#179 – Achy Breaky Heart


#179 – Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus

 – Depending on which side of the fence you’re using to pick sides, this song never fails to stir up contrasting opinions. In some cases, it’s downright confusing. For example, in one poll VH-1 named it one of the 100 Greatest Songs of the ’90s (coming in at number 87). However, with a different opinion, the same VH-1 pollsters ranked it at the number two position of Worst Songs of All Time.

Yeah, I’m confused too.

Achy Breaky Heart stirred up a position on this Dream Song List on August 10th. The reason for my confusion is because of how I went from one side of the fence to the other in my personal opinion. I don’t own a copy and haven’t heard it in awhile, which places it in the subliminal category. But I wouldn’t mind listening to it again. Like almost all the songs on this list, it has a catchy tune that makes it hard to forget.

And I’ll have to admit it brings back some down home memories.

The extreme mullet!

When it made Billy Ray Cyrus a household name in 1992, topping music charts around the world and becoming one of the top-selling country singles of all time, Classic Rockers like myself were more inclined to cringe, rather than dust off our boots from the Urban Cowboy fad a decade earlier and kick up our heels in line dancing extravaganzas. This wasn’t John Travolta giving us Hollywood’s version of country music. This was a new trend that brought a pop feeling to the real deal that was coming out of Nashville at that time.

But it wasn’t just the music that was different. It was also the artist. The days of Rhinestone Cowboys were over and rockers were moving in. Aiming to take country to new heights of popularity were Garth Brooks, Dwight Yoakam, Travis Tritt and Billy Ray Cyrus.

The style was changing.


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And speaking of style, Billy Ray’s mullet made such a confusing and lasting visual impression in 1992 that ten years later comedian David Spade reprised the look for laughs with his character Joe Dirt in the movie of the same name. And believe me, it wasn’t meant to be a flattering impression.

Extreme Joe Dirt

But now that the musical changes, along with the critical and comedic opinions have been aired out, I’ll admit to my residency on both sides of the Achy Breaky fence. When the song was riding high in early 1992 it immediately became a punch line for late night television hosts and more than a few comedians. And since I was working in Hollywood scheduling stand-up comedians for live shows and television, I was laughing along with them. It seemed like the TV show Hee-Haw was being reinvented for our entertainment.

Yeah, I know. It was an opinion not everyone on the opposite side of the fence would have agreed with. And it didn’t matter whether you were boot-scootin’ in Nashville or Hollywood – you couldn’t escape hearing it.

Then in 1993 I also caught a bit of critical flack from some of my comedy cronies by jumping the fence and moving back to my hometown in Ohio. Talk about Hee-Haw being reinvented… Okay, that was meant to be a joke and nothing personal toward my current cronies. Considering my choice of career you’ll have to cut me some flack on the humor side once in awhile.


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Embarking on a second career as a writer, I scored a weekly entertainment column for a local newspaper. I pitched the editor my value as a comedy journalist covering live shows in the area. I wasn’t surprised he went for it and hired me on the spot. The surprise came when he made the deal contingent on me also writing a weekly column on country music.

Guess it was time to dust off the boots.

The down home memories started line-dancing into my life about two months later when I met my future wife Cowgirl Deb and future son Chaos Kevin. Discovering the value of combining my work requirements with a social life, I took Deb to a comedy show on our first date. By our third date I was wearing boots and line dancing to a cowboy deejay.

Both work outings received great reviews in my weekly comedy and country music columns. The social life grabbed my achy breaky heart.

The Classic Rocker & Billy Ray Cyrus

But just like I refer to myself as a Classic Rocker kind of guy, the Cowgirl tag fits the girl. She has the ability to sing along with almost every song that has a twang, while I’m still trying to figure out the lyrics Mick Jagger was singing in the ’60s and ’70s.

Though her county stylings never really rubbed off on the rest of the (future) family, Achy Breaky Heart did find its way onto (then) five-year-old Chaos Kevin’s playlist. It was one of the first songs I remember him singing and dancing (jumping) to around the living room. I guess it was his enthusiasm that rubbed off on me because after only a few listens I was singing it too.

And as for my dancing ability, jumping is a suitable description.

So with all this Achy Breaky fun going on in the household, the next step was to get married – which we did six months later. The five and a half year old Chaotic member of my new family was my best man. We laid the groundwork for our shared ability to surprise his mom when she walked down the church aisle and noticed I had mistakenly pinned my groom’s flower (officially called boutonniere) to his jacket while I sported his pint-sized version on mine.

We also had our own running commentary as she approached the alter:

  • Me: “Who’s the babe?
  • Chaos Kevin: “That’s Debbie.”
  • Me: “Oh yeah…”

Instead of continuing this Achy Breaky family affair into the years where an older Chaos Kevin discovered rap music and I learned the value of closing the door to any room where he was listening to rap music (and soon opening again to tell him he was too young to repeat those lyrics, which for some reason he understood better than I understood Mick in the ’60s and ’70s), we’ll return to my good fortune of combining work with a social life. Rather than acting as a rap music critic at home, it was a lot more fun to have reviewer seats and backstage passes for country music concerts and comedy shows.

Hannah Montana’s dad & The Classic Rocker

I’ve lost track of how many years I did double duty as a comedy and country music columnist, but I’ll say it was at least fifteen. And during that time we saw some heavy duty performers. I could name drop from a worthy list and probably will in the future, but one happened to be Billy Ray Cyrus.

Though I’m sure he toured through our area more than a few times during those years, we saw him twice. The first time I didn’t know what to expect. Achy Breaky Heart and…

Well, I honestly didn’t know anything else.

And you know what? Billy Ray and his backup band gave us a new wave of country that had a backbeat and rocked. Did I give his shows good reviews? Better than that – they were great.

And afterwards, thanks to backstage journalist passes, I was able to tell him in person.

Finally, I’ll return to the Achy Breaky family affair. As mentioned above, this song joined the list on August 10th. By coincidence that date also happens to be Chaos Kevin’s birthday. Was that a subliminal message? It depends on what side of the fence you’re on when it comes to premonitions.

Hannah Montana & dad

And to fast forward through the years, our son Dangerous Paul was added to the family mix. Of course he’s a younger generation with a younger outlook and I have no memory if he was ever into Achy Breaky Heart. In fact, I doubt he knows any of the lyrics other than the title.

But my well-earned journalistic credentials helped me become a big deal during a commercial break on The Disney Channel when he and his young friends saw my photo with Billy Ray Cyrus…

  • Dangerous Paul & friends: “That’s Hannah Montana’s dad!”
  • Me: “Yep.”

At least my time as a country music columnist earned me a limited amount of cool factor with the younger generation. Now if I could just figure out what Mick has been singing all these years I might be able to do the same with my peers in The Classic Rocker generation…

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Here’s the 1993 video of Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus that started the craze.

To purchase The Definitive Collection by Billy Ray Cyrus with Achy Breaky Heart visit Amazon.com



Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

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