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Offbeat Genres: Countrypolitan posted on July 1st, 2008

Countrypolitan, also known as the Nashville sound, is a genre of country music that came about in the late 50’s in America. The style was characterized by crooning vocals, smooth strings, layers of keyboards and guitars, and backing vocal choirs. Whether or not you’ve heard the term “countrypolitan” used before, the style was created to bring country music to the mainstream. When Chet Atkins was asked to define the style, he jingled the change in his pocket and said, “It’s the sound of money.” The genre accomplished it goals by bringing pop elements to country music, replacing honky tonk as a dominant theme and favoring a wider audience. The movement was led by Chet Atkins, who headed the country division of RCA records. Countrypolitan music, officially termed in the late 60’s, frequently crossed over to pop radio but also dominated the country charts through the 70s and 80s.

Early artists such as Jim Reeves and Patsy Cline paved the way for the Nashville sound, but as the style evolved to become even more pop-like to compete with the Bakersfield sound, artists such as Tammy Wynette, Glen Campbell, Charlie Rich and Charley Pride guided its course. A split in country music formed: country listeners supported the Bakersfield and outlaw country artists, while Countrypolitan artists introduced their version of country music to the pop crowd.

Recognizable country tracks such as “I Fall To Pieces” by Patsy Cline (1961), “The End of the World” by Skeeter Davis (1963) and “Make the World Go Away” by Eddy Arnold (1965) dominated during the days of the Nashville sound. Later music, officially termed Countrypolitan, included “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley (1969), “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden” by Lynn Andrerson (1971), and “Rhinestone Cowboy” by Glen Campbell (1975) as well as tracks by Charley Pride, Charley Rich, Conway Twitty and Ronnie Milsap. A group of backing musicians known as the “Nashville A-Team” personified the versatility of the Countrypolitan style, incorporating pop and jazz into their recordings. With an assortment of talented members such as Hank Garland, Floyd Cramer, Bob Moore, and Boots Randolph, this group performed backing instrumentation for Elvis Presley, Eddy Arnold, Chet Atkins, and many others.

While few artists of today can call themselves classically Countrypolitan, the music itself is finding its way to live on. In 1999, a group of industry leaders met at South by Southwest (a behemoth of a music convention in Austin, Texas), and discussed the promotion of a style of country music called Americana. This genre would give country music a way to showcase traditional music on the airwaves, bypassing the increasing shift by most country stations towards the more contemporary style mainstream listeners demand. What was once the ‘new school’ style of country has been overtaken by its own philosophy. Today’s country music is becoming even more pop-oriented, with artists such as Jewel, Carrie Underwood, and Taylor Swift being featured on both pop and country stations. Today’s split between country pop and Americana has turned the tables on Countrypolitan fans, and those who once demanded modernization are now chanting “out with the new, and in with the old!”