Styles & Forms | The Nashville Sound | Country

The Nashville sound has been both praised and maligned. Occasionally called ‘crossover country’, ‘easy listening country’ or ‘countrypolitan’, it was a trend more than an innovation. As such, it arose as much from commercial considerations as it did from personal artistry.

All through the decades there have been periodic cross-pollinations between the country world and the wider pop audience. From the 1930s well into the 1950s Grand Ole Opry star Red Foley 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 started out singing western swing music, had a few best-selling pop hits with covers of country tunes. Her 1950 recording of Pee Wee King’s ‘Tennessee Waltz’ sold nearly five million copies. Crooner Bing Crosby even got in on the act with a cover of Ernest Tubb’s ‘Walkin’ The Floor Over You’.

An Antidote To Rock’n’Roll

Oddly enough, it was the advent of rock’n’roll that really spurred the late-1950s and early 1960s Nashville crossover era. The emergence of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and other rock’n’rollers with early hits like ‘Hound Dog’, ‘Jailhouse Rock’, ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’’ and ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ unleashed a national craze that for a while seriously impacted country record sales. The negative impact on the country record market was such that even hardcore country artists like George Jones responded by trying their hands at rockabilly and rock’n’roll. Others, like Sonny James, Marty Robbins and Don Gibson, broke through the late-1950s crossover market with mellow teen ballads like ‘Young Love’ and ‘A White Sport Coat (And A Pink Carnation)’. The success of such records was not lost upon Nashville producers Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley, the widely acknowledged pioneers of the Nashville sound. They, along with any number of other Music Row producers, had been trying to figure out for a long time how to make country records that could jump the fence into the far more lucrative pop crossover market.

Their appetites were further whetted by the success of Nashville-based artists like The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison and Brenda Lee, who managed to achieve longevity in the 1950s and 1960s as teen pop idols with hits that were written by Nashville-based songwriters and recorded and produced in Nashville studios.

From Nashville To ‘Cashville’

What distinguished the Nashville sound was the way it aggressively dressed up mainstream country music for pop airplay. Producers like Atkins and Bradley found tasteful ways of toning down the clatter and clang of country music’s raw edges and nudging it in a more uptown direction. They eased up on – or eliminated altogether – the vocal twang and replaced raucous fiddles and steel guitars with lush vocal arrangements, bright, sparkling slip-note piano embellishments and laid-back string and horn arrangements.

The term ‘Nashville sound’ also refers to the increasingly regimented, almost factory-like approach to hit-making that producers like...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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