Keith Whitley, “Don’t Close Your Eyes”

He couldn’t have known it, but Keith Whitley was on his way to becoming a legend during the late 1980s resurgence of a more-traditional country music sound (though Whitley seldom wore a cowboy hat like many). Having worked with Ricky Skaggs in Ralph Stanley’s band as a teenager, Whitley had the voice and the chops for Nashville. The number-one title track from his 1988 album Don’t Close Your Eyes made him a bona fide country star, but he died of alcohol poisoning at 33 about a year after its release. A song about a man’s request for his partner to forget a previous paramour and make love with her eyes open, “Don’t Close Your Eyes” has since become a slow-dance classic in every honky-tonk and roadside bar. It was written by Bob McDill, the Nashville songwriting giant whose songs were recorded by Waylon Jennings, Pam Tillis and many others. The song is an A-B-A-B-B, with the chorus repeating twice after the second verse, and the final two lines of that chorus repeating at the end of the song. This may have been the way it was originally written or may have been an arrangement decision by Whitley and his producer,…

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