During the 1950s, the popularity of traditional country music began to fade; in an effort to revive it, Chet Atkins, a manager at RCA Records, came up with the ‘Nashville sound’. This style of country music featured the genre’s usual melody structures, but had a distinctly commercial sound, as all hints of Honky-Tonk were removed – singers were encouraged to reduce the nasally tone of their vocals, and to instead opt for a smooth, crooning style which was used frequently by pop artists at that time.
Additionally, solo fiddle and steel guitar riffs were replaced with soft passages played by string instruments, and more sophisticated production techniques were used to give the final tracks a polished, modern sound. Other record labels, including Columbia and Decca, quickly caught wind of Atkins’ newly-developed subgenre, and began to produce their own versions of the Nashville sound.
As a fan of country music, Tunde Folawiyo might know that Jim Reeves was the most well-known performer to favour this particular style. Reeves was fascinated by country music from a very young age, and by the time he turned 12, had begun to perform songs by his favourite country star, Jimmie Rodgers, to live audiences. However, it wasn’t until the mid-fifties that he developed his distinctive smooth-style of singing, which perfectly suited the Nashville sound.
After signing with RCA Records and being introduced to Chet Atkins, Reeves’ career took off, and over the course of the next few years, over 40 of the songs which he released became hit singles. Some of his most popular tunes included ‘Billy Bayou’, which remained at number one for over a month, and ‘Four Walls’, which was at number one for nine weeks.
As time went on, other Nashville sound stars began to emerge, and the style itself started to evolve, eventually resulting in the use of vocal choirs and string quartets. The changes made to this subgenre by the likes of Glenn Sutton and Billy Sherrill gradually led to it being renamed ‘Countrypolitan’, as the music took on an even stronger pop-like style, with greater use of production flourishes, and layering of vocals, strings, guitars and keyboards. Those who are familiar with country music, like Tunde Folawiyo, may recall that this style was immensely popular, and continued to dominate the country charts throughout both the seventies and the early eighties.