn’t bother lifting any other vault tracks for single release.  According to writer J. Randy Taraborrelli, during an interview with Diana, “…I mentioned that Motown was planning to issue some material by her that had previously gone unreleased, possibly to capitalize on her RCA success.  She seemed baffled…When the article was finally published, I sent a copy to Gordy’s office.  Shortly thereafter, I heard that he had cancelled the release of the Motown, which was to be called Revelations.  In the end, it seemed that he didn’t want to do anything to dilute the impact of her RCA recordings” (Diana Ross: A Biography, 342).

In reality, the label probably realized that Diana wasn’t going to help promote this old material, and therefore it had little chance of big success.  There’s also no doubt that the late-70s disco material that would have made up Revelations — including “We Can Never…” — sounded quite dated, especially compared to something as different and modern as “Muscles.”  The good news, of course, is that those who did love “We Can Never…” and Diana’s disco sound can now listen to this and other 70s tracks on various reissues.  And that proves, I suppose, that you really can light that old flame again.

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About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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28 Responses to “We Can Never Light That Old Flame Again/Old Funky Rolls” (1982)

  1. Antje says:

    I remember so well – when I first heard the song on the radio, not announced, I knew it was her. It sounded like a nostalgic flashback and a welcomed ray of light in those (lost) RCA years. I did not even know the name of the song then, looked for it on vinyl/cd for years. I agree, not an outstanding take, but I still like to listen to it. She circles around the arrangement nicely and sounds coherent to the lyrics.

    • Paul says:

      I can imagine you being excited when this came on the radio, saying “thank goodness it’s not an RCA song!” 🙂 I agree, it’s definitely different than what she was doing at RCA, and thus was likely a breath of fresh air for those who were missing her Motown work.

      • Tony says:

        You must be speaking to me ! I really liked hearing her do this song. Did I love the ? Not so much. Cute yes – sort of light and tight for me. Predicable is the word tha t comes to mind. It actually helped me appreciate some of the RCA stuff. Isn’t that funny ? ! I guess I began to crave a more modern sound.

      • Paul says:

        Wait a minute…YOU…appreciate her RCA stuff?!?!?! When did that start?? j/k 😉

  2. Jaap says:

    Great website Paul!

    I really liked We Can Never Light That Old Flame Again when in came out in 1982, although it was “old.” What I didn’t understand though is that they did not put the song on the 12 inch, but put on Old Funky Rolls instead, b/w The Boss.

    http://www.discogs.com/viewimages?release=1064935

    • Paul says:

      Thanks!!! Appreciate you stopping by. That is very weird about OFR being released on a 12 inch single!!!! I have no idea why that would have happened. From what “Spookyelectric” posted below, it looks like that was an international release only — OFR was never released as an A-side in the United States.

  3. Paul I’m a little confused, how would Miss Ross have been allowed to support/promote any release by Motown after her departure to the RCA label, whererever her previous loyalties may have lay?

  4. Interesting you point out the differences between the original single version and later ‘alternate’ version. I’d never played them back to back before – you’re right that later version (apparently it was first remixed for a 1990 Ross compilation) is much better. Some really nice vocal ad-libs at the end that weren’t on the original too. It reduces the more cliched disco elements of the first. That said I really like this track – it’s the best of the 3 Holland brothers disco tunes. Crazy it was never released on ‘Ross’ at the time really.

    In the UK by the way this tune was never released. ‘Ol’ Funky Rolls’ was issued as a Motown a-side around the same time (I think b/w ‘The Boss’) and as Diana was so hot at the time I remember hearing it on the radio a lot. Not surprisingly it wasn’t a hit though – probably cause it sounded like something from another era. I had a vague memory of it being sung by a pop group of the day called Bucks Fizz on a variety show and thanks to the joys of youtube… hey presto!

    • Paul says:

      Oh my goodness…who in the world are Bucks Fizz?!?!?!? Wow…that is so much fun to watch! I swear everything…EVERYTHING…is on YouTube! That is hilarious…the guy in blue kind of looks like Wham-era George Michael!

      I’m surprised to hear OFR got radio play overseas…it really shows how hot Diana was that even such an unusual song could garner airplay.

