Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

Archive for May, 2012

CD review/ Strange Clouds – BoB

Strange Clouds/ BoB

Genre: Hip-hop

Grand Hustle-Rebel Rock-Atlantic (India distributor: EMI Music)/ Rs 395

Rating: ***

Of the various music genres, hip-hop is one which I haven’t followed too closely. At the same time, I haven’t been too cut off either, having had my staple fill of Jay-Z, Eminem, 50 Cent, 2Pac, Missy Elliott, Kanye West, Run DMC, Beastie Boys and loads of videos aired on vH1. Of course, I do have my personal preference on the kind of hip-hop I like — it should be well-produced, have variety and very few (or preferably no) expletives.

The third quality is often difficult to find — it wouldn’t be hip-hop if the lines were squeaky-clean, would it? But I definitely found the first two factors in ‘Strange Clouds’, the new release of American artiste Bobby Ray Simmons Jr who goes by the name BoB. This 15-track effort features well-known contemporary acts like Chris Brown, TI, Lil Wayne, Taylor Swift, Nicki Manaj and Ryan Tedder, but what attracted me was the name of actor Morgan Freeman, who appears on the opening track ‘Bombs Away’.

“As the war between light and darkness continues, heroes and villains become harder to identify,” Freeman begins in his distinct voice, and BoB continues, “Whenever I wake up I get this feeling that I can wait up because time is ticking bombs away.” A brilliant keyboard and drum backdrop, some controlled rapping and powerful words make this a winner.

The rest of the album has quite a few highs, though there are passable and absurd portions too. Among the better moments, ‘So Hard To Breathe’ starts with an acoustic guitar line and builds up with BoB singing, “And it’s so hard to breathe and even moreso to sleep when no one cares”, backed by a melodic chorus backdrop.

‘So Good’, which is about dreams to travel and has smart lines like “I’ll be your Da Vinci if you be my Monalisa,” is probably the catchiest and most ear-friendly tune here. Country singer Taylor Swift’s voice is sugar-sweet on ‘Back To Us’, where she sings: “Some day I will be strong to lift not one but both of us” in a song that alternates hip-hop with country-pop.

The title track has a neat vocal stretch by Lil Wayne, whereas the piano-backed ‘Arena’ has a crisp interaction between Chris Brown and TI. The other goodies include the very hummable and semi-danceable ‘Never Let You Go’ with Ryan Tedder, and ‘Where Are You’, where BoB has a conversation with himself. Singer Lauriana Mae chips in with a nice pop vocal on ‘Chandelier’, where BoB raps “What’s a song if you don’t have words, what’s a word if you don’t get heard?”

If ‘Ray Bands’, ‘Play For Keeps’ and Circles’ are quite formula-driven, ‘Out Of My Mind’ with Nicki Minaj gets too cacophonic, with an overuse of swear words. Of course, hardcore hip-hop fans would most probably prefer this one.

This is BoB’s second album. I haven’t heard his first ‘The Adventures of Bobby Ray’, barring the number ‘Nothin’ On  You’ with the popular Bruno Mars, which just okay-dokey. But overall, ‘Strange Clouds’ is impressive, and definitely not as strange as a lot of stuff one gets to hear these days.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Classic


CD review/ Tanha Sa Hoon – Leslie Lewis

Tanha Sa Hoon/ Lesle Lewis

Genre: Indipop

Universal Music/ Rs 150

Rating: ***

WHEN one thinks of Lesle Lewis, various things come to mind. His Colonial Cousins venture with Hariharan, his remix work on Asha Bhosle’s album ‘Rahul and I’, his work with Asha in the album ‘Jaanam Samjha Karo’, his pop album ‘Haseena’, and  his occasional trysts with Hindi and south Indian film music are some of them. More recently, he produced the Indian chapter of MTV Coke Studio, and attracted newer audiences.

