Introduction | Nashville & Beyond | Country
The 1950s and 1960s were milestone decades for country music. It was during these years that the stylistic tensions between traditional and contemporary, rural and urbane, became sharply delineated and the first ideological and aesthetic battle lines between the traditionalists and modernists were drawn in the sand.
Out of this tension arose bold innovation and refreshing diversity. The 1950s saw the nearly simultaneous rise of styles as divergent as wild and youthful Memphis-style rockabilly and its virtual antithesis: the mellow, refined, pop-influenced Nashville sound.
At the same time, styles that coalesced in the 1940s, such as honky-tonk and bluegrass, continued to flourish and find new listeners. Thus the country charts during the 1950s included everything from the mountain-style ballads and old-timey train songs of Roy Acuff and Hank Snow to the countrypolitan crooning of smooth operators like Eddy Arnold and George Morgan, and the occasional cowboy ballad by the likes of Marty Robbins or Johnny Cash.
Just as important, though, these two decades marked the rise of the Nashville music industry as an entity separate but never entirely independent of the larger pop industry, centered in New York and Los Angeles. By the end of the 1960s, Music City – as Nashville’s record industry has come to be called – would make its influence felt in nearly every corner of the globe. In so doing, it would elevate country music from its secondary status as a regional music to an internationally popular form nearly as central to youth culture as rock or pop.
Radio, of course, was central to the rise of country, since record sales, even today, are highly dependent on the exposure of radio airplay. During the 1960s alone, the number of full-time country radio stations in the USA rose from 81 in 1961 to 525 in 1971. The number had risen to 2,321 by 1996.
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