‘Achy Breaky Heart’ by Billy Ray Cyrus: Story Behind the Iconic 90s Country Track

by Suzanne Halliburton

Let’s drift back about three decades to that time when Billy Ray Cyrus was merely a popular regional singer from Kentucky and “Achy Breaky Heart” still was being fine-tuned in Nashville.

The now-classic song originally percolated at the famed Music Mill in Nashville, the log cabin/studio at the corner of 18th Avenue South and Roy Acuff Place.

Producers Harold Shedd and Donnie Canada, his business partner, built the Nashville studio in the early 1980s. Among the singers and groups who passed through there were Toby Keith, Alabama and Shania Twain, when she was known as the young woman from Canada and had yet to evolve into a glamorous breakout star.

Don Von Tress had written only part of the song when he brought it to the Music Mill. He was told to finish it and not to get a co-writer.

“So, I finished the song,” Von Tress told the Tennessean. “We demoed it across the street in the 805. Everybody was jumping up and down about the song. Really, something in us told us it had great potential. But it was Nashville, and you’re competing with a pile of great writers and great songs, so it took a while.”

Nope, The Original Name Of The Billy Ray Cyrus Hit Didn’t Sound Quite Right

The song originally had the title “Aching, Breaking Heart.” That doesn’t have the same flair, does it? Doesn’t flow off the tongue. Doesn’t have the right rhythm for a good line dance. It’s probably why the version from the group, the Marcy Brothers from California, didn’t enjoy much success.

Von Tress picked up the story with the Tennessean: “Meanwhile, 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.”

Von Tress said he heard Cyrus sing the song live for the first time in Paducah, Kentucky. It was amazing.

“He played it, and the whole place emptied out onto the floor,” Von Tress recalled. “I think they played it two or three times that night. “

Cyrus released the album “Some Gave All” in 1992. It became a hit heard around the world. It proved to be the top-ranking debut album by a male country artist. And it stayed in the top 10 for 43 straight weeks. The only album ever to stay longer was Garth Brooks’ “Ropin’ the Wind.”

It also brought line dancing into every country club around the country.

There also was Cyrus’ model good looks and his flowing, brunette locks. He was the first country star to sport a well-coiffed mullet, the business in the front, party in the back hairstyle. Cyrus nicknamed his style the “Kentucky waterfall.”

Everything about Cyrus screamed 1990s.

Now, here’s Cyrus singing his famous song. Pull on a pair of boots or dig out your high tops. Find a spot in your house for some dancing. You’ll thank us later for the earworm.