Keith Whitley is proof that one’s musical career doesn’t need to be long to leave a lasting impression on an entire genre. Whitley passed away in 1989 at the young age of 33 from alcohol poisoning, managing to chart 12 hits before his life was cut short, not including the seven hits that he had after his death. Even if you’re not familiar with Keith Whitley by name, you probably know one of his most popular songs, “When You Say Nothing At All.” Alison Krauss and Ronan Keating each recorded their own versions of this song, both having success with it, but it was Whitley who first recorded and charted it in 1988. Since his passing, his songs have been covered by artists such as Alan Jackson, Mark Chesnutt, and Tracy Lawrence, ensuring that his name lives on in country music history.
Although he died the year before I was born, Keith Whitley was a household name for me as a kid because he was my dad’s favorite singer. Whenever I hear “I’m No Stranger to the Rain,” I’m transported back to being eight-years-old and this song is playing on my dad’s stereo. The fact that I’m still listening to him now as a 27-year-old, some 28 years after his death, is a testament to the immortality of Whitley’s music.
Out of the many hits that Whitley had in his short career, my favorite is “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” which was his first number one song from 1988. This song is about a man who’s in love with a woman who’s still not over a past romance. He asks her not to close her eyes “when you love me tonight” because he knows that when she does, she’ll be thinking about this other man. Even though Whitley didn’t write this song, he sings it in such a way that it feels as though he’s speaking from personal experience. When you listen to the words in this song, your heart breaks for this man and his simple request. Keith Whitley’s anthology is full of heartfelt songs like this one and it’s for this reason that he will forever remain a country music legend.
“Don’t close your eyes, let it be me
Don’t pretend it’s him, in some fantasy
Darling just once, let yesterday go
And you’ll find more love than you’ll ever know
Just hold me tight, when you love me tonight
And don’t close your eyes”
Currently listening to: Keith Whitley- “I’m Over You“