“It Ain’t Nothin'”
Written by Tony Haselden
#1 (1 week)
January 13, 1990
Radio & Records
#1 (2 weeks)
December 22 – December 29, 1989
Keith Whitley’s fifth consecutive No. 1 single came posthumously, as the turn of the decade left one of the most promising talents of his generation behind.
The Road to No. 1
Only a year earlier, Keith Whitley seemed to be on top of the world. With a long performing career that dated back to the early seventies, Whitley took his time breaking through in mainstream country music. Whitley worked on the road with Ralph Stanley and J.D. Crowe & the New South in the seventies, before moving to Nashville in the early eighties. After signing with RCA, he released an EP in 1984, followed by his debut album, L.A. to Miami, which featured his breakthrough hit, “Miami, My Amy.”
While touring to support the album, he fell in love with future second generation country star Lorrie Morgan. They married in 1986 and had a son together in 1987. Whitley achieved stardom with his second album, Don’t Close Your Eyes, which featured three consecutive No. 1 hits in 1988: “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” “When You Say Nothing at All,” and “I’m No Stranger to the Rain.”
Shortly after completing recording sessions for his third studio set, I Wonder Do You Think of Me, Whitley was found dead in Nashville from an alcohol overdose. The death sent shockwaves through the country music world, leaving Morgan a young widow and cutting short the career of an astonishingly talented traditionalist talent. The title track from his third album became his first posthumous No. 1 single in 1989, and his fourth in a row overall.
The No. 1
“It Ain’t Nothin'” was released as the second single from I Wonder Do You Think of Me, and it spent two weeks at No. 1 at the end of 1989 on the Radio & Records chart, followed by a week at the top in January 1990 on the Billboard chart, the last time that Whitley would top the latter singles ranking.
It’s an exquisite record that showcases Whitley’s versatility as a vocalist, rivaling the best performances by Vern Gosdin and George Strait. It showcases how the partners of a healthy marriage support each other, with the first verse having the husband recounting a tough day at work and a rough drive home, and the second having the wife go through the trials of a bad day at home.
There’s an old-timey, jukebox joint feel to the record, with fast and loose piano playing that sounds straight out of a western saloon. Whitley weds those classic sounds with contemporary experiences of a man and wife, right down to the kind of four-lane traffic jam the Carter Family never could have dreamed of.
Whitley was at the peak of his talent, despite his personal demons, and this is one of his best records.
The Road from No. 1
Whitley’s five consecutive No. 1 singles on the Billboard chart came to an end here, but he’ll pop up again relatively soon, thanks to the inclusion of the Radio & Records charts in this feature. One song that didn’t top a chart, “‘Til a Tear Becomes a Rose,” still won him a Vocal Event of the Year trophy at the CMA Awards in 1990, where his widow and singing partner on the track accepted the award in his memory.
“It Ain’t Nothin'” gets an A.
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