Thursday, November 27, 2008

Shaken, Not Stirred: James Bond Songs Part-II

Continuing from my previous post about the songs from James Bond films, this post looks at all the Bond songs which came after 1980.


All the songs which came after 1980 had strong pop influence, with more of keyboards, synthesizers rather than usual trumpets, horns and string orchestra used before. I would say the quality graph of Bond songs went down drastically during the 80s, with songs being made only to compete with other pop chartbusters rather than painting the 'Bond Music' feel on them. The 90s, however, improved and significantly that too, with David Arnold taking the helm of the music of Bond series films. The reason why David Arnold clicked, despite changing the Bond Music template to more contemporary techno-based form, is the fact that his sense of observation of John Barry's music for all Bond films prior to 80s was strong. In a way, he did not completely deviated from that school of thought, but only adapted the nuances, to more evolved sound. As you read/hear along, you can know the difference. For now, let us look at how Bond Music plummeted... and then rose.


12. For Your Eyes Only: This 1981 film had music by someone called Bill Conti, and not John Barry. Originally, the producers roped in a band called 'Blondie' for the theme song, but they never used that composition. This unused song by Blondie has few traces of Bond style of music, with chord-shifts that replicate the original Bond theme. By that characteristic atleast, it could have been a better Bond song, rather than the one that has been used in the film, sung by Sheena Easton. Sheena's version is completely stripped off (just like what you see in Bond film titles ;) ) the Bond music elements. The song ends up as a pretty normal conventional pop number.

Blondie Song Rating: 7/10

Sheena Easton Song Rating: 5/10


13. Octopussy: John Barry returned to compose music for this 13th Bond film, which had the title song "All Time High" sung by Rita Coolidge. The song has sensuous overtures, both musically, replete with Saxophone and lyrically too. In my opinion, this song strikes a fine balance between the Pop fever running at that period and the ingredients of Bond songs, changes not withstanding. Yes, the trademark mysterious feel and suspense evoking trumpets are given a miss, but the song definitely captures Bond's another facet - his fascination for women-sensuality. A compellingly teasing tune with wonderful orchestration, makes me rate this song higher, even though it is devoid of the typical John Barry Bond-ish sound.

Rating: 8.5/10


i) Never Say Never Again: This film was not by EON productions (Franchise which produced all Bond films) and the producers got to make this film due to a legal loophole, which prevented EON productions from doing anything about it. This Sean Connery film was a remake of "Thunderball" and was released simultaneously with "Octopussy". Much like the film, the soundtrack was quite bad, making the Bond song into just another Pop song of the 80s, and a very ordinary Pop Song, that is.

Rating: 3/10


14. A View To Kill: This last Bond film by Roger Moore saw John Barry teaming up with a band called Duran Duran for the soundtrack. I regard this theme song among the weakest Bond songs, signaling the declined quality in the Bond Music. Nothing about Bond, its feel or quality or sound. Just another poor imitation of spirit of a Boney M song. I wonder how this song actually became a hit. Trend, may be.

Rating: 2/10


15. The Living Daylights: Evidently, as can be seen with previous two films, the quality of Bond songs witnessed a down trend, in which songs have become mere pop and disco numbers rather than reflecting James Bond aura. This first film of Thimothy Dalton had a song which is a complete misfit, just like the way Dalton was misfit for the Bond role. It is disbelievable that John Barry was at the helm of this soundtrack, which is completely electronic in sound and un-Bondish in execution. A new band called 'A-Ha' crooned this Pop song which probably can fit in a movie like Mad Max and definitely not a Bond film. The end credits had much better song, with orchestral elements such as Piano and string ensemble and a evocative melody.

A-Ha song Rating: 1/10

End credits song rating: 6/10


16. License to Kill: After spiraling down to ordinary pop songs, James Bond songs got back on the track of Bond aura sounds. This film's theme song was composed by Michael Kamen and was sung by Gladys Knight. The song heavily borrows the lead cue from the opening trumpet-horn notes in the title song of 'Goldfinger'. The only difference being that while the elements have been retained, the execution is more synthesizer based. The pace and tone of the song is reminiscent of Bond songs that appeared in 60s. The end credits has a hummable song, which does not have Bond song chaacteristics and yet makes a good listening. Some redemption atleast.

Title song Rating: 7.5/10

End credits song: 5.5/10


17. GoldenEye: Bond films witnessed a never before 6 year gap and a lot has changed in the 6 years. The decade turned. The dark backdrops of films in general have been replaced by more vibrant and colourful pictures.The synthesizer backed pop and disco era has transformed into electronic fusion cum techno sounds. The sounds that ruled the charts, changed significantly. And so did the Bond. Pierce Brosnan stepped in. The theme song was composed by Eric Serra and was sung by Tina Turner. Ranked easily among the best Bond songs ever, this song worked because it married Bond music elements and all elements that is, to modern percussion sounds and brilliant vocal rendition reminiscent of Bond songs in 60s. The song was modern, yet had everything about Bond song..the tune, soundscape and orchestral elements. Originally, pop band 'Ace of Base' was approached for theme song. Their song "The Juvenile"(originally supposed to be GoldenEye), was rejected, although they too did a fair job on the Bond song. The end credits had had "Experience of Love" by Eic Serra, a casual romantic ballad, which is does not need much mention.

