Painful though it may be, an achy breaky heart is not fatal. If it were, Billy Ray Cyrus wouldn’t be parading down “Old Town Road” with Lil Nas X, as he is today on his 58th birthday.
Cyrus was a rock star before anyone ever heard of him. To be more precise, he was depicted as a full-blown rock star in his first music video and — SHAZAM!!! — almost instantly he became one.
No doubt recalling the pulsating energy of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” video, director Marc Ball and the publicity folk at Mercury Records decided to introduce the newcomer to the world as though he was already as famous as he aspired to be.
To that end, they staged the video at the Paramount Theater in Ashland, Kentucky, near Cyrus’ hometown of Flatwoods. In the opening scene, Cyrus arrives at the front entrance of the venue in a black limousine and steps out into a cordon of cops and a throng of clamoring, adoring women. He’s costumed in a long-sleeved red shirt, worn over a white T-shirt that’s tucked into skintight jeans, and shod in white tennis shoes.
But the distinguishing feature is his soon-to-be distinctive mullet, short hair on top and the long hair tied back in a ponytail. In every detail, he was a sartorial reproach to the then-prevailing cowboy look affected by Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Ricky Van Shelton and lesser lights.
The scene then shifts to him leaping onstage, strumming his acoustic guitar and dancing about fiendishly under stabbing overhead spotlights while the ladies out front dance and swoon to his every move. The continuity is not the best — sometimes he’s wearing the guitar and sometimes he’s not — but what the hell, he’s rocking and the crowd seems to be experiencing a collective orgasm.
Once the video was released to CMT and The Nashville Network, Cyrus became the talk of Music Row. Not all the chatter was flattering. Most people agreed that the song itself was downright silly and no less a personage than rising star Travis Tritt scorned “Achy Breaky Heart” as “shallow” and wondered if country artists were henceforth going to have compete in “ass-wiggling” contests to be noticed.
But the people loved the song, written by Don Von Tress. It entered the Billboard chart on April 4, 1992 and soon zoomed to No. 1 where it remained for five weeks, longer than any other record that year. On July 7, the single was certified platinum. The song went to No. 4 on the pop chart, won the Country Music Association’s single of the year award, and the video topped CMT’s 10 best list for 1992. There was even an “Achy Breaky” line dance created.
Some Gave All, the album containing the song, sold nine millions units over the next four years.
And the video certified Cyrus as a country heartthrob. In 1993, Dolly Parton featured him in her music video for “Romeo.” In the video, he is purred and panted over not only by Parton but also by Kathy Mattea, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Tanya Tucker. From a feminist point of view, it wasn’t those ladies’ finest hour; but Cyrus seemed to enjoy it.
Sometimes, ass-wiggling is the best revenge.