For some reason, Lesle had been relatively silent on the recording front for a while — barring a couple of Tamil films a couple of years ago. As such, it’s heartening that he has recently released a new collection ‘Tanha Sa Hoon’ at a time when fewer people are coming out with private Indipop albums. And what’s equally welcome is his announcement that that Colonial Cousins have begun working on a comeback album after over a decade.

Containing seven songs sung by Lesle himself, ‘Tanha Sa Hoon’ is very reminiscent of the Indipop sound of the late 90s. The focus is on simple pop ballads, and yet, one finds influences of other genres like country, jazz, bossa nova and Indian semi-classical. While the production is commendable, the appearance of a wide cross-section of musicians lends variety. The only drawback is that the lyrics, credited to four different writers, get too predictable and hackneyed at times.

The title song is a solitude-filled number with pleasant acoustic guitars, a short solo riff and  the lines ‘Tu ne kabhi yeh na jaana, tere liye main deewana, tu ne nahin dil pehchana, jaane na kyon’. On ‘O Jaana – Sha Na Na’, Lesle opts for a filmy sound, with a soprano saxophone providing a pleasant backdrop.

The pace picks up with vibrant dhol beats and rock guitars on ‘Main Jadoo’, after which a bossa nova/ jazz element is added on ‘Aaja Tu Aaja’, which features scat vocals by Magos Herrera. The pick of the lot is ‘Saanwariya Calling’, where Lesle’s English vocals are accompanied Suchismita Das’s thumri-style rendition ‘Saiyaan gaye mohe chhodke, koi samhaaye unhein’. Brilliant composition.

‘Tere Bina’ has a simple melody line, a pleasant bansuri interlude but very done-to-death lyrics like ‘Tere bina main kaise jiyoon, tere bina main kaise rahoon, tere liye de doonga jaan, tere bina soona hai yeh jahaan’. Finally, ‘Pyar Ho Gaya’ gets into filmy groove once again, and caters more to younger audiences.

The good thing about ‘Tanha Sa Hoon’ is that it’s a simple set, without too many pyrotechnics. Lesle keeps his singing very basic, avoiding an accent while singing in Hindi, and yet singing the English lines in his typical style. While one anxiously waits for the Colonial Cousins album, it’s gladdening that Lesle is back in the recording groove.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Classic

CD review/ Topiwalleh – Swarathma

Topiwalleh/ Swarathma

Genre: Folk/ fusion

OML Entertainment/ Rs 150

Rating: ****

WHEN the members of Bangalore band Swarathma stepped on to the stage of Mumbai’s Blue Frog on May 16, the audience would have instantly noticed their get-up. With colourful designer clothes specially tailored to blend Indian and western, traditional and contemporary, they were making a statement.  And like their costumes, their music was a distinct amalgam too, fusing Indian folk and semi-classical elements with rock, funk and reggae.

Swarathma was releasing its second album ’Topiwalleh’, and for the next couple of hours, the packed house was treated to a scintillating, foot-stomping live performance. Though the songs were new to most listeners, they had the kind of tunes that appealed instantly. With his brilliant and versatile vocal delivery, Vasu Dixit was accompanied by an outstanding group of musicians — guitarist Varun Murali, violinist Sanjeev Nayak, bassist Jishnu Dasgupta, drummer Montry Manuel and percussionist Pavan Kumar KJ. Everybody was spot-on.

For the past few days, the Swarathma CD has been playing on his blogger’s music system at regular intervals, alternating with Indus Creed’s marvellous ‘Evolve’ and Richard Hawley’s sensational psychedelic space rock set ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge’. What’s most impressive about ‘Topiwalleh’ is its variety, the marvellous instrumentation and lyrics that talk of subjects like corruption, consumerism, child abuse, communalism and media sensationalism.

Stylistically, one finds some very obvious influences here and there, ranging from Indian Ocean, Jal, The Edge and Led Zeppelin to Silk Route, RD Burman, AR Rahman and L Subramaniam. But what clearly works in the album’s favour is the sheer consistency maintained throughout. Moreover, besides the intelligence of the lyrics, what distinguishes these songs is the way Nayak’s outstanding violin has been used to give a special flavour.