GoldenEye Rating: 9.5/10

The Juvenile Rating: 8/10


18. Tomorrow Never Dies: David Arnold stepped in as composer for this flick and went on to compose for subsequent Bond films too. His forte was fusing John Barry's classical style of orchestration with modern electronic music. The title song by Sheryl Crow hit the right notes of Bond song, much like GoldenEye song, capturing the mood of the Bond song to the perfect level. The orchestration and rendition, both are top class. Another song "Surrender", sung by K.D.Lang, used in the end credits, comes quite close to the title song, in execution. This song too, is characteized by John Barry elements and modern electronica, filling the with Bond signature. Meanwhile, several other artists/bands vied for clinching the title song of the film. They include Saint Etienne's version, Swan Lee's version, Pulp's Version (rock interpretation) and Propellerheads version (techno).

Sheryl Crow song Rating: 9/10

Surrender Rating:  8/10

Sain Etienne's Version Rating: 7/10

Swan Lee's Version Rating: 7/10

Pulp's Rating: 6/10

Propellerheads version Rating: 6/10


19. The World is Not Enough: David Arnold continued his interpretation of John Barry's touch and painted exactly the same colours on modern canvas of sound. This film's title song was sung by Garbage and the tune, which has shades of Keeravani raaga, has quite an intoxicating melody. The song's lyrics are quite interesting too. Noticeable is the fact that Arnold has retained the flavour of the Bond song, without using the usual trumpets and horns. Probably the signature tune or rather the lead melody was compellingly Bond-ish enough that he could do away with them. Another version by Straw, was also speculated to be the title song but it never made it, despite it having a lazy rendition and being violently enticing. Scott Walker's "Only Myself to Blame" which appears in the end credits is a jazz number with hardly any semblance with Bond music, although the tune is mildly mysterious.

Garbage song Rating: 9.5/10

Straw version Rating: 6/10


20. Die Another Day: One of the weakest soundtracks, apart from being one of the weakest films. Expectations were high when it was publicized as Madonna's first Bond song. The song turned out to be overly techno, which could have made it end in dance floors rather than in the collection of Bond enthusiasts. After two outstanding songs from previous two Bond films, David Arnold disappoints in this one.

Rating: 6/10


21. Casino Royale: In many ways, the title song of this film seems to be inspired, in spirit, by the themes of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service' and "Live and Let die". However, there is no resemblance. The title song "You know my Name" is quite a deviation from the John Barry and David Arnold mould, but still retains the flavour of enigma all within. The trumpets and horns are replaced by electric guitars for sure, but they too make a grand entry much like wind instruments. The rendition is one of the best among the male renditions of Bond songs and given the story of this film, that of re-booting the entire James Bond story, the music had to be little different, which it was. But yet, it maintained the spirit of the Bond song, though the tune and the lyrics. Quite impressive.

Rating: 9/10


22. Quantum of Solace: This song by Alicia Keys and Jack white disappointment me a lot. It sounded as caricature of Bond music, trapped in the cacophony of modern techno sounds. I heard that the film too, deviates completely from the Bond features such as the sense of humour, the gadgets, the smart one-liners, the charm, bond music, etc. Must be so, because the music too does not seem to be a Bond song at all.

Rating: 1/10


I wish the producers bring back the things that made Bond films, and my expectations include Bond music too. Afterall, with so many wonderful Bond songs so far, whats the point in revamping the concept into something that does not identify with them. If the classic John Barry elements are brought back or even like the ones David Arnold created, therein lies the real quantum of solace, of every bond music buff, like me.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Piya Tose - Actual Version

One of the first few albums i ever listened to, in my life, was Dev Anand's 'Guide'. I did not know any music back then. Yet, i loved playing the songs, on the LP record my uncle used to have. Later, my Dad bought the tapes. Much later, i happened to watch the film and i realized that the tape versions are not complete, but edited ones. Among the songs that were edited was 'Piya Tose Naina Lage Re', which originally was over 7mins. The tapes, and subsequently the cds, contained versions which are only over 4mins.

Finally, i got the full version, ripped from the VCD of 'Guide'. I listen to this version, probably once in 10-15days, thus making it one of the most revisited songs in my entire collection. I cannot exactly say what draws me towards this composition. Probably it is sheer magic. It is indeed difficult to appreciate just 1-2 aspects of this song. There is always something new popping up, as the song plays on. What really sets this song apart? Is it the tricky rhythm patterns, which change very intricately? Or the highly imaginative interludes? Counter-melodies? Finer nuances in rendition? Lata Mangeshkar? I think this is one of those complete, full-some songs which has 'G-E-N-I-U-S' written all over it. What does it take to compose such a song?

