Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Billy Ray Cyrus, “Achy Breaky Heart”

“Achy Breaky Heart”

Billy Ray Cyrus

Written by Don Von Tress

Billboard

#1 (5 weeks)

May 30 – June 27, 1992

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

May 29, 1992

A novelty record launches the biggest selling album of 1992.

The Road to No. 1

Billy Ray Cyrus grew up as the son of a Kentucky preacher, surrounded by gospel and bluegrass music.  He first pursued baseball, attending college on an athletic scholarship, but attending a Neil Diamond concert inspired him to pursue music full-time.

He formed the band Sly Dog and played locally, then moved to Los Angeles to pursue a record deal.  When he was unsuccessful, he moved back to Kentucky and earned enough notoriety to open for Reba McEntire in Louisville.  This helped him get the attention of Mercury Nashville, and they signed him to a deal.

In 1992, he released his debut single.  By this point, launching new country artists with a No. 1 single had become commonplace.  But there was nothing common about what followed Cyrus earning his first chart topping single.

The No. 1

“Achy Breaky Heart” is an overplayed novelty record that launched a line dance craze and kept critics from taking Billy Ray Cyrus seriously for years.

But listening to it with fresh ears nearly thirty years later, it’s easy to understand why it was such a big hit.  Cyrus sounds like a young Bruce Springsteen, bringing an eighties rock edge to a typical nineties country record, which appealed to the older suburban fanbase that helped country music explode in popularity during this time.

The thing with a novelty record is that for it to work, the singer must do one of two things: present it with tongue firmly in cheek, or sing it with complete sincerity.   You can’t split the difference between the two.

Cyrus goes with the second approach, singing a ridiculous chorus with solemnity, as if it’s totally normal to describe a breakup this way.

It’s far from his best performance, but it’s better than old memories might remember it.

The Road From No. 1

Some Gave All, his debut album, would produce another No. 1 hit, which we will cover soon.  Meanwhile, it debuted at the top of the country album chart and then topped the all-genre album chart, where it is still the only album to spend seventeen consecutive weeks at No. 1, on its way to selling nine million copies in America alone.

Meanwhile, “Achy Breaky Heart” became a top five pop hit in America and a big hit around the world, particularly in Australia, where it was the first single to be certified triple platinum.

“Achy Breaky Heart” gets a B-.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

Previous: Ricky Van Shelton, “Backroads” |

Next: McBride & the Ride, “Sacred Ground”

9 Comments

  1. Put me in the A+ camp. That first chord hits and the song has you by the throat. The most infectious country song ever.

  2. Not a great song (C+) but it holds a special place in my mind. The day of my high school graduation, it was #1 for the first time on Bob Kingsley’s American Country Countdown. Sometimes all a song has to do is being back great memories.

  3. The song was recorded the year before by the Marcy Brothers (trio) using essentially the same arrangement. The difference – a change of title from “Don’t tell My Heart”, a dance routine and the Marcy brothers total lack of charisma.

    Plus there exists a cool Weird Al Yankovic parody:

    “Achy Breaky Song”

    You can torture me
    With Donnie & Marie
    You can play some Barry Manilow
    Or you can play some schlock
    Like New Kids On The Block
    Or any Village People song you know
    Or play Vanilla Ice
    Hey, you can play him twice
    And you can play the Bee Gees any day
    But Mr. DJ, please
    I’m beggin’ on my knees
    I just can’t take no more of Billy Ray

    Don’t play that song
    That “Achy Breaky” song
    The most annoying song I know
    And if you play that song
    That “Achy Breaky” song
    I might blow up my radio, ooo…

    You can clear the room
    By playind Debbie Boon
    Or crank your Abba records until dawn
    Oh, I can even hear
    Slim Whitman or Zamfir
    Don’t mind a Yoko Ono marathon
    Or play some Tiffany
    On 8-track or CD
    Or scrape your fingernails across the board
    Or tie me to a chair
    And kick me down the stairs
    Just please don’t play that stupid song no more

    Don’t play that song
    That “Achy Breaky” song
    You know I hate that song a bunch
    And if you play that song
    That nauseating song
    It might just make me lose my lunch, ooo…

    Don’t play that song
    That “Achy Breaky” song
    I think it’s driving me insane
    Oh, please don’t play that song
    That irritating song
    I’d rather have a pitchfork in my brain…

    Don’t play that song
    That “Achy Breaky” song
    The most annoying song I know
    And if you play that song
    That “Achy Breaky” song
    I might blow up my radio, ooo-woo…

  4. By the way, it is hard to take the Radio & Records charts very seriously when a record as huge as “Achy Breaky Heart” spends ONLY ONE Week at #1, thus burying its impact.