The title track has a strong bass-driven reggae beat, and Dixit’s dig at politicians “Sar pe haath daale, khali pet  maare, topiwalleh” is followed by a catchy chorus and smart guitar solo. The hard-rocking ‘Kooraane’, which is about people’s tendency to go in for free things and discounts, begins with the sound of howling wild dogs, and has a spectacular guitar wah-wah solo and a sizzling violin stretch straight out of the L Subramaniam songbook.

‘Rishton Ka Raasta’ is a pleasant slowdown of tempo, with a dream-like folksy pizzicato and bowed violin intro, smooth backing vocals, a crisp guitar stretch, and shades of Rahman and Silk Route. ‘Khul ja’ starts with a folksy percussion, and the catchy vocals ‘Khul ja re, khul ja re sim-sim, khul ja re, jab koi rasta ho bandh’ are accompanied by a U2-like guitar backdrop.

‘Ghum’ is a hard-hitting number on child abuse —haunting acoustic guitar lines, hard-rocking interludes, jungle-like effects and a sudden falsetto back-up vocal stretch enhance it musically. Next comes the peppy youth-friendly Kannada number ‘Naane Daari’, which effortlessly blends rock and funk.  ‘Aaj Ki Taaza Fikar’ is a witty look at how the media hypes trivial things, and features some amazing guitaring, and a collage of random sound bytes to symbolise channel-surfing.

‘Mukhote’, which talks of hypocrisy and falsehoods, has an extra-catchy hook and sing-along vibe. Singer Shubha Mudgal makes a guest appearance on the stylishly-composed ‘Duur Kinara’, which intersperses an Amir Khusrau verse and a traditional Kumaoni tune with Kannada lyrics and a subtly-thrown English backdrop. And finally, ‘Yeshu Allah Aur Krishna’ has a extremely catchy groove, a narrative semi-spoken style, neat voice modulation and wonderful lines which use the character of Sant Kabir as a motif.

Cynics may argue that the Swarathma formula isn’t new. True. From the Colonial Cousins and Indian Ocean in the 90s, Indian musicians have been doing vocal numbers mixing Indian elements with western rock and pop. Even in Pakistan, Junoon, Mekaal Hassan Band and Fuzon have blended Sufiana and classical influences with rock and jazz.

Over the past few years, more and more Indian groups have been producing some excellent music in this category. Besides Swarathma, we have Delhi band Advaita, Bangalore’s Raghu Dixit, Avial from Kerala and Yodhakaa from Chennai, who add a contemporary sound to Sanskrit devotional chants.

Various marketing terms have been used to describe this genre. Some call it indie, some alternative, some underground and some fusion (which some bands dislike). However, such names tend to limit a band’s appeal and reach. What’s important, primarily, is the quality of the music.

Musically, ‘Topiwalleh’ has that charm. A lot of effort and plenty of grey cells have obviously gone into the creation of each song, as is obvious from the way words are used, structures changed and newer elements introduced. Yet, there is something about the tunes which could appeal to mainstream audiences too, and not just to the elitist and underground. They have that singular quality that attracts any listener — a wonderful hook. In short, Swarathma rocks.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Classic

CD review/ Evolve – Indus Creed


Evolve/ Indus Creed

Genre: Rock

Universal Music/ Rs 175

Rating: ****

MOST of my memories of Indus Creed are associated with the Independence Rock festival, held at the now-defunct Rang Bhavan in Mumbai. That was back in the mid-90s, when India’s best-known rock group had changed its name from Rock Machine, and then released its self-titled album. Their songs ‘Pretty Child’, ‘Rock n Roll Renegade’, ‘Top Of The Rock, ‘Trapped’ and ‘Sleep’ were compulsory at most gigs, and one felt sad when the band members decided to follow other paths.

