On May 9th, 1989, Keith Whitley died from alcohol poisoning. He was only 33. During his tragically short life, Whitley had a way with a heartbreak ballad, whether it was with hits like "I'm Over You" and "I Wonder Do You Think of Me," or deeper cuts such as his masterful take on Lefty Frizzell's "I Never Go Around Mirrors." But there was another side to the Kentucky native — one that excelled at love songs. From his ode to wife Lorrie Morgan to the song that became his signature, here are 10 of Whitley's most romantic performances.
When Whitley's Greatest Hits album was released in 1990, this demo recording instantly struck a chord with fans everywhere. His death brought an untimely end to one of country music's great love stories — he'd married fellow country singer Lorrie Morgan in 1986 — but the emotional lyrics of this song helped to keep those memories alive. The spare ballad featured just Whitley and his guitar, and the lyrics matched the simple nature of the song, which paid tribute to the love he left behind.
This was the song that broke Whitley's career. With producer Blake Mevis behind the board, "Miami, My Amy" was a very contemporary arrangement, but his traditional vocals, pleading for a chance amidst a budding romance, proved too much for fans to resist in the spring months of 1986. Though the song's sound differed greatly from his later hits on RCA, the singer served notice to the industry that a star was on the rise — and indeed, it was. It still is one of the most-covered songs in the Whitley catalog, with newcomer Mo Pitney delivering one of the more solid versions.
What was to be the first single from Whitley's second album — before he started over with what would become Don't Close Your Eyes — "Would These Arms Be in Your Way" barely caught fire at radio, making a brief appearance in the Top 40 in 1987. Still, the singer couldn't deny the dramatic nature of the powerful song, choosing to include it on the revised and rerecorded album. The old saying about only being as good as those around you proved true, as well — Vern Gosdin and Emmylou Harris provided harmony vocals, joining Whitley live in the studio to record their parts.
By 1995, RCA was literally trying to find anything with Whitley's voice on it that hadn't been released. They found a golden nugget with this song about a small-town radio disc jockey who was infatuated with one of his listeners. Whitley co-wrote "Wherever You Are Tonight," providing a personal touch that kept the vibe from veering toward weird-stalker territory — instead, it's informed by respect and admiration. For those who have loved someone from a distance, the lyrics of this one will resonate.
The very first RCA single from Whitley, this performance put his name on the country map for a few reasons. First, the lyrics about a man who has not always fared well in relationships but is ready to try again, were heartstring tuggers. And having background vocals from red-hot country queen Reba McEntire meant radio programmers immediately paid attention. The song, from his 1984 EP A Hard Act to Follow, was a sign that the label had made the right call in signing the vocalist. Though "Turn Me to Love" only made a minor dent on the singles chart, it illustrated the promise of a talent who would have influence on the format long past his living years.
One of Whitley’s first Top 10 hits, this 1987 release is as promiscuous as it is romantic. He waxes poetic on both the pride he felt walking into his homecoming dance with a hot date on his arm and the hot encounter they later had in the back seat of his car. The song was made all the memorable by its video, which starred the just-married Whitley and Morgan dancing around the high school gym floor at their class reunion. Fans of the format who have always loved a real-life love story — from A.P. and Sara Carter all the way to Blake and Miranda — fell in love with the song from the start.
One of a handful of posthumous hits in Whitley's catalog, this song was included on 1991's Kentucky Bluebird, a collection of unreleased tracks and interview footage. "Somebody's Doin' Me Right" was one of the more recent recordings on the album, which included performances dating back to when the singer was just eight years old. Written by Fred Knoblock, Paul Overstreet and Dan Tyler, the tune — about how the right person can wash away memories of all the wrong ones — was also recorded by Glen Campbell in '91.
After tying the knot in November of 1986, Keith Whitley and Lorrie Morgan were often asked when they would record a duet. Sadly, fate stepped in when Whitley died from alcohol poisoning in May of 1989. However, the couple did lay tracks for a few songs together. The first, this heartfelt love ballad, was the single from his 1990 Greatest Hits album, and became a CMA Award-winning performance. Listeners flocked toward the song as they mourned over Whitley's untimely passing — and the fact that the next great traditional-based husband-wife duo was through, just as they were beginning.
Though Whitley’s name frequently appeared on many lists as one of the top newcomers of the format in 1986 and ’87, he had yet to fully hit his stride. Even after recording the follow-up to his debut, L.A. to Miami, he still wasn’t confident that he had recorded the album that would take him to the next level. In an unconventional move, his label allowed the singer to scrap the record and start over. This time, Whitley struck gold with a more traditional approach, thanks in large part to the success of the Bob McDill title track. “Don’t Close Your Eyes” spoke of a man yearning for his lover to lay aside the memories of a former romance, and he sold it with the right amount of sensitivity, vulnerability and confidence. The song climbed the charts in a hurry — earning him his first Number One.
Sometimes a lyric is so obvious that you wonder why it took someone so long to write it. That could very well describe Whitley’s second Number One hit, a Paul Overstreet/Don Schlitz composition that helped skyrocket the vocalist’s status in Nashville. The entire composition was strong, but the hook proved to be its selling point. The straight-ahead love song would also provide Alison Krauss with her commercial breakthrough in 1995. Some stations actually played a mix featuring both Whitley’s original version and Krauss’ cover, escalating its romance.