On March 23, 1992, Billy Ray Cyrus — simply known as the father of Miley to younger fans — released “Achy Breaky Heart,” a song that defined the term “crossover hit” and embodied a new generation of country music.
“Achy Breaky Heart” — a cover of “Don’t Tell My Heart,” originally performed by the Marcy Brothers — was the first single from Billy Ray Cyrus’ debut album Some Gave All and went on to become a signature song for the country singer, topping Billboard’s Hot Country Songs and peaking at No. 4 on the Hot 100 as it helped usher line dancing into the mainstream. In the 25 years to follow, it would be dubbed one of the worst songs ever by some while becoming a quintessential song of the ‘90s. But there was no denying its appeal at the time.
As Cyrus tells it, he saw the record’s potential immediately. “As soon as I heard it I said, ‘This is me, man. This is Billy Ray Cyrus. This is what it’s about,’” the Flatwoods, Kentucky, native told ET amidst his success in 1992. Originally penned by Don Von Tress, the track instantly caught the attention of Cyrus, who had a history of picking out hits before they gained national attention.
“There’s been records before, where the first time I heard it on the radio, I said, ‘Watch that song go to No. 1. It’s going be a huge smash.’ When I heard ‘Achy Breaky Heart,’ I fell in love with that song just like that,” said Cyrus. “I couldn’t quit playing Don Von Tress’ demo over and over. I just fell in love with the song.”
His intuition was spot on. The single would later reach platinum status, staying at No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s country music charts for five straight weeks, while also becoming one of the biggest crossover country songs at the time. Cyrus gave all of the credit to his fans, citing the massive number of calls they made to radio stations requesting the song, as well as the music video’s repeated airings on CMT.
Originally titled “Don’t Tell My Heart,” the song had already become a favorite among his concertgoers before the album and single were released. Cyrus picked up on how often the audience would ask to hear the number multiple times in a performance, and that they had latched onto one lyric in particular.
“They’d say, ‘Play that Achy Breaky song.’ No one ever came up and said, ‘Play “Don’t Tell My Heart,”’” Cyrus told ET in 2012. After recording the album, Cyrus suggested the name change based on these fan encounters, and everyone in his camp agreed.
Contributing to the phenomenon was the accompanying line dance. Cyrus had informed his label of the notable response “Achy Breaky Heart” was receiving at his concerts, and Mercury Records decided to build a campaign around it. A month before the music video reached CMT airwaves, 30 country music clubs across the country were given an instructional video for the song’s official dance. Capitalizing on the rise in popularity of line dancing, choreographer Melanie Greenwood put together a series of steps that laid the grassroots foundation for the song’s success.
“That’s a real special feeling when I see people get up and do the Achy Breaky,” said Cyrus, who has witnessed concertgoers from ages 2 to 90 cutting loose on the dance floor to the hit. “That’s what it’s all about: People getting together and having a good time and listening to good music.”
Aside from being his debut single and introduction into the country music community, Cyrus has remained closely associated with the song ever since. No other song of his would top its success, but the country star has maintained a successful singing career, releasing 14 studio albums, his most recent being 2016’s Thin Line. Cyrus has always been happy to see the new ways in which “Achy Breaky Heart” continues to thrive; in 2014, he collaborated with Buck 22 for a sequel entitled “Achy Breaky 2.”