Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Keith Whitley and Earl Thomas Conley, “Brotherly Love”

“Brotherly Love”

Keith Whitley and Earl Thomas Conley

Written by Tim Nichols and Jimmy Alan Stewart

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

November 1, 1991

A beautiful duet about brotherhood brings the hitmaking runs of two eighties legends to a close.

The Road to No. 1

We covered the illustrious and far too brief career of Keith Whitley early on in this feature, but this is the first and only time we’ll see Earl Thomas Conley.

Conley was active on country radio in the seventies, but in the eighties, he was a true superstar, with eighteen No. 1 country songs on the Billboard chart.  But as with many of his peers from that era, the nineties got off to a rough start, with both singles from his 1990 Greatest Hits Vol. II missing the top ten.  He rebounded with the first single from Yours Truly, which returned him to the top ten.

But his final visit to the top of the chart came with a song that had been a minor hit for Moe Bandy in 1989 and an album cut for Billy Dean in 1990.  However, the original recording of it wasn’t released until 1991.

The No. 1

Keith Whitley and Earl Thomas Conley are a dream team on “Brotherly Love,” and it’s surprising to me that RCA kept this recording unreleased until this point.  It’s a song that works perfectly as a duet, and it doesn’t hurt that the two singers look like and sound so similar.

Sometimes on songs like this, there’s a tendency to draw things out for too long.  But “Brotherly Love” keeps it simple, using the first verse to recall fighting over a bike and the younger brother laughing at his older brother trying to make a move on a girl.

After the chorus, we find one of the brothers observing his own boys, and realizing that they will have the same bond as their father and uncle do.

Songs like this aren’t going to come along much after this one. It’s very much a late eighties, new traditionalist, pre-Class of 1989 ballad.   It was a special time, and it works as a lovely swan song for two essential artists.

The Road From No. 1

Posthumous releases from Keith Whitley would continue, but radio didn’t embrace them after this hit.  It was also the last appearance in the top thirty for Earl Thomas Conley, as two more singles from Yours Truly faltered, and he was shockingly dropped from his label, leading to a seven year hiatus from music.

Conley resurfaced with additional independent projects from the late nineties onward, and his legacy was heavily promoted by Blake Shelton, who had a hit with a cover of “All Over Me.”  Conley passed away in 2019.

“Brotherly Love” gets an A. 

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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  1. I had no idea this one actually went to number one! Such a pleasant surprise. I’ve always absolutely adored this song. Both Keith and Earl sounded so great together, and they even kind of looked like they could’ve been brothers in real life. I do also like the original by Moe Bandy, but this duet version really fits the lyrics perfectly and adds more charm to it. Also love Garth Fundis’ simple, laid back production style and some great steel playing by Paul Franklin throughout. It’s one of those records that just makes me smile whenever I hear it.

    I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve listened to this song on my Walkman during the trips that my parents and I would take to Maine. It is featured on another tape I made around late 1991/early 1992, and I was listening to it a lot when we went up there in 1999. I especially remember listening to it often while we were going through the beautiful mountain areas of Northeast Pennsylvania and Upstate New York and while we stayed in those areas in the hotel. Ever since then, it had been a tradition for me to listen to that tape whenever we were around those areas, even as recently as 2008 and 2012, which was the last time we went. That tape also includes other favorites of mine like “What Kind Of Fool” by Lionel Cartwright, “If I Could Bottle This Up” by Paul Overstreet, “What Do I Do With Me” by Tanya Tucker, “Restless” feat. Steve Wariner, Ricky Skaggs & Vince Gill, “Then Again” by Alabama, “What Do You Want From Me This Time” by Foster & Lloyd, “The Last Resort” by T. Graham Brown, “Going Out Tonight” by Mary Chapin Carpenter, “Baby’s Gotten Good At Goodbye” by George Strait, “Love, Me” by Collin Raye, “I Wish That I Could Fall In Love Today” by Barbara Mandrell, and “A Few Old Country Boys” by Randy Travis and George Jones. However, this song by Keith and ETC in particular is the one that instantly takes me back to Northeast PA and Upstate NY whenever I hear it.

    Speaking of Keith’s posthumous hits, I also absolutely love “Somebody’s Doin’ Me Right” (That one takes me back to being in PA back in 2000 when I would listen to that one over and over on another tape). I also love Earl Thomas Conley’s “Shadow Of A Doubt” which I remember hearing around the Fall of ’91. Many of ETC’s hits from the 80’s were still getting a lot of recurrent airplay for us well into the early 90’s, as well. “Nobody Falls Like A Fool,” and “I Can’t Win For Losing You” are on tapes I recorded in early 1993, while “Angel In Disguise” is on one of my favorite ones from early 1991 (yet ANOTHER one I listened to a lot in PA back in the late 90’s).

    I really miss both of these great artists!

  2. I just pulled out that tape I mentioned above while ago, and listening to it, I forgot to list two more of my favorite songs that are on the same side as “Brotherly Love”: “All of Me” by Willie Nelson and “I’ve Got A Winner In You” by Don Williams. The latter song also takes me back to the days of visiting Northeast PA and Upstate NY. :)

  3. I was a huge fan of both these artists, but I never could get as excited as I felt I should for this collaboration. The song is sweet and sentimental. The vocals are great. The production is subdued and smart. Honestly, not a damn thing to complain about or dislike about this song.

    Maybe I subconsciously expected this pairing to break my heart harder and drag me through the heavy,emotional mud of family.

    Obviously, I need a therapist.

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