Buck 22’s “Achy Breaky 2”: A Terrible Song That Raises Fascinating Questions

Pop, jazz, and classical.
Feb. 14 2014 12:18 PM

What Is “Achy Breaky 2”?

A remix? A sequel? An answer record? (And what is Larry King doing here?)

(Continued from Page 1)

It’s a fascinating realm to dig into. We tend to think of the convention dying out, but it actually just evolved and became one of the primary engines of hip-hop in the form of “diss tracks,” from the “Roxanne Wars” (aka the case of sluts v. dawgs) and the “Bridge Wars” (did hip-hop began in Queens or the Bronx? please answer in invective form) through Kendrick Lamar’s everybody-spanking guest verse on Big Sean’s “Control” last year and the wounded replies from Drake and others.

Getting closer to the achy-breaky end zone, there’s also Prometheus Brown of Seattle rap group the Blue Scholars’ rebuttal to Brad Paisley and LL Cool J’s country-rap misfire “Accidental Racist,” called “Racist Accident.”

“Achy Breaky 2,” however, falls down utterly as an answer song because it is neither timely nor pointed. In fact, Buck 22 has nothing to say about the original “Achy Breaky Heart” except for Look! I’m on a record with Billy Ray Cyrus! You know! Miley’s dad! It’s also simply not done to feature the original artist on an answer song, or for that matter a parody—it ruins the dramatic tension. (Weird Al didn’t make those mistakes when he sang, off the mark promptly in 1993, “Don’t play that song/ that achy-breaky song/ the most annoying song I know.”)

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Instead, perhaps “Achy Breaky 2” falls into the far-less-common category of the sequel song—usually a number that attempts to follow up an artist’s biggest success by returning blatantly to the same well, whether quickly or much later. This practice probably stretches way back as well—you could argue that Berlin’s 1911 “That Mysterious Rag” is a sequel to “Alexander’s,” but it’s not literal enough. Folk singer Blind Alfred Reed following up his 1927 success “Why Do You Bob Your Hair, Girls?” with 1929’s “Why Don’t You Bob Your Hair, Girls?” (kind of a self-answer record) —now that’s more like it.

Really, though, the first example of a sequel song that springs to mind is David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” (Scary Monsters, 1980). It is almost as meta-musical as “Achy Breaky 2,” beginning, “Do you remember a guy who’s been in such an early song?”, but it transports the sympathetic spaceman from “Space Oddity” (1969, though it didn’t break in North America till 1973) into further galaxies of hurt: “You know Major Tom’s a junkie.”

“Ashes to Ashes” stands out among sequel songs because it’s not merely a rerun and so doesn’t tarnish the original. It is hard to say as much for George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Moon,” or Chubby Checker’s algorithm of diminishing returns from “The Twist” and (the arguably even better) “Let’s Twist Again (Like We Did Last Summer)” to “Slow Twisting,” “Twistin’ Round the World,” “Twist It Up” and finally “Yo, Twist!

Then there are in-between cases such as Chuck Berry’s “Bye Bye Johnny,” which is OK but no “Johnny B. Goode,” or Buddy Holly’s sequel to “Peggy Sue” called “Peggy Sue Got Married” (perhaps the only sequel song ever to inspire a movie). And Lesley Gore’s follow-up to “It’s My Party,” “Judy’s Turn to Cry”—I like to imagine she later becomes the Judy of the Ramones’ “Judy Is a Punk,” continued by “The Return of Jackie and Judy.”

All of those, however, have more dignity than Bon Jovi self-plagiarizing the melody of “Livin’ on a Prayer” for the chorus of “It’s My Life,” Paul McCartney’s thankfully unreleased 1987 self-tribute “Return to Pepperland,” or perhaps most desperate-seeming of all, Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Comes Back to Georgia” (with Johnny Cash in an unfortunate guest role). At least John Cougar Mellencamp has had the sense to resist fan requests that he write a “Jack and Diane, Part 2,” reportedly telling them that the characters are just made-up people in a song—nothing happens to them next.

As with answer songs, hip-hop seems to have taken much of the novelty factor out of sequels and rendered them more routine—and therefore usually less hokey, as Complex demonstrated recently in a rundown of 25 (mostly) rap sequels. Incidentally, after a couple of failed attempts at other approaches, last year Rebecca Black herself returned to the days-of-the-week motif with a song titled, yes, “Saturday.” But like almost all of the clones above, it didn’t reignite any sparks.

So is “Achy Breaky 2” a sequel? It carries the appropriate ignominy, and the time lag doesn’t work against it here. And in a loose sense it continues the “narrative” of Billy Ray Cyrus’ existence and of the Cyrus family. Or maybe, like past dance-craze sequels, it simply reinforces and/or expands upon the nightclub-floor possibilities, in this case that the tune is suitable both for boot-scooting and booty-shaking.

Perhaps. But that’s awfully loose. And here, too, we run into the opposite problem as with answer songs: Sequels are generally done by the original artist, not by some unknown with the originator sitting in—with the exception, I guess, of the aforementioned “Yo, Twist!” which, were it released today, might be billed as Fat Boys feat. Chubby Checker.

Finally, “Achy Breaky 2” is not a cover, not a remix, not an answer song, not a parody, and only by very broad definition a sequel. Maybe it’s a kind of appropriation, treating the chorus as a large-chunk sample, in the tradition, say, of Puffy’s use of the Police on “I’ll Be Missing You” or untold numbers of mashups. On the other hand, that’s not actually a sample. Appropriation isn’t much of a thrill with such firsthand assistance.

I’m going to call this song (and maybe “Yo, Twist!” too) a “freakquel,” for coloring so far outside the lines. Perhaps you can propose an alternative category or parallel. Whatever its taxonomy, no doubt soon you’ll be calling it a flash in the pan. But seldom has so unworthy a song raised so many worthy questions. So, Billy, sing that crazy hook again.

Carl Wilson is Slates music critic. 

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