Achy Breaky Heart Original
Origins of the Achy Breaky Heart Original
In 1990, amateur songwriter Don Von Tress, from Cypress Inn, Tennessee, penned a ditty by the name of “Achy Breaky Heart”. Von Tress wrote the song in the famed Nashville recording studio, the Music Mill. He claimed he was “just fooling around on the guitar and a drum machine.” “Achy Breaky Heart” launched Kentuckian Billy Ray Cyrus’s music career and made line dancing go mainstream. However, it was country music trio the Marcy Brothers who recorded the “Achy Breaky Heart” original. And their version had even more twang.
“Achy Breaky Heart” was initially intended for the gospel quartet the Oak Ridge Boys. But lead singer Duane Allen didn’t care for the “achy breaky” lyrics.
The Marcy Brothers Version
Instead, the Marcy Brothers recorded the “Achy Breaky Heart” original in 1991. It was released as “Don’t Tell My Heart” on their second studio album, The Marcy Brothers. They changed some of Von Tress’s lyrics and sang about an “achy breaking heart”. Breaky or breaking, the lyrics are daft yet catchy.
The Marcy Brothers were three brothers: Kevin, Kris and Kendal. In 1988, they formed their band in Oroville, California and released two albums. Six of their singles charted on the Billboard country charts, but “Don’t Tell My Heart” wasn’t one of them. Their highest peaking single was “Cotton Pickin’ Time” at number 34. The Marcy Brothers disbanded in 1991, shortly after the release of “Don’t Tell My Heart”.
The Marcy Brothers’ “Achy Breaky Heart” original and Cyrus’s cover are pretty similar. Not sure why the Marcy Brothers version never really caught on, as it’s just as good. Better if you like your twang. Maybe it’s something to do with the absence of a line dancing music video.
Achy Breaky Billy Ray
Cyrus did it tough when he was trying to get a recording contract in Los Angeles. At one point he lived in his neighbour’s car. But then signed to PolyGram/Mercury in 1990 and became an international success with “Achy Breaky Heart” in 1992. His most critically acclaimed album was probably 1996’s Trail of Tears.
Cyrus heard about Von Tress’s song “Achy Breaky Heart” and wanted to include it on his debut album, Some Gave All, which was due for release in 1992.
Jim Cotton and Joe Scaife took it up to Kentucky, I believe, or West Virginia somewhere, and played it for Billy Ray Cyrus. This kid, who was already a regional star. Most people don’t know that. Billy heard the record and he said, ‘That’s me.'”Don Von Tress
Sending Line Dancing Mainstream
“Achy Breaky Heart” was Cyrus’ debut single. The song was massively popular and massively ridiculous at the same time. The music video, directed by Marc Ball, introduced both Cyrus and line dancing to mainstream audiences.
In the video for ‘Achy Breaky Heart’, Billy Ray Cyrus is mobbed by adoring women from the start. (Never mind he’s a brand new artist at this point, whom nobody has really heard of). He proceeds to rock out on stage with the world’s most questionable mullet. He kind of has this serial killer stare going as the camera pans across shots of pretty girls (and their chests). And don’t forget that super dramatic moment where he rips off his shirt.”Jeremy Burchard
Yep, that mullet is hideous. But if you cut it off, early-90s Cyrus was pretty sexy.
A Crossover Hit
“Achy Breaky Heart” became a hit on both pop and country radio, selling more than 9 million copies in the US. It peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the Hot Country Songs chart. It was the first country single certified Platinum since 1983’s “Islands in the Stream” by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. In Australia, “Achy Breaky Heart” was the third single ever to go triple Platinum.
Some consider “Achy Breaky Heart” one of the worst songs of all time. It made it to number two in VH1 and Blender’s list of the “50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs Ever”.
Whatever you think of his song, Cyrus significantly contributed to the country music scene by renewing younger listeners’ interest in what the mainstream was considered a dying genre of music. “Achy Breaky Heart” was one of the biggest country hits of all time.
Achy Breaky Parodies
Several musicians parodied “Achy Breaky Heart”, including by Alvin and the Chipmunks in 1992 and “Weird Al” Yankovic in 1993. In Yankovic’s parody, “Achy Breaky Song”, he begs a DJ to stop playing the song. Possibly because this song was even more mean-spirited than Yankovic’s usual tunes, he donated its proceeds to the United Cerebral Palsy Association.
In the South Park episode, “You Got F’d in the A”, Stan Marsh’s father, Randy, teaches him how to dance using the song “Achy Breaky Heart”. And in The X-Files episode, “Babylon”, Fox Mulder dances to the song when he thinks he’s high on magic mushrooms.
In 2014, Cyrus himself came up with a weird remake of the song “Achy Breaky 2” which he performed with rapper Buck 22. I watched it so you don’t have to.
Then in 2017, Cyrus produced and re-recorded “Achy Breaky Heart” for the song’s 25th anniversary. He sang this version in the way he always wanted to, if he’d had more say when recording his debut album. This version is more swampier and Southern rock sounding. I actually prefer the original. It’s simpler and cleaner.
Since 1992, eight of Cyrus’ songs have been top-ten singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. But he never again achieved the success he did with “Achy Breaky Heart”.