Frankly, i am not qualified enough to review this composition. It still gives me goose bumps, to believe the fact that the entire soundtrack of 'Guide' was composed in, hold-your-breath, 5 days. By every measure, it is not at all an ordinalry achievement, given the fact the soundtrack had nothing but sheer Gems. And among them, shining brightly is this nugget, which leaves listeners spellbound. Can any current-era composer try to compose, if not the similar, but a song of this stature? If yes, how long it could take, for this sng alone? And to understand what all gives the song the stature it deserves, please listen to it atleast 3-4 times, paying attention to every note, instrument and tune running on the forefront and the background. I tried mentioning few master-strokes, as comments in the player-bar. The song, in my opinion, is a monument, much like the man behind it - S.D.Burman.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A peek into Ilaiyaraaja's Tremelos

This topic was on my 'yet to blog about' list since long. A wonderful peek into the 'Tremelo effect' on string ensemble, as practised by one of the Indian Grand Masters of orchestra - Ilaiyaraaja. Even before I could blog about it, my friend Vicky came up with his take on his blog. Do read this wonderful post, where he cites few apt examples (if i were to write about same topic, i would also pick the very same songs) in which tremelo effect has been used to fine perfection, putting the painting (song), on a whole different canvas. I completely agree with the last words of Vicky, that no composer from South Asia has used tremelo effect in such evocatve way, holding listeners in a musically rapturous delight. Thanks to Vicky, for citing the right examples.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Is Accordion slowly getting back!

Last year, A.R.Rahman belted out an impressive melody "Ay Hairath-E-Aashiqi" from Guru which brought back an instrument now extinct in the current technoscape of film music - Accordion. Although the album credits did not mention who actually played it in the song, many believe that it was Rahman himself, because he personally picked it up from a music store in London (or Prague?). And he did play it well too.
Now, again, after a long time, i chanced upon another wonderful song with very good accordion work. The song, 'Muskuraa' from a new film called 'Dasvidaniyan', composed by singer Kailash Kher, reminded me of another exquisite composition, "Fallen from the Sky', from the film 'Once'. Although i cannot say that Kailash Kher copied it, because, to be fair, he did quite commendable job to the complete composition, I am sure that he got inspired from the song from Once. The similarity exists only in the initial lines, for few bars. But then, I must say, Kailesh belted out a very mature composition, simple melody and yet captivating, bringing back the glory of accordion which was once a regular instrument in Hindi Film Music, particularly by Shankar-Jaikishan duo. Listening to that instrument, aptly used in a melodious number calls for an applause. It rarely happens with current crop Hindi films, that a song catches my attention the very 1st time i hear it. This is just one among them. Kudos to Kailash, for this one.

Shaken, Not Stirred: James Bond Songs Part-I

This post could be seen as an eventful piece, in the wake of 'Quantum of Solace' euphoria that is catching up all over. But in reality, this came up because I recently indulged in a bit of childhood and watched couple of James Bond films, which I had seen earlier when I was a kiddo. And during this adventure, I discovered some beautiful songs, which were used in those films during title credits. So, why not a post about - Bond Music.

The character of Bond Songs - There is a unique quality about most of the Bond songs. Most of them have a mysterious, dark, enigmatic feel attached to them. Over that, they could be either suspense evoking (blaring trumpets using Bond theme motif) or very dreamy (usually sung by a female singer) sensuous melody. The orchestra usually consisted of String Section and Brass elements (trumpets, horn). After the 3rd Bond film, it became a norm to have the title song rendered by a contemporary pop singer. As time progressed, Bond theme songs adapted contemporary genres and sounds, such as more fiercy-rebellious in eary 70s, synth and disco-ish sounds in 1980s and more evolved electronic sounds and trance-based music in 90s and later. Yet, some of the songs managed to keep the inherent character alive, while some other songs had deviations, in the form of experiments and few, utterly failed in all aspects. And not to forget, most of the songs have traces of Indian Raagas most notably Keeravani and Charukesi (Ravi identified about 3 songs based on this raaga). That interested me more and thats why, Here is my take on all the Bond songs so far.

1. Dr. No - Being the first film in the series, the only thing Bond-ish about it is the trademark theme, composed by Monty Norman and orchestrated by John Barry orchestra. However, the soundtrack also had a very non-Bond-ish nursery-rhyme-kind 'Underneath the Mano Tree', with more carribean touch. If we ignore the fact that the music does not have anything to do with James Bond, the song is quite a good one.

Rating - 9/10

2. From Russia With Love - The title song, sung by Matt Monro, appears in the end-credits. A wonderful composition to which Matt Monro's vocal suit the best. His base voice reminded me the base of Jose Feliciano. One of the best Bond songs indeed. Also, John Barry started his stint as full-fledged composer for Bond Films.

Rating 9/10

3. Goldfinger - Goldfinger started the trend of using a pop-singer for the theme song. The song, sung by Shirley Bassey, in a way set the trend for forming the character of the Bond song. With blaring trumpets and slow pace, the song has opera-feel in the way it is rendered, while the tune and orchestration establish the enigma, mystery brutality and suspense, which continued in many other Bond songs.

Rating - 8/10

4. ThunderBall - The song completely runs on the Bond Theme motif, while Tom Jones croons this noticeably difficult song. There is one more song, in the end, titled quite funnily as "Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang". Even this song, sounding all Bond-ish with Trumpets and Horns and string orchestra, has carried the legacy started by Goldfinger.

Thunder Ball song Rating - 7/10;

"Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" song Rating - 6/10

5. You Only Live Twice - Nancy Sinatra was roped in for this phenomenal composition. In my opinion, this is one of the best bond compositions. Starting with a grand ensemble of string arrangements playing a melody, which later becomes an electric guitar melody in the background, while the actual melody of the song runs in a very relaxed tone, backed by guitars. A very sweepy melody. The usage of strong orchestra with horns, steals the show in this phenomenal song. Nancy Sinatra too.

Rating - 10/10.

