Nashville sound

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The Nashville sound originated during the mid 1950s as a subgenre of American country music, replacing the chart dominance of the rough honky tonk music which was most popular in the 1940s and 1950s with "smooth strings and choruses", "sophisticated background vocals" and "smooth tempos".[1][2] It was an attempt "to revive country sales, which had been devastated by the rise of rock 'n' roll."[2]


The Nashville sound was pioneered by staff at Decca Records, RCA Records and Columbia Records in Nashville, Tennessee, including manager Steve Sholes, record producers Chet Atkins, Owen Bradley, and Bob Ferguson, and recording engineer Bill Porter. They invented the form by replacing elements of the popular honky tonk style (fiddles, steel guitar, nasal lead vocals) with "smooth" elements from 1950s pop music (string sections, background vocals, crooning lead vocals), and using "slick" production, and pop music structures.[3][4] The producers relied on a small group of studio musicians known as the Nashville A-Team, whose quick adaptability and creative input made them vital to the hit-making process. The Anita Kerr Quartet was the main vocal backing group in the early 1960s. In 1960, Time magazine reported that Nashville had "nosed out Hollywood as the nation's second biggest (after New York) record-producing center."[5]

The term "Nashville Sound" was first mentioned in an article about Jim Reeves in 1958 in the Music Reporter and again in 1960 in a Time magazine article about Reeves.[6] Other observers have identified several recordings that helped establish the early Nashville sound. Country historian Rich Kienzle says that "Gone", a Ferlin Husky hit recorded in November 1956, "may well have pointed the way to the Nashville sound." Writer Colin Escott proclaims Jim Reeves' "Four Walls", recorded February 1957, to be the "first 'Nashville sound' record", and Chet Atkins, the RCA-based producer and guitarist most often credited with being the sound's primary artistic brainchild, pointed to his production of Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me" late that same year.[7]

In an essay published in Heartaches by the Number: Country Music's 500 Greatest Singles, David Cantwell argues that Elvis Presley's rock and roll recording of "Don't Be Cruel" in July 1956 was the record that sparked the beginning of the era now called the Nashville sound.[7]

Regarding the Nashville sound, the record producer Owen Bradley stated, "Now we've cut out the fiddle and steel guitar and added choruses to country music. But it can't stop there. It always has to keep developing to keep fresh."[8]


In the early 1960s, the Nashville sound began to be challenged by the rival Bakersfield sound on the country side[3] and by the British Invasion on the pop side; compounding these issues were the sudden deaths, in separate airplane crashes, of Patsy Cline and Jim Reeves, two of the Nashville Sound's biggest stars. Nashville's pop song structure became more pronounced and it morphed into what was called Countrypolitan - a smoother sound typified through the use of lush string arrangements with a real orchestra and often, background vocals provided by a choir. Countrypolitan was aimed straight at mainstream markets and it sold well throughout the later 1960s into the early 1970s. Among the architects of this sound were producers Billy Sherrill (who was instrumental in shaping Tammy Wynette's early career) and Glenn Sutton. Artists who typified the countrypolitan sound initially included Wynette, Glen Campbell (who recorded in Hollywood and not Nashville), Lynn Anderson, Charlie Rich, and Charley Pride.[4]

The Bakersfield sound, and later outlaw country, dominated country music among aficionados while countrypolitan reigned on the pop charts.[4]

Upon being asked what the Nashville sound was, Chet Atkins would put his hand into his pocket, shake his loose change, and say "That's what it is. It's the sound of money".[9]

Country pop[edit]

Main article: Country pop

By the late 1970s and 1980s, many pop music singers picked up the countrypolitan style and created what is known as country pop, the fusion of country music and soft rock.

Examples of the Nashville sound[edit]

Classic examples of Nashville sound recordings:

Examples of Countrypolitan[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Byworth, Tony, ed. (2006). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music. London: Flame Tree Publishing. pp. 7, 115–117, 169. ISBN 978-1-84451-406-9. 
  2. ^ a b Dawidoff, Nicholas (1997). In the Country of Country. Great Britain: Faber and Faber. pp. 48–50. ISBN 0-571-19174-6. 
  3. ^ a b The Tennessee Encyclopedia. Nashville Recording Industry. Accessed July 9, 2008.
  4. ^ a b c Sanjek, Russell. (1988). "American Popular Music and Its Business: the first four hundred years". Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-504311-1.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Bill Ivey, Encyclopedia of Country Music
  7. ^ a b "The "Nashville Sound" Begins". Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  8. ^ Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 14. ISBN 1-904041-96-5. 
  9. ^