Most Indian rock fans would have thought the Indus Creed chapter had ended for good, but the group bounced back with a reunion concert at Mumbai’s Hard Rock Café in October 2010. Three old-timers — vocalist Uday Benegal, guitarist Mahesh Tinaikar and keyboardist Zubin Balaporia — were joined by new entrants Rushad Mistry on bass and  Jai Row Kavi on drums. At that event, the band quite clearly proved how they had evolved, and it was therefore appropriate that they christened their latest album ‘Evolve’.

Coming 17 years after their last album, ‘Evolve’ sees a clear progression for the band. The production qualities are first-rate, the sound is contemporary and each musician contributes equally, with Benegal’s vocals in prime form, Tinaikar world-class on the guitar, Balaporia churning out some exquisite keyboardwork, and Mistry and Row Kavi extra-tight on the rhythm section. What’s more, there is variety.

Each of the eight songs has something to offer. ‘Fireflies’ sets the tempo perfectly, beginning with acoustic guitars and keyboards, before Benegal’s charming vocals impress on lines like “Oh the sun went out today, for reasons you won’t say, and I just can’t look away from those fireflies”. A great build-up and wonderful hook make this a clear winner. The seven-minute-plus ‘Dissolve’ has an anthemic feel, a stunning guitar-driven start, neat changes in tempo, and a couple of spitfire guitar solos in between.

The band comes up with a true surprise with ‘The Money’, an electro-funk track which begins with some marvellous drumming, and lines about how stealing money can “shame the whole community”. With that wonderful keyboard interlude and catchy rhythm, this has the makings of a live favourite.

‘Take It Harder’ is marked by sing-along vocals, angst-ridden lyrics and a crisp guitar solo, whereas ‘No Disgrace’ is embellished by lines like “Did they trample on your dreams, smash them all to smithereens, past the point of no return, maybe someday we will learn”. The best composition of the album is probably ‘Come Around’, which questions someone who has left his family, has a later-day Beatles influence, smart acoustic guitar and keyboards, and an energetic ending.

The shortest piece ‘Bulletproof’ is a brisk, quick-tempo number which again has great live potential, whereas the final number ‘Goodbye’ has very relatable lines like “The bigger the dreams, the harder the tears will fall’ and “Living separate lives doesn’t have to be goodbye”.

Another thing that works in the album’s favour is the right-pricing. At ₹ 175, it’s truly affordable.  Over the years, Indian rock has never really sold in huge quantities, probably because of inadequate marketing by the labels, some absurd pricing, and more recently, downloading. If musicians are regularly releasing new material, it is more because of their own passion and their loyalty towards fans. As such, it would be appropriate if Indian rock buffs and Indus Creed fans pass on a simple message— please buy the album, and don’t rip it just because you’ll get it for free.

As for Rock Machine/ Indus Creed, it’s only their fourth album ever – after ‘Rock n’ Roll Renegade’ in 1988, ‘The Second Coming’ in 1990, and the eponymous Indus Creed set in 1995. Over the years, they’ve had a fantastic array of musicians. Besides the current line-up, they’ve had guitarist Jayesh Gandhi, bassist Mark Selwyn, and drummers Mark Menezes, Bobby Duggal and Adrian Fernandes, besides a few others who were part of the band in the very early stages, or who did a few guest appearances later.

What’s common throughout, of course, is the incredible talent that has been part of the band. Each musician has had a unique role to play, and has helped in making the outfit ‘evolve’.

There have been quite a few Indus Creed memories. Some of the early Rock Machine gigs, the I-Rock shows at Rang Bhavan, and yes, the appearance with guitar god Slash at the MTV re-launch party in Bangalore in 1996, playing the Beatles’ ‘Come Together’. The reunion show at Hard Rock and their outing at the Jack Daniels-Rolling Stone rock awards are among the recent ones.

But my favourite Indus Creed line-up? Well, 1980s Rock Machine was one thing, 1990s Indus Creed yet another, and present-day Indus Creed something else. It’s almost like trying to analyse which of Deep Purple’s various ‘Marks’ was the best. As long as they continue to produce fantastic music, it doesn’t really matter.

