“Achy Breaky Heart”
Billy Ray Cyrus
Written by Don Von Tress
#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-.
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