6. On Her Majesty's Secret Service - This film, is the first film after Dr. No, which does not have a theme song during opening titles. Instead, John Barry makes it up with a trendsetting piece, which was not approved initially. It is the first Bond track to feature electronic elements, spiced up along with symphony orchestra. John Barry executed a stunning orchestration. Listen to it in ear-phones and you will realize that probably this track makes up for the quality of the film. The end titles however, had a grumpy ballad by Louis Armstrong, "We have All the Time in the world", melodic tune though. Although there is nothing Bond-ish about the song, the song could be seen as a post-cursor to "From Russia With Love".

Title Piece Rating - 10/10

"We Have All the Time in the World" Rating - 7/10

7. Diamonds Are Forever - Shirley Bassey again. In my opinion, much more than music, the song is interesting for the lyrics it had, comparing Diamonds with Men and a lady preferring former over latter. (At times, i wonder if this song inspired Sahir Ludhianvi to write "Sona Mile tho log aaj kal dil ko kabhi le", in Joshila). The song has a very dreamy rendition, with heavy base and electric guitars mildly mixing with the rhythm. In many ways, this song sounds like a precursor to 'MoonRaker' title song, sung by Shirley Bassey again. Exotic Melody.

Rating - 8/10

8. Live and Let Die - This song is a complete re-interpretation of Bond Music. John Barry took a break and Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney teamed up with a band named Wings, for this unconventional number. While elements of Rock and Ballad type of music are woven with simple piano strokes, the track has much more to it. The colour/mood of the song changes from soft to violent to brutal to spunk. For me, what stands out is sonorous and blaring trumpets, which repeats many times, sounding very eerie, backed up electronic elements. The tune actually potrays tension, intimidatingly.

Rating - 7/10

9. The Man With The Golden Gun - This could be probably one of the weakest songs in the Bond series. John Barry returned to Bond series with this song. The club-disco era has already started and this song imbibes just that. While the opening trumpets start off on the promising Bond motif, the bland disco cum into-the-face pop tune just doesnt work.The lyrics too, bring down Bond to a mere comics-hero.

Rating - 2/10

10. The Spy Who Loved Me - The song, "Nobody Does It Better" by Carl Simon, despite suggestive lyrics, works big time. It was the 1st song in Bond series which had title different from that of the film. Instead of John Barry, it was composed by Marvin Hamlisch. This song puts the Bond songs back into the trademark songs league, something which was missing after 'Diamonds Are Forever'. The song starts off on Piano, in a mere jazzy style and then emerges into the Bond-ish pop ballad. The strong string section and soft percussions with guitars culminate to make it sound like a perfect fusion between pop and opera music.

Rating - 8/10

11. Moonraker - John Barry returns again and so does Shirley Bassey, to create one of the classic Bond songs ever. Horns, String section, keyboards, haunting melody, sensuous rendition... probably it works in all dimensions. The song has two versions. While the slow version appeared in titles, the end-credits had a faster disco-version of the same song, done quite intelligently. In all, both versions are quite intoxicating.

Rating - 10/10

We are left with 11 more films. To be continued...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rock On

I know this review is coming in quite late. But heck, i just wanted to write it.
After lot of resistance, i finally listened to this album 'Rock On' and it took quite sometime for me to get into the premise of the album. I remember the day when i heard the track "Pichle saat Dinom mein" and the lyrics "Meri laundry ka ek bill, ek aadhi padi novel..ek ladki ka phone number, mere kaam ka ek paper" put me off completely. What was Javed Akhtar writing there? But later, i gave the whole album a patient hearing, only because Shankar-Ehsan-Loy are among the very few composers whom i admire these days. And the album did impress me quite a bit, which is why i am recording few notes about it, on this blog.

1. Socha Hain - The songs starts off like opening a door to rock music. Guitar tune, playing the main tune and bass guitar, then drums joining in. The song has a very lively flavour and Farhan Akhtar did surprise me with his rendition of the song. Keeping the synth levels to the minimum, the song borrows heavily from the Rock genre, true to the film's name. Javed Akhtar comes up with some thought-provoking lines such as:
"Ped hogaye kum kyon, teen hain mausam kyon..Chaand do kyon nahi.
duniya mein hain Jung kyon, behtha laal rang kyon, sarhadein kyon har kahi".
some very good guitar work, interspersed with nice bass. Rock songs, by nature, have some rebellious tinge in them and the usually, the lyrics tend to reflect the same. This song imbibes elements such as these, in lyrics and the rendition. Watch the way Farhan starts off "Aasmaan Hain Neela" at 3:00mins, a very dragged and coarse way of taking off, which works very well.

2. Pichle Saat Dinon Mein: This is the song i had much problem with. But then, the tune of the song is quite hummable. The song starts off with hardly any instruments and gets groovy when the guitars and drums get on. The charanams are quite short and simple and what keeps the song going is the hummability quality in it. The guitar piece towards the end reminded me of Knopfler. Putting an out and out rock song in the premise of Hindi song is actually difficult and this song justifies exactly that.

3. Zehreelay: Hard Rock is the genre. I couldnt attempt to listen to it more than twice, because the song is a major assault on my ears.

