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.