Music

'When You Say Nothing at All': The Story Behind the Song

Wikimedia Commons/ CHRISTOPHER BERKEY AP

"When You Say Nothing at All" is one of the most timeless country songs out there. Written by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz -- the two songwriters responsible for Randy Travis' No. 1 hit "Forever and Ever, Amen" -- it was actually a hit song for three different musicians in the '80s and '90s.

The lyrics first came to Overstreet and Schlitz almost by accident. They were having an otherwise unproductive day, just playing the guitar trying to find inspiration. According to Overstreet, the lyrics were born in an attempt to find a way to say nothing. They pitched it to Keith Whitley who loved it and needed to record it. 

Keith Whitley

Keith Whitley's original was the first to make the ballad a country hit. The song was his first number one hit back in 1988. In 2004, his version was included in CMT's 100 Greatest Love Songs.

Alison Krauss

Alison Krauss' version followed with a cover for a tribute album for Whitley, who passed away from alcohol poisoning in 1989, Keith Whitley: A Tribute Album. Her version with Union Station started getting airplay, so BNA Records, the label who had released the album, decided to formally release the Krauss version as a radio single in 1995. The success caught Krauss by surprise. It peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles Chart. She even won the 1995 CMA award for "Single of the Year".

Ronan Keating

Ronan Keating, an Irish singer-songwriter, released his own version of the song in 1999 as a debut single on the soundtrack for the film Notting Hill starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. The song took Keating to number one on the Billboard charts in the UK, Ireland and New Zealand. Keating's music video even includes scenes from the film.

Which version is your favorite? The country music takes from Krauss and Whitley or the more modern cover from Keating?

"When You Say Nothing At All" Lyrics:

It's amazing how you can speak right to my heart

Without saying a word you can light up the dark

Try as I may I could never explain what I hear when you don't say a thing

The smile on your face lets me know that you need me

There's a truth in your eyes saying you'll never leave me

A touch of your hand says you'll catch me if ever I fall

Now you say it best when you say nothing at all

 

All day long I can hear people talking out loud

But when you hold me near you drown out the crowd

Old Mister Webster could never define

what's being said between your heart and mine

 

The smile on your face lets me know that you need me

There's a truth in your eyes saying you'll never leave me

A touch of your hand says you'll catch me if ever I fall

Now you say it best when you say nothing at all

 

The smile on your face lets me know that you need me

There's a truth in your eyes saying you'll never leave me

A touch of your hand says you'll catch me if ever I fall

Now you say it best when you say nothing at all

Now Watch: Underrated Country Love Songs of the '90s

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'When You Say Nothing at All': The Story Behind the Song