4. Yeh Tumhari Meri Baathein: One of the brilliant songs of this album, which evens out the scales, to match the kicky rock songs on the other side. This one is a pleasant melody, a simple one too. Backed only by a guitar melody, keyboard, bass and jazz-trap kit, the song is a wonderful western melody, with apt rendition by dominique. The song oozes beauty and romance. Javed Akhtar's simple and beautiful lines get into the tune like hand in glove. This is Shankar-Ehsan-Loy's one of the finest compositions.

5. Tum Ho To - This one is a soft romantic ballad, which has been rendered brilliantly by Farhan Akhtar. The melody is vintage, while the instrumentation is modern, although with minimal instruments. The beauty of the song lies in the shift from the slow melody to change in chords and carrying the song in the same pace. and Do watch out when Farhan does a brilliant job at "Tum mile to mili...Yeh Zindagiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii".

6. Sindbad The Sailor: The song starts off very anthemically and it really got me into it there itself. Rock buff would dismiss this song because this is essentially less of a rock song (compared to Socha Hai and Pichle Saat Dinom) and more of a Dance number, much on the lines of 'Koi Kahe kehta Rahe'. But heck, it got me tap my feet and even dance. The song's structure is not the usual mukhda-anthara, but it has 3-4 musical lines, woven into phrases which are sung again and again. Yet, the song doesn't bore a minute. Farhan Akhtar again shines and to his luck, his vocal inconsistencies got lost in the guitars and keyboard riffs which back the song. The best part of the song, is when the whole euphoria slows down and Farhan re-sings 'Tum Ho To' and picks it up to a height, re-igniting the euphoria again. watch the guitars and drums when he goes off "yeh zindagiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii", i could keep my hands silent and air-drummed everytime i listened to it.

7. Phir Dekhiye - Another soft ballad, with acoustic guitars and piano. A very impressive composition which is melodic rather than euphoric. Javed Akhtar's lines shine again here. The song sounds sweet more because it is a simple melody and very simplistic treatment given to it. A wonderful bedtime song, not to be missed at all.

I have many reasons to appreciate Shankar-Ehsan-Loy in this album. the foremost being the fact that they did not stick to pure rock songs alone. neither they gave conventional hindi music. Instead, they gave mellow western numbers such as "yeh Tumhari Meri Baathein" and "Phir Dekhiye", using same guitars and drums, without disturbing the mood or the melody. Then, their choice to make Farhan Akhtar sing actually works. Not that he has a great voice, for it is very coarse. It is only that the voice has been intelligently used be in rock songs or ballad (Tum To Ho). To give due credit, Farhan did not disappoint and did justice to the compositions. and ofcourse the last reasn being the likeable numbers. I liked 6 out of 7 songs and thats quite cool. Isn't It?

Rock On is indeed a very different album, which might not please every music lover, but only those who identify with the genre of Rock Music. Yet, for others, the albums caters with wonderful soft songs. For me, the album gave me much more than i expected - good but not over-done rock music, good instrumentation and soft melodies. Rock On!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

My Raaja Experience

A good friend of mine, Vignesh, who is much more a 'ilaiyaraaja buff' than a mere mortal, has started a 'blog-tag' game and tagged me in it. The idea is to spontaneously write about 5 things concerning ilaiyaraaja's music and me...and then tag people who could be interested in posting the same on his blog.

I am borrowing same aspects/questions from Vignesh's post.

1. The moment that introduced you to Raaja:

I know this would be quite surprising because ilaiyaraaja's music existed, and in tall stature, even before he made this song. The first time i ever heard the name 'Ilaiyaraaja', was when I listened to this song from 'Gharshana' (Agni Nakshatram in Tamil) - 'Ninnu Kori Varnam'. The music was absolutely different from all the music i heard before. My never-ending journey with ilaiyaraaja started with this song. Incidentally, that was the first time i heard another name, who became my favourite - Chitra.

2. Name one occassion where Raaja's music directly/ indirectly influenced your life:

Well, this is a tricky question, especially to someone who listens to atleast 2-3 ilaiyaraaja songs every day. but I think I can get this one. There was one album, which acted as a divisive force on my experience of raaja's music. Before listening to this album, ilaiyaraaja was one of my favourite composers who gave some wonderful music for few Telugu films. After listening to this album, i realized that this man is actually much more a genius than i knew. His capabilities stretch much beyond making good songs for commercial telugu films. I felt that he does not just compose music, but explores it. That album is 'How to Name it'.

3. Lets take Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi into account. Assuming that one of this is either your mother tongue or native language, name a favorite song in each of the other 4 languages that immediately comes to your mind:

My mother tongue is Telugu, so excluding that, i pick from the other four:

Tamil: Hundreds of songs, but for now, lets say 'Vazha Osai' (from Satya). Absolutely brilliant. is it melody? or groovy? gives me goose bumps.

Malayalam: again many; the pick right now would be 'Poonkaattinodu kilikalodum' (film 'Poomukhappadiyil ninneyum kaathu'), it is a classic.

Kannada: 'Jyotheyalli' (film Geetha).

Hindi: Dilwaale Raat Hain (film 'Mahadev')... i think this song was much ahead of its times.

4. One song of Ilaiyaraaja that you consider rare and think a song that many people should have known but don't:

There are many like that, but to think of it..actually i would again quote 'Dilwale Raat' from Mahadev. Sounds disbelieving, but i spent one entire day asking for this album, in the entire music casette shops market of Kothi, hyderabad. i couldn't get it. It is still a rare find infact.