And  my favourite Machine/ Creed album? Again it doesn’t matter, though with ‘Evolve’, they have evolved even further.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Classic

Of Donna Summer and the disco era

FOR many born in the 1960s, Donna Summer would have been an early favourite. After all, they would be in their teens when the disco craze swept the music world. The earlier generation would have had direct exposure to the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Cliff Richard, whereas the next generation would have caught Michael Jackson and MTV in the early stages of their popularity.

With Donna Summer’s death on May 17, the pop universe has lost a trendsetter. Suddenly, memories of growing up on the songs ‘Love To Love You Baby’, ‘Hot Stuff’, ‘I Feel Love’, ‘Bad Girls’ and ‘She Works Hard For The Money’ are doing the rounds. Her collaboration with producer Giorgio Moroder, which blended her sensuous vocals and a dance music flavour with a very Kraftwerk-influenced electronic sound, is being talked about. After all, nobody deserved the title of ‘Disco Queen’ more than her.

Donna’s fame came during the golden era of disco — the second half of the 1970s. At that time, many acts were blossoming across Europe and the US, resulting in a wide variety of fresh sounds, ranging from disco and Europop to synth-pop and funk-pop. Michael Jackson had arrived, but was yet to become the worldwide phenomenon he became with 1982’s ‘Thriller’.

Those were the days when pop music was heard, and not seen. There was no MTV, and the radio played an important role in artiste promotion. Compared to the 1980s, media hype was much lower. And yet, artistes became popular strictly on the basis of the quality of music they produced.

On hearing of Donna’s death last night, that entire disco era came flashing back to mind. Besides her, some of the biggest pop acts those days were ABBA, the Carpenters, Boney M and Bee Gees. Of these, only the Carpenters didn’t come in the disco segment, though their melodic pop was immensely popular. Most of ABBA’s songs were pure Europop, but hits like ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Voulez Vous’ and ‘Summer Night City’ were a rage on the dance floors. Boney M were the champions of Euro-disco, and Bee Gees changed their earlier balladsy sound to spearhead the disco movement with ‘Saturday Night Fever’.

Those days, disco hits were produced like cakes at a bakery. Before 1975, we had Manu Dibango’s ‘Soul Makosa’, George McRae’s ‘Rock Your Baby’, the Jackson 5’s ‘Dancing Machine’, Barry White’s ‘You’re The First, The Last, My Everything’ and the Carl Douglas-Biddu collaboration ‘Kung Fu Fighting. That list only kept expanding.

Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’, Giorgio Moroder’s ‘From Here To Eternity’, Village People’s ‘YMCA’, Van McCoy’s ‘The Hustle’, KC & The Sunshine Band’s ‘That’s The Way (I Like It)’ and ‘Shake Shake Shake’, the Trammps’ ‘Disco Inferno’, Ottowan’s ‘D.I.S.C.O’, Kool & The Gang’s ‘Celebration’ and Lipps Inc’s ‘Funky Town’ are played to this day. Cerrone was a rage of the time, with the hits ‘Love In C Minor’ and ‘Supernature’. And some of Michael Jackson’s ‘Off The Wall’ songs — specially the extra-popular ‘Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough’ — fall in the disco category.

Some songs came, conquered and vanished. ‘Le Freak’ by Chic, ‘Ring My Bell’ by Anita Ward,’Shadow Dancing’ by Andy Gibb, ‘One Way Ticket’ by Eruption, ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’ by Baccara, ‘Born To Be Alive’ by Patrick Hernandez, ‘WeAre Family’ by Sister Sledge and ‘Dance Little Lady’ by Tina Charles had their phases. Artistes from other genres also cashed in on the disco wave — notable examples being Rod Stewart’s ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’, David Bowie’s ‘Johnny I’m Only Dancing Again’, Diana Ross’s ‘Upside Down’ and George Benson’s ‘Give Me The Night’. Western classical music got a disco twist with the ‘Saturday Night Fever’ piece ‘A Fifth of Beethoven’. Here in India, music directors like Bappi Lahiri got into disco too, with ‘Disco Dancer’ and ‘Disco Station’.