    Also Weird Al considered his parody so mean-spirited that he donated all of his songwriting proceeds from it to the United Cerebral Palsy Association.

  5. I quite enjoyed it at the time and it’s still an enjoyable listen. I later bought the album (and his second album) and discovered some really good songs (both singles and album cuts). I think the massive success of “Achy Breaky Heart” overshadowed some of his other quality work, especially early on in his career.

  6. My high school buddies are quick to remind me that I championed this song in the moment.

    The rub is that this song came to represent “new country” in many people’s minds. For all the amazing music actually topping the charts, and the amount of brilliant singer songwriters just bubbling beneath the surface, it seemed unfair that this silly song became the face of country music.

    The song was a victim of its own success and the playful absurdity of the lyrics were forced to carry a weight I don’t think they were ever intended to bear. Never before had a novelty song been burdened with so much responsibility and significance.

  7. I admit that this is still an enjoyable listen for me from time to time. It’s not one of the best songs to come from this era, but it’s definitely not terrible either like past criticisms of the song have suggested, as there have been countless actual terrible songs that have come out in the genre since then. It’s simply a fun, catchy, harmless novelty tune that’s still pretty darn catchy, and it’s actually kind of nice to hear it now and remember the days when it was huge and everywhere and where we all were back then.

    My step dad and I were just two more of the millions who were into this song back in the day. I still have memories of him singing along to it whenever it came on, lol. He even bought Billy Ray’s Some Gave All on cd, and that album (besides Brooks & Dunn’s Brand New Man album) was one of the main soundtracks for us during the summer of 1992, both before and after we moved into our new house. Looking back at these times, it’s amazing how he was still pretty open to many new artists back then, as he pretty much went back to preferring mostly the country music of his youth (pre 90’s) in the following decade. For some reason though, his liking for Billy Ray didn’t last quite as long, and I remember about a year or so later he made a comment about not really caring for his singing anymore. He never stopped liking this song, though, and it’s nice to still remember when he and I, as well as my mom and dad, all liked this song along with much of the rest of the world at the time.

    And just like “Friends In Low Places,” I remember this song being literally EVERYWHERE in 1992-1993. I remember one of my classmates singing it at the lunch table during the first year at my new elementary school. It was even featured on a jukebox at a Burger King we went to at a mall. And although I didn’t see it when it first came out in ’93, it was cool hearing this song being played on a broken jukebox in one of my personal favorite Stephen King movies, Needful Things.

    Like Frank The Tank, I grew to appreciate Billy Ray more when I went back and listened to this album again after I’d gotten older, and also when I later picked up his second album, It Won’t Be The Last. There are quite a few album cuts from both records that I really enjoy, and I love Springsteen influence he obviously had back then. It can especially be heard on cuts like “Never Thought I’d Fall In Love With You,” “Only Time Will Tell,” and “Wrong Face, Wrong Time.” I also agree that it’s too bad that “Achy Breaky” overshadowed most of his even better singles and ended up defining him as an artist in the eyes of many for so long.

  8. @Jamie – I also bought his second album and there were some really good songs on that one as well. Some of my favourites from those first two albums were “Could’ve Been Me,” “Never Thought I’d Fall in Love with You,” “In the Heart of a Woman” and “Words By Heart.”

  9. Ha. This song is so dumb, but so catchy.

    And, yes, this song somewhat overshadowed the fact that BRC had some very good songs, which is a shame. I think nineties country music fans know it, but those who only know him for this song have no idea.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.