5. Lets keep the last one simple.. Raaja's number that you are hearing right now/ most recently heard..?:

"Vaan Megham" from Punnaghai Mannan, i still find it puzzling, to understand the elements weaved into it. How could he do it?

My (new) tags: Ravi, Divya, Ananth, Prashanth, Raghu, Chinmayi (hoping that they would post their Raaja moments too :) )

Monday, September 01, 2008

A Composer's view of A.R.Rahman

I came across an interesting post, on this blog, which attempts to comprehensively capture the elements which make A.R.Rahman what he is. For once, I felt that the opinions were very objectivistic instead of being another fan's ramblings. The writer is a composer who works for Marathi films. A very interesting write-up which looks at Rahman's work, from a composer's point-of-view.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hoton Pe Beeti Baat Aayi Hai

I wrote this post, in my mind, probably 3-4 months ago...when i revisited this song with a clean slate in my mind. As good as a first listening. The song just took me in.

Angoor was probably the only comedy film made by Gulzar. He adapted the film from Shakespeare's work 'Comedy of Errors'. Some of the films made by him after 1975 had very limited scope for music, or rather, he choose to have only 2-3 songs per film instead of the usual 5 or 6. Angoor was one of them, with only 3 songs. The song which went on to become most popular was 'Roz Roz Daali Daali', a semi-classical number by Asha Bhonsle. This song, however, did not get receive its due attention, despite all its merit.

The most interesting thing about the song, sets off as soon as the songs starts - bass guitar usage interspersed with a very peculiar rhythm cycle. The bass guitar is interspered with a duff like percussion instrument, followed by tabla. Acoustic guitars only support, mildly. Collectively, these sounds enhance the sound canvas of the song enormously. Another testimony of RD's emphasis and fascination for the sound of a song.
Asha's rendition oozes sensuiality particularily when she glides over from 1st line (Hoton Pe beeti Baat aayi hai) to the 2nd (Vaada nibhaane ki raat aayi hai) and then naughtiness when she lets off a 'huh' instead of 'baat', without skipping the beat, at 00.32mins. RD was indeed the last composer who could understand Asha's voice and knew how to tap it.

Flute was always RD's favourite instrument and so was santoor, which he used extensively in many songs right from his first film to his last. Now santoor is a flat-sound instrument, with more number of strings to cover the pitches. The sound from santoor is produced by tapping the string, unlike pulling it, like in a sitar or sarod or veena, to produce a meend. It is precisely here RD defies convention. In the 1st interlude of this song, after a brief interlude between Santoor and Bamboo flute, he gives a 'meend' to the santoor note, at 00:52mins. The santoor in this song was played by Ulhas Bapat, an eminent santoor player. The same idea was again used in his Ijaazat song, 'Mera Kuch Saamaan', 7 years later.

First stanza has the same rhythm cycle continuing through it and one can hear 'oud' like instrument towards its close. The 2nd interlude has the same rhythm, minus the tabla beats and RD's meend on santoor again plays. The acoustic guitars alone stand out when Asha sings 'Yaad hai us din', reminding us about their presence through the song.

It is rather difficult to pinpoint on one high point of the song. RD paints a mood to this song, with minimal usage of instruments and sensuality in Asha's voice giving the song a very 'Nightly' effect. The lyrics just tally with the same, with beautiful lines like 'vaada nibhaane ki raat aayi hai'.Gulzar's brilliant expression of sensual moment comes as the last line of 1st stanza - 'chaand ko chabaane ki raat aayi hai'. Its literal meaning is unimaginative, yet, if one can see moonlight as sweet, then why cant one long for the sugar-cube itself, in a moment of heightened passion.

Hoton Pe Beeti Baat aayi hai...
vaada nibhaane ki raat aayi hai..

Yaad to hogi kuch bhooli bisri...
Aise hi barsi thi..chaand se misri...
Chaand ko chabaane ki raat aayi hai..
Hoton pe beeti baat aayi hai...

Yaad hai us din baarish bhi thi..
chatth pe bheegi khwaahish bhi thi..
Chatth pe jaane ki raat aayi hai..
Hoton pe beeti baat ayi hai..
Vaada nibhaane ki raat aayi hai..

Beautiful lyrics, fantastic rendition and some mind-boggling music makes this song a wonderful listen, particularly in the night time. The song, with all its innovative rhythm pattern, ideas and a defining sound texture, reflects the burning passion, RD had, to be way different from the rest. He was.

Friday, June 27, 2008

R.D.Burman lives on...

Had R.D.Burman been alive, he would have turned 69 today. Barely a month ago, i was digging out few songs of R.D.Burman and listening to them carefully. I was astonished to discover some of the phenomenal ideas which he had pioneered back then. Some of the ideas are still in vogue. Either he was too ahead of his times, or some of these current generation composers have not moved beyond such ideas.

There are/were/will be many composers whose music not only impressed me but also inspired and influenced me. If i need to list them, particularily from the Indian Film Music arena, the list would be really huge. Yet, R.D.Burman has a special place. There were better and more legendary composers than R.D.Burman, yet what sets him completely apart, in my perspective atleast, is the kind of eccentricity which drove him to create unusual music. It was an eccentricity which only the people close to whom understood, and that included his team-members. To think of it, he was probably one of the foremost composers to have a regular team of musicians around him. and people from that team were/are famously known as Pt.Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma or even Trilok Gurthu.

