Category Archives: 1980s movies

#179 – Achy Breaky Heart

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#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…

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

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

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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.

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing

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#182 – No Particular Place To Go

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#182 – No Particular Place To Go by Chuck Berry

 – Musicologists, historians and even guys like me can sit around for hours debating the origins of rock ‘n’ roll. Robert Johnson, Delta Blues, rockabilly and obscure riffs from obscure regions can all fall into the mix if you dig deep enough. But for our purposes and particularly mine in an effort to avoid debate, it all started with Chuck Berry.

I recently read an article naming the most influential rock songs by Rock Hall members (only) that listed Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode as numero uno. There had been earlier rock ‘n’ roll songs by the time he recorded it in 1958, but Berry came up with a sound that had more influence on 1960’s rockers than anything else. It was a three-chord masterpiece copied by everyone from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones and beyond.

I’ve mentioned before about getting into the roots of rock ‘n’ roll through the back door. The first Chuck Berry song I remember hearing was during the first wave of U.S. Beatlemania in 1964 when they covered Roll Over Beethoven with George Harrison singing AND playing a wicked lead guitar break that still stands as one of my favorites. But it was only the tip of a very large musical iceberg I was yet to discover.

Another clue came later that same year when Johnny Rivers had a hit with Memphis Tennessee. My older cousin pointed out to me that his favorite duo, Jan and Dean, had released the same song a year earlier on their album, Surf City and Other Swingin’ Cities. When I questioned him about the composer of these songs, listed as “Berry” under the titles, he informed me it was Jan Berry (from Jan and Dean).

Oh well, what can you expect. I was about ten and he was only a year and a half older. What we didn’t know we would make up.

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Somewhere along the way I saw the real Chuck Berry on a television show like Hullabaloo or Shindig, so I wasn’t completely clueless. But it wasn’t until the era I consider to be a Rock ‘n Roll Revival that started with Elvis’ Comeback TV special in 1968 and the sudden popularity of Sha-Na-Na (who performed at Woodstock in 1969) that I started exploring the iceberg of originators. Instead of cover versions, I wanted the real deal and the first LP I purchased with this new frame of mind was a collection of Chuck Berry’s greatest hits.

To say I became a dedicated fan is an understatement. And to make sure Chuck Berry knew it, I had the chance to tell him a few years later. Well, sort of…

No Particular Place To Go joined this Dream Song list on August 2nd. It’s interesting (to me anyway) that of all the Chuck Berry songs I love, this is one I haven’t heard covered by the next wave of rockers. The only reason I can come up with is that Berry didn’t release the song until May 1964 when we were already in the midst of The British Invasion. It appeared later that year on the album St. Louis to Liverpool, which was already paying tribute to the mop tops that were putting Chuck back on the map. But by this time the newer bands were already playing his classics or borrowing his earlier riffs and turning them in to classics of their own.

Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out!

The main sources of inspiration for this newer wave of rockers included the three mentioned earlier (Johnny B. Goode, Roll Over Beethoven and Memphis Tennessee). Along with School Days, these are usually The Berry Fab Four found most often on my digital playlists. And on what I consider to be the best live album ever recorded, Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out by The Rolling Stones, the band kicked up the originator’s influence a notch by ripping through versions of Carol and Little Queenie that I’m positive have contributed to any hearing loss I might have thanks to cranking up the volume at the sound of the first notes.

And just for the fun of it, here’s a related question for dedicated Classic Rockers. Where would Keith Richards be without Chuck Berry? No answer needed – even he knows.

Of course I own a copy of No Particular Place To Go. And thanks to mixing up my digital playlists every week or two, I had just heard it. So this one has a place to go, which is into the recent memory category of Dream Songs.

