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The Nashville sound arose during the late 1950s as a sub-genre of American country music, replacing the chart dominance of honky tonk music which was most popular in the 1940s and 1950s. Although it refers to a means of production (not to mention an era and mystique) as much as to an actual sound, the Nashville Sound is generally dated from 1957 or 1958.[1]


Origins of the Nashville sound

With country's youth market and radio clout disappearing, Nashville began mixing pop music elements into country productions to attract the adult audience. The Nashville sound was pioneered by staff at 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.[2][3] 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. In 1960, Time magazine reported that Nashville had "nosed out Hollywood as the nation's second biggest (after New York) record-producing center."[4]

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.[5]

However, in an essay published in Heartaches by the Number: Country Music's 500 Greatest Singles David Cantwell argues that Elvis Presley's recording of "Don't Be Cruel" in July 1956 was the record that sparked the beginning of the era we now call the "Nashville sound."[6]


In the early 1960s, the Nashville sound began to be challenged by the rival Bakersfield sound.[2] Nashville's pop song structure became more pronounced and it morphed into what was called "Countrypolitan". 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, Lynn Anderson, Charlie Rich, and Charley Pride.[3]

The Bakersfield sound and later, outlaw country, dominated country music among aficionados while Countrypolitan reigned on the pop charts.[3]

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

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

Classic examples of Nashville sound recordings:

Examples of Countrypolitan

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b The Tennessee Encyclopedia. Nashville Recording Industry. Accessed July 9, 2008.
  3. ^ a b c Sanjek, Russell. (1988). "American Popular Music and Its Business: the first four hundred years". Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-1950-4311-1.
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Nashville sound


Nashville sound (uncountable)

  1. (descriptive) A subgenre of country music that became popular in the 1950s and 1960s, containing elements of popular music, including string sections and background vocals.


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