If we carefully study the works of all yester-year composers, we notice that every composer had a distinct style. I like R.D.Burman not only for his distinct style, but also his out-of-the-box-thought-process. His roots were his legendary father for sure, but he imbibed several other elements and forms thus creating a different brand of music. I usually give different key-words to different composers. if it is Hindustani Music to Naushad, then it has to be Western Classical + folk + Indian classical to Salil Chaudhary. If it is pure sensitive melody to Madan Mohan, then it is folk + indian classical + bengali music to S.D.Burman. Shankar JaiKishan for classical + commercial music and C.Ramchandra would get vintage melody. In the case of R.D.Burman, i do not have any keywords. RD itself is a keyword.

R.D's one of the biggest contributions to Indian Film Music is giving importance to sound. sound of a song or even an instrument. If today, RD's team-members assemble and play his music, it purely out of their love for the man who let them gain their stature, by emphasizing on the crispness of sound. And if we trace the sound of R.D's music, it has many phases during which it evolved. His early and mid 60s had vintage sound with lot of traditional instruments. the sound changed in early 70s. His innovative self broke open and he went on to create energetic numbers, one after another, amply punctuating them with wonderful classical numbers too. As 80s came, he began freaking with electronic instruments and a far crisper bass guitar (bass notes rock). The traditional instruments did not lose their place in his ensemble. it was only that he just went on adding things to his scheme of work.

Lot of people have a wrong notion about RD, that RD means only cabaret numbers or fast songs. One rarely talks about his classical songs or even the many other genres he experimented in. If his debut composition was in Raag Malkunji, his last composition was in ChaayaNatt and all that he created in between spanned variety of raagas interspersed with some brilliant ideas borrowed from either western music or baul music or even nature. There are some songs which run as long as 8 mins, with only a single lead melody phrase and yet the music keeps me engrossed.

During my recent tryst with his collection, i chanced upon many wonderful songs, Hindi and Bengali, which went unnoticed before...all carrying some brilliant ideas. Some composers today might be still groping for such kind of ideas. Incidentally, every decent composer of today, right from Shankar-Ehsan-Loy to A.R.Rahman to Shantanu Moitra to Vishal Bharadwaj swear by RD's music. Why not, when people still try to use his ideas. I recently read an interview of Vishal Bharadwaj in which he spoke about his Omkara's "Beedi" song. The song starts off with a "Di-Ding daang ding di-ding daang ding..." and Vishal remarked, "See, RD pops up somewhere or the other". How true? He was referring to the similar pattern RD used on guitar, with a flanger effect, in the song "Dhannon Ki Aankhon Mein" from the film "Kitaab". One might say that RD's era has ended. One might even say that RD was not that great compared to other composers. Yet, one cannot rule out the existence of RD in the pysche of any composer willing to experiment. R.D.Burman lives long as composers want to try something different. Because he dared to be different and he was and what kept him so was only his acute passionate attitude towards music. I am still discovering it all, opening album after album. I hope to write more about specific songs sometime soon.
I am eagerly waiting for a documentary, which was made by a film-maker who studied R.D.Burman's music. It is yet to the released.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Uliyin Osai

Music: Maestro Ilaiyaraaja
Uliyin Osai (Sound of a Chisel) is a period film, based on a script written by Karunanidhi. Expectations were quite high among music buffs, because Ilaiyaraaja was scoring music for a period film after a long time. Some of the recent albums by Ilaiyaraaja evoked mixed response, due to repetitiveness at times or excessive usage of technology. While there were occassonal glimmers in many albums, it has been long time since ilaiyaraaja dished out an album in which all the songs bore his style, living up to quality. Uliyin Osai succeeds exactly there, with some fantastic classical songs. Why/How? Here we go:

1. Abinayam Kaatugindra: Bombay Jayasree, Sudha Raghunathan
A classical song which sets off with heavy mridangam and barely in few seconds, it made me think "Is he back to his violins?". Ilaiyaraaja used his trademark violin ensemble, aptly punctuated by veena and his favourite flute in this wonderful Raagavardhini. ilaiyaraaja has his way of using bass-guitar in classical songs, to add weight to the song and he does exactly the same. The rhythm change in the 2nd half to traditional-folk percussions could make us skip the song a bit, although it doesnt take away anything from the quality of the song. Its just that the song becomes little serious in sound, (probably something to do with the picturisation) and the string section maintains the interest.

2. Aganthaiyil Aadu Vandha: SriRam Parthasarathy, Ilaiyaraaja
The song, another classical gem in the album, starts off with a brief tune of the song, after which ilaiyaraaja recites poetry-like stanzas which has the names of few instruments in it. Predictably, he backs it with the sound of same instruments after which the actual songs sets off in Rasikapriya raaga. Mrindangam and violin accompany the singer in the wonderful melody. A short Veena interlude justifies the ambience created in the sound of the song and immediately the raaga changes to Chalanaata (for 4 lines, while bass guitar gives me goosebumps). I am yet to understand his thought-process behind linking Rasikapriya to Chalanaata. Having touched Chalanaata, the raaga soon transforms to Maayamaalavagowla (including change in Rhythm on Mridangam). Keyboard chords support the MMG, in which the charanam completes and then we come back to Rasikapriya again. He then skips the 2nd interlude and jumps directly to 2nd charanam, again changing the raaga, this time to Saveri. Now this where me and Ravi began to look at the bigger picture. The raaga transitions are not as random as they seem. little bit of explorations revealed to us, the genius of Ilaiyaraaja. Sample this:

This song is based in Rasikapriya. Except for a brief venturing into Chalanata, the song moves to MMG in the 1st charanam. Then in 2nd charanam, it moves to Saveri, before coming back to Rasikapriya in the end.