The opportunity for me to tell Mr. Berry I was a dedicated fan happened in the spring of 1972. My musical tastes at the time were spread pretty wide, but three chord rock ‘n’ roll masterpieces still touched my soul more than anything else. I was full into the originators, along with The Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who and others that were exploding off the turntable of my portable stereo during my freshman year in college. Hanging on my dorm walls were larger than life posters of John Lennon and Elvis and my inner conscious wondered why I was studying for classes I could care less about (and still don’t) instead of playing three chord masterpieces on an electric guitar in a band is beyond my looking back comprehension.

Chuck Berry Wallpaper Photo

I walked into the local record store to check out new releases and saw a stack of flyers on the counter advertising Chuck Berry’s upcoming concert at a university within hitchhiking distance from us. I flipped out. I told a guy working at the store what a huge fan I was and he handed me the entire stack. He asked me to tape them up around our school. I said sure and immediately went back to my dorm room and turned the stack into Chuck Berry wallpaper surrounding my posters of Elvis and Lennon.

One of my best friends went to the neighboring school and I convinced him in to buy tickets for myself and the six or seven other guys in my dorm that I had converted into Berry fans. Since we were all college freshmen with no cars, on the morning of the concert we hitchhiked in shifts of two or three with plans to meet up at the arena.

We all arrived around noon, making us the first in line for general (festival) seating. Eventually there was a long line behind us and when the doors opened around 6 pm we raced ahead of everyone and claimed the floor space directly front and center of the stage.

A local group came out and played a set – I remember a high-energy cover version of Sympathy For The Devil – then became the backing band for Chuck Berry. In case you’re not up on Berry’s way of touring, he traveled alone in his Cadillac (or whatever he was driving). He’d tell the concert booker in advance to find backup musicians and have them learn the songs on his Greatest Hits album. He’d show up, they’d play on stage together for the first (and only) time, then Chuck would collect his money and drive off to the next gig.

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All of us in the packed arena were on our feet when Chuck walked on stage and started playing one classic after another. Near the end of his set he looked at the front row where we were standing and motioned for some of us to come up on stage to dance. I turned to a girl I had never seen before or since and said, “Let’s go!

My college pals did the same and while Chuck and his back-up band played we jumped, danced and sang along only a few feet away from him. When he finished, I seem to remember the girls going back into the audience. The guys? We had a chance to be close to Chuck Berry and we took it.

Before introducing the next song he said something to us, though I can’t remember what. It might have been about having a good time, so I took it as a cue. I put my arm over his shoulder and told him he was the greatest.

Travelin’ Chuck

Seriously. I’m not making that up.

He appeared to be in a good mood, which according to his reputation could be an unpredictable state, and I’m positive he thanked me. He launched into another song – we jumped around on stage – and that was it. He shouted goodnight, waved and left. We continued cheering from the stage as the crowd roared its approval.

As the audience was leaving I looked down from the stage and saw a guy I had gone to high school with making his way to the front. He shouted hello, reached up and we shook hands. He told me how cool it was that I had been on stage with Chuck Berry. He might even have told me we did a good show (together with Chuck?) but on second thought, I might just be making that part of the story up. Similar to being a ten-year-old kid, long ago memories have a way of doing that.

On a final note, No Particular Place To Go has another special meaning for me.

During the late 1980’s while living in New York City, I had a cat named Kokomo. We were pals and I still miss her. Later with my wife and two sons we had two cats and a dog, but Kokomo was my only pet before becoming a family man.

Almost everyone that visited my apartment and met Kokomo assumed I had named her after the 1988 Beach Boys hit that was in the soundtrack for the 1988 movie Cocktail starring Tom Cruise. Nope… sorry to disappoint, but as a Classic Rocker I go much deeper than that. All the way back to lyrics by Chuck Berry:

No particular place to go, so we parked way out by the Kokomo.

Both the originator and my feline pal are gone, but not forgotten. Keep rockin’!!

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

To watch Chuck Berry perform No Particular Place To Go – live – with Keith Richards as part of his back up band, check out this video…

To purchase The Best of Chuck Berry with No Particular Place To Go visit Amazon.com

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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.

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing