|Stylistic origins||Country music, pop music|
|Cultural origins||1950s Nashville, Tennessee|
|Typical instruments||Guitar, strings, bass, drum, banjo, vocals|
|Derivative forms||Countrypolitan, country pop|
|Country musicians – List of years in country music|
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". It was an attempt "to revive country sales, which had been devastated by the rise of rock 'n' roll."
The Nashville sound was pioneered by staff at RCA Victor, Columbia Records and Decca Records in Nashville, Tennessee. RCA Victor manager and producer Chet Atkins, and producers Steve Sholes, Owen Bradley and Bob Ferguson, and recording engineer Bill Porter 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. 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."
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. 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 Victor producer and guitarist most often credited with being the sound's primary artistic creator, pointed to his production of Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me" late that same year.
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. Cantwell, however, doesn't factor in earlier Nashville recordings using vocal choruses, or the fact that Presley's recordings were not marketed as country.
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."
Quonset Hut Studio, RCA Studio B and later RCA Studio A, located directly center of Music Row, were considered pivotal as well as essential locations to the development of the Nashville Sound musical techniques. RCA Studio A was specifically designed and built to incorporate these techniques and was designed by RCA’s sound engineer John E. Volkmann.
In the early 1960s, the Nashville sound began to be challenged by the rival Bakersfield sound on the country side and by the British Invasion on the pop side; compounding these problems 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, the latter being a rare example of a top-selling African-American country performer.
Examples of the Nashville sound
Classic examples of Nashville sound recordings:
- "Four Walls" by Jim Reeves (1957)
- "Gone" by Ferlin Husky (1957)
- "A Fallen Star" by Jimmy C. Newman (1957)
- "The Three Bells" by The Browns (1959)
- "Please Help Me, I'm Falling by Hank Locklin (1960)
- "He'll Have to Go" by Jim Reeves (1960)
- "Last Date" by Floyd Cramer (1960)
- "I'm Sorry" by Brenda Lee (1960)
- "I Fall to Pieces" by Patsy Cline (1961)
- "Hello Fool" by Ralph Emery (1961)
- "A Little Bitty Tear", "Call Me Mister In-Between", and "It's Just My Funny Way of Laughin'" by Burl Ives (1962) (Ives was not a country singer, but a folk singer.)
- "The End of the World" by Skeeter Davis (1963) This record was a mainstream pop chart hit.
- "Here Comes My Baby" by Dottie West (1964)
- "Make the World Go Away" by Eddy Arnold (1965)
- "Misty Blue" by Wilma Burgess (1966)
- "Danny Boy" by Ray Price (1967)
Examples of Countrypolitan
- "(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden" by Lynn Anderson (1971)
- "Help Me Make It Through the Night" by Sammi Smith (1971)
- "Kiss an Angel Good Morning" by Charley Pride
- "Eleven Roses" by Hank Williams, Jr. (1972)
- "Behind Closed Doors" by Charlie Rich (1973)
- "Good News" by Jody Miller (1973)
- "The Most Beautiful Girl" by Charlie Rich (1973)
- "Paper Roses" by Marie Osmond (1973)
- "Rhinestone Cowboy" by Glen Campbell (1975)
- "He Stopped Loving Her Today" by George Jones (1980)
- "Slow Hand" by Conway Twitty (1982)
- The music of Ronnie Milsap
- "Lady", "You Decorated My Life" and similar songs by Kenny Rogers
- "When I Think About Cheatin'" by Gretchen Wilson (2004)
- Sparrow by Ashley Monroe (2018)
- 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.
- Dawidoff, Nicholas (1997). In the Country of Country. Great Britain: Faber and Faber. pp. 48–50. ISBN 0-571-19174-6.
- The Tennessee Encyclopedia. Nashville Recording Industry. Accessed April 9, 2016.
- Sanjek, Russell. (1988). "American Popular Music and Its Business: the first four hundred years". Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-504311-1.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-05-16. Retrieved 2008-11-11.
- Bill Ivey, Encyclopedia of Country Music
- "The "Nashville Sound" Begins". Retrieved August 8, 2011.
- Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 14. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
- "Three Years After Being Saved from Wrecking Ball Studio A Still Makes an Impact". Nashville Scene. Retrieved 2018-04-08.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-06-13. Retrieved 2011-07-04.