Keith Whitley crammed a lot into his short life. In the less than four years between the release of his freshman record, L.A. to Miami, and his untimely death in 1989 from alcohol poisoning, Whitley managed to release two albums, an EP and 12 singles. Two more studio albums and several additional singles followed after he passed away.
Whitley's rich musical legacy makes us wonder what kind of impact he would have made on country music had he lived longer; still, what he did create during his abbreviated time in the genre is extraordinary.
Below, The Boot counts down our picks for 10 of Whitley's most memorable hits.
"Homecoming '63"From: 'L.A. to Miami' (1985)
Written by Dean Dillon and Royce Porter, this Top 10 song features slightly risque lyrics that tell the story of a high school couple who went to a dance first, followed by some "backseat lovin'" later. The success of the song was undoubtedly due, at least in part, to its sexy music video, which featured the just-married Whitley and Lorrie Morgan.
"Hard Livin'"From: 'L.A. to Miami' (1985)
Written by David Halley, this song could have been written by Whitley. In part, its lyrics say, "Well, give me some more high-octane juice / You know there ain't no cure for these honky-tonk blues / And if they come up with somethin', I'll develop an immunity / But I wish hard livin' didn't come easy for me" -- a brief glimpse into Whitley's struggle with alcohol.
"Some Old Side Road"From: 'Don't Close Your Eyes' (1988)
Roger D. Ferris wrote "Some Old Side Road," which was the second single from Whitley's sophomore record. The song describes the lengths to which its narrator will go to get to his girlfriend, including "a high road, low road, some old side road" and "jet plane, fast train, bus in a hard rain, any ol' way you please," and became Whitley's first Top 20 hit from Don't Close Your Eyes.
"Ten Feet Away"From: 'L.A. to Miami' (1985)
"Ten Feet Away," written by Billy Sherrill, Troy Seals and Max D. Barnes, tells the story of a romance that developed at two separate tables in a restaurant, "10 feet away." Whitley sings, "It was love 10 feet away. / Imagine her in my arms, with that look on her face / Lying somewhere in some shadowy place / It was love just 10 feet away," and the song became his first Top 10 hit.
"I Wonder Do You Think of Me"From: 'I Wonder Do You Think of Me' (1989)
Sanger D. Shafer wrote "I Wonder Do You Think of Me," which was Whitley's first posthumous single, and his fourth consecutive No. 1 hit. The singer recorded the song shortly before his death, and its lyrics foreshadow how his friends and family likely felt after his death: "If you drive around / Back in our old hometown / I wonder, do you think of me? / When you drive by a school / Do you remember two fools? / I wonder, do you think of me?"
"Brotherly Love"From: 'Kentucky Bluebird' (1991)
Jimmy Stewart and Tim Nichols wrote "Brotherly Love," which appears on Whitley's first posthumous album. The song, recorded as a duet with Earl Thomas Conley, became Whitley's final Top 10 hit. Other artists who have recorded "Brotherly Love" include Moe Bandy and Billy Dean.
"I'm No Stranger to the Rain"From: 'Don't Close Your Eyes' (1988)
"I'm No Stranger to the Rain," written by Sonny Curtis and Ron Hellard, was the final song that Whitley released before he passed away. It stayed at No. 1 for two weeks, claiming the top spot less than a month before his death.
"I was completely blown away," Hellard recalls to the Tennessean of the first time he heard Whitley's version of the song. "I didn't know the song could be sold like he sold it. I was elated. It was one of the best cuts I ever had in my life."
"Don't Close Your Eyes"From: 'Don't Close Your Eyes' (1988)
"Don't Close Your Eyes," written by Bob McDill, not only became a No. 1 hit for Whitley, but was also the No. 1 country song of the year on Billboard charts. The narrator of the tune laments that the person he is with wishes he was someone else: "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."
"'Til a Tear Becomes a Rose"From: 'Greatest Hits' (1990)
"'Til a Tear Becomes a Rose" was recorded as a duet between Whitley and Morgan. Released a little over a year after Whitley's death, the song says in part, "Darling, I can see the clouds around you / And in your heart, I know a sorrow grows / But if you weep, I'll be right there to hold you / 'Til each tear you cry becomes a rose" -- lyrics made even more poignant by Whitley's passing.
The only single from Whitley's Greatest Hits album, "'Til a Tear Becomes a Rose" was written by Leon Everette. The song was nominated for Best Country Collaboration With Vocals at the Grammy Awards, and earned Whitley and Morgan a CMA for Vocal Event of the Year.
"When You Say Nothing at All"From: 'Don't Close Your Eyes' (1988)
Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz wrote "When You Say Nothing at All," which stayed at No. 1 for two weeks. Although the song's writers weren't initially convinced that "When You Say Nothing at All" was a hit, Whitley -- who had previously passed on "Nobody in His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her," which became a hit for George Strait, and "On the Other Hand," a No. 1 single for Randy Travis written by Overstreet and Schlitz -- was determined to not let anyone else record "When You Say Nothing at All."
"After I let those two get away, we had a runnin’ joke that Don and Paul wanted me to record another one of their songs, and get the first crack at a single on it," Whitley said. "So when I heard “When You Say Nothing at All,” I wasn’t about to let that one slip through my fingers."