Styles & Forms | Nashville & Beyond | Country
The Nashville sound, which has been as much praised as maligned, was a classic example of Nashville’s burgeoning record industry flexing its newfound muscles and making an intentional grab at the brass ring of increased record sales.
Occasionally called ‘crossover country’, ‘easy-listening country’ or ‘countrypolitan’, the Nashville sound was as much a product of commercial calculation as artistic inspiration. Innovative Nashville producers like Chet Atkins (1924–2001) and Owen Bradley (1915–98) saw it as a vehicle for tapping into the increased record sales afforded by crossover success in the pop-music charts.
During the 1940s, there had been occasional cross-pollinations between country and pop music. From the 1930s well into the 1950s, Grand Ole Opry star Red Foley (1910–68) charmed both country folk and urbanites alike with his smooth voice and mellow musical sensibilities. In the 1950s and early 1960s Patti Page, an Oklahoman who cut her teeth singing western swing, had massive pop hits with covers of country tunes. Crooner Bing Crosby even got in on the act with covers of Ernest Tubb’s (1914–84) ‘Walkin’ The Floor Over You’, while Tubb had recorded with The Andrews Sisters. The untapped sales potential promised by the huge, beckoning pop market did not go unnoticed by country producers and record executives, and the fledgling country-music industry, though still in its infancy, was poised for a commercial explosion at the dawn of the decade.
An Antidote To Rock‘n’Roll
The advent of rockabilly and rock’n’roll in the mid-1950s also helped spur the later 1960s Nashville crossover era. The emergence of Elvis Presley (1935–77), Jerry Lee Lewis (b. 1935) and other rock‘n’rollers with early rock hits like ‘Hound Dog’, ‘Jailhouse Rock’, ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’’ and ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ launched a national craze that for a while seriously diminished sales in the country market, particularly of honky-tonk and more traditional styles. This is why even unlikely hard-country and honky-tonk singers such as George Jones (b. 1931) and Faron Young (1932–96) briefly tried their hands at rockabilly and rock’n’roll. It was smoother singers of the era – such as Sonny James (b. 1929), Marty Robbins (1925–82) and Don Gibson (1928–2003) who best weathered the storm and enjoyed late-1950s crossover pop hits with mellow teen ballads like ‘Young Love’, ‘A White Sport Coat (And A Pink Carnation)’ and ‘Oh Lonesome Me’.
The success of such records was not lost upon Nashville’s Music Row. Producers Atkins and Bradley, two widely acknowledged ‘fathers’ of the Nashville sound, had long been in search of a formula that would enable Nashville-produced records to jump the fence into the pop charts.
The crossover craze was also spurred by the success of Nashville-based artists like The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison (1936–88) and Brenda Lee – teen rock’n’roll idols who seemed to effortlessly capture the mass market with youth-oriented hits written by Nashville-based songwriters and produced in Nashville studios.
Just as radio was an essential building-block in country music in the 1930s and 1940s, the emerging medium of...
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