Maayamaalavagowla -----> Shruthi-bhedam (tonal shift of melodic pattern) = Rasikapriya.
Secondly, saveri =Janya Raaga of MMG (with avarohanam being the same for both the raagas).

So, MMG is the epicentre of this song, while Ilaiyaraaja choose to move from one end of it(Rasikapriya) to the other (Saveri). Interesting idea. But why the chalanaata? the mystery remains. Probably the genius himself can reveal it.
3. Kaalaththai Vendra: Bhavatharini, Sriram Parthasarathy
This song bears ilaiyaraaja signature in every sense. String section, chords, unusual bass guitar usage and ofcourse his favourite raaga - Keeravani. The rhythm pattern is quite unusual, time intervals during which a rhythm cycle is established are lengthy, so it would take few moments to get the tala in our head. This song(and one more), however, lack the period-feel, as flt in other songs, although the composition bears the late 80s-early 90s ilaiyaraaja tunes style.The bass usage is groovy and mild piano strains makes this song a must listen during night times. Amidst all classical numbers, this song works like a variety.
4. Kallai Irundhen: SriRam Parthasarathy, Dhaanya
Is it coincidence or did Ilaiyaraaja wantedly try to make this song prophetic for the female singer? In short, this composition is a delight in Suddha Dhanyaasi. In my opinion, all ilaiyaraaja songs in this raaga were delights and this is no exception. Although this song too lacks the period feel, he makes up for it just by dishing out such an endearing melody. The instruments used are modern as well as traditional. Keyboards, veena, flute, guitars, electronic percussions...he does it all, yet the treatment is Ilaiyaraaja. the guitars strumming in the background just keep the pace up while the bass guitar reminds us the man behind the song. 2nd interlude is my favourite, for it looks like a palette of many colours (instruments, both traditional and modern) all taking the shape of a picturesque Suddha Dhanyaasi. I dont care if it doesnt justify the period feel. infact, i dont care anything, as long as Ilaiyaraaja treats his songs in the way he treated in this one. Class.
5. Pularkindra Pozhuthu: Sriram Parthasarathy
Sriram Parthasarathy cannot thank ilaiyaraaja better. He has got stealers in this entire album and he emerges brilliantly in all the songs. This song, in my opinion, is another high-point, not only to the singer but also to the composer. He uses his science again in this classical composition. The song starts off with a dawn-ish raaga and then establishes his identity in Raag Kalyani, backed by mridangam and ghatam. The aalaaps used in the pallavi must have been difficult for the singer, though he managed to sing them with great confidence. Violins and Veena (observation: Most ilaiyaraaja's Kalyanis have Veena) take over the 1st interlude and flute and bass-guitar and flute (standard in any ilaiyaraaja kalyani).

In 1st charanam, the raaga changes to hamsanandi (observation: few kalyani's of ilaiyaraaja have glided into hamsanandi before). The charanam is punctuated by veena while the raaga changes to Dharmavathi and flows back into Kalyani.
2nd interlude is back to Hamsanandi and the charanam changes colour from Hamsanandi to Vasantha or Chaayavathi (yet to ascertain). Now, having understood ilaiyaraaja, there is this natural curiousity to unravel the linkages between these raagas and their usage. Here is the science:

Watch this Symmetry
R2 changes to R1 = stepdown
G3 changes to G2 = stepdown
M2 changes to M1 = stepdown
So if 1st charanam was about transformation into Hamsanandi into Dharmavathi...
2nd charanam was about transforming Hamsanandi into Vasanthaa/Chaayavathi(sister raagas). Ravi felt it was vasantha while i presume it is chaayavathi, given the symmetry used by ilaiyaraaja. we did not have instruments to play and check it out. Whats more interesting is that though there is symmetry, ilaiyaraaja likes to throw a surprise. after changing R2 to R1 and G3 to G2, one can expect a similar step down to Ma. Although it occurs, the change is done not to Kalyani, as expected, but to Hamsanandi. Idea is same, but the object is different. Now thats an intelligent trick. Not to forget, Ilaiyaraaja has experimented in similar way to another illustrious Kalyani of his, "Vaidehi Raaman" , way back in 80s. This song again reminds that his attitude/soul towards Kalyani is still the same. Its just that we need to look within. Undoubtedly one of his best Kalyanis this song is.
Uliyin Osai has another 2 songs which i didnt find much interesting. Neverthless, these 5 songs were enough for me to sit back ponder about the genius. It is not a new experience to me that whenever i begin to tell myself - 'Perhaps i prefer that ilaiyaraaja over this ilaiyaraaja' , he is there smiling with a pleasant surprise, assuring me - 'I am the same'.
Yes sir! You are...the same...Genius!
My Thanks to:
1. Ilaiyaraaja for composing.
2. Mr. Velramanan for giving me initial cues/threads.
3. Ravi for de-composing.