      • Strange but true! Believe me, you don’t need to know who Bucks Fizz were! They entered the Eurovision Song Contest for UK in the early 80s (the thing that first brought Abba to international attention in the early 70s) and went on to have loads of hits all thru that decade. Fun disposable pop really (though I’m sure there are some that would disagree). This would have been pre-Wham but I agree that hair is very George circa A Different Corner!

      • Paul says:

        Wow. I have never, ever heard of Bucks Fizz. This is hilarious. I guess they never managed to “cross the pond!” We Americans have some very, very dirty secrets in our pop closet, too 🙂

      • I need to admit something Paul & Spooky;

        My Name is Julius Maloney and my first 45″ purchase was Bucks Fizz ‘The Camera Never Lies”.

        I apologize to anyone I may have hurt in the making of this announcement.

      • Paul says:

        THIS IS FANTASTIC!!!

    • Tony says:

      Omgtfa! (Oh my gosh too flipped amazing). Thank you ,

  5. Thanks for that Julius. I appreciate how hard that was. Think of it as a first step of a journey. It only gets easier from now on.

  6. Jaap says:

    As far as I know, “Old Funky Rolls” was only released as the A-side of the 12-inch single, not the 7-inch single. On all European 7-inch singles “We Can Never Light That Old Flame Again” is the A-side, with “Old Funky Rolls” on the B-side. The French pressing is the one Paul has used as illustration (with the “inedits / never released” line); the German pressing has a different illustration and the blurb “brandneu!” which of course was not true, as it was on old song.
    http://www.floood.de/flea/popup_image.php?pID=851&imgID=0

    I don’t know what the American picture sleeve looks like, only the promo one:
    http://www.discogs.com/viewimages?release=1561731

    • Paul says:

      Was there an American picture sleeve? I’ve never found one if there is. I do love the “brand-new” billing…considering the song had been recorded in the mid-70s!

  7. In the UK ‘Funky’ was a 7″ A-side backed with ‘The Boss’ – sadly no picture sleeve. Think there was a 12″ version as well (same as 7″ but backed with the extended version of ‘The Boss’). It was widely available at the time but it’s harder to find now I think that the 12″ which I guess was a European-wide release from what you say.

    ‘Flame’ didn’t get a UK release at the time. Strange decision I think – to me, it had a lot more hit potential than ‘Ol’ Funky Rolls’!

    • wayne2710 says:

      Totally agree Spooky, although there is something cute and camp about Old Funky Rolls, I could never understand why we here in Britain never got Flame as a release, it would have made a lot more sense as a single release and could have hit the charts.

  8. spookyelectric says:

    I wonder if ‘Flame’ or even ‘Funky Rolls’ had properly taken off in one territory or the other Gordy would have still cancelled the aborted ‘Revelations’ album. After all, Motown happily released or licensed tracks for compilation after compilation during this commercial hot spell (‘Diana’s Duets’, ‘Anthology’ etc).

    Interestingly, the forthcoming ‘Revelations’ album isn’t plugged on the label of this single as far as I know (certainly not on the UK ‘Funky Rolls’ 7″) which suggests to me Motown were testing the water slightly before committing to the project.

    As far as I know ‘Revelations’ wasn’t planned to be all unreleased material – it also included some previously released stuff given a 1982 remix to sound a little more contemporary (similar to what they did with MJ’s ‘Farewell My Summer Love’ album in this post-Thriller height).

    The track list I know would have included new remixed versions of…
    1 We Can Never Light That Old Flame Again
    3 Come Together
    4 Fire Don’t Burn
    5 Sweet Summertime Livin’

    and I guess ‘Ol’ Funky Rolls’ and ‘You Build Me Up..’ but not sure

    Anyone else have any info?

    • Paul says:

      Spooky — I definitely think the album would have been released had “Flame” been a hit in the United States. Though Taraborrelli in his book makes the cancellation of the LP seem like a sentimental move by Gordy, I think money was always the bottom line when it came to Motown’s business — had there been a chance to have another hit album on Diana, I think the label would have jumped at it.

      I can’t say for sure, but I imagine “For Once In My Life” would also have been slated for that release, as would perhaps “Share Some Love” (the ballad which later ended up on the “To Love Again” CD).

      • spookyelectric says:

        That would make sense. I wonder if there were any other previously released tracks like Come Together that were remixed for it?

  9. Pingback: Record Store Wednesdays: “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” Cassette | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

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