Alas, like many sudden crazes, disco too died a natural death. By the beginning of the 1980s, the genre had become passé. Artistes began getting repetitive, and the new entrants never added any value.

Tastes changed too. The same audiences who grew up on disco were now describing it as unfashionable, primarily because they themselves had moved on to other genres like rock, metal or jazz. With the likes of Michael Jackson, Madonna  and Whitney Houston, the next generation was exposed to another brand of pop. Following MTV’s launch in 1981, even pop musicians changed their approach and sound. Video had killed the radio star.

No one can, of course, deny the huge influence the disco phase has had on future generations. Electronic dance music is huge these days, and its various variants — techno, house, trance and dubstep, to name a few — actually find their roots in the dance music and disco of the 1970s. In that sense, Paul Van Dyk, Sasha, Armin Van Buuren, David Guetta and other currently-popular DJs owe it directly or indirectly to the era of Girogio Moroder and, yes, Donna Summer. Rest in peace, Disco Queen.

The curious case of a Talat Mahmood fan

ON this day 14 years ago, legendary Hindi film playback singer Talat Mahmood passed away. Well, Talat-saab is one of my favourite singers across genres, but what’s strange in my case is that it’s been exactly 14 years since I became a Talat Mahmood fan.

Yes, the beauty of his distinct velvet voice actually charmed me just a few days after he expired. Those days, I was working with Mid-Day newspaper, and though music had been my ‘beat’ for over three years, I specifically wrote about rock, pop, jazz, Indipop, ghazals and new Hindi film music. I was just getting into writing about Hindustani classical music, through some interviews here and there, but since we had some very knowledgeable Hindi film music columnists like Raju Bharatan, Nalin Shah and Rajiv Vijayakar, I never ventured into that arena.

On May 9, 1998, the news of the singer’s demise came in the afternoon. It was a Saturday, and next day’s Sunday Mid-Day had an early deadline. Keeping the short timeline in mind, the editor asked me to write a quick obituary. I was totally blank — I knew very little about Talat-saab, except the fact that he was a legend. Those days, there was no Google or Wikipedia to suddenly cook up a few paragraphs out of nowhere, and make everyone feel you were an authority on the subject.

So there I was, apologising to the editor, saying that I would not be able to do justice to the great artiste. I had known he had been immensely popular, but the only thing I was certain about was that he had sung ‘Tasveer banata hoon’ — which I later discovered was from the film ‘Baradari’. Back in the 70s, that song was very regular on radio, and while I heard a lot of older Lata, Rafi, Kishore, Asha and Mukesh hits, this was the only Talat number I thought I knew.

Finally, we contacted Raju Bharatan to write the obit, and the music encyclopaedia that he is, he faxed a brilliant 1,500-word article two hours later (e-mail was either new or non-existent those days). Sadly, the article was chopped badly because of space constraints, and only some 300 words were used, much to Bharatan’s and my dismay. While readers were disappointed at such sketchy coverage, they were further angered when I wrote a two-page obituary of American superstar Frank Sinatra, who passed away five days later on May 14, in  next Sunday’s edition. Allegations of favouritism towards western culture soon cropped up.

The good thing about Bharatan’s unedited copy, however, was that it mentioned songs I had heard and loved, without knowing they were sung by Talat Mahmood. Of course, I had heard ‘Jaaye toh jaaye kahan’ (Taxi Driver), ‘Jalte hain jiske liye’ (Sujata) and ‘Phir wohi shaam’ (Jahan Ara). But over the years, I would have heard them in passing, probably on the radio, without paying too much attention to the depth of the voice and the beauty of the lyrics.

The next day, there was some TV coverage. For the first time, I heard Talat’s first hit ‘Aye dil mujhe aisi jagah le chal’ (Arzoo), and for the first time, I heard of the great music director Anil Biswas — which was also strange because one of my favourite Mukesh songs ‘Dil jalta hai toh jalne do’ (Pehli Nazar) was also composed by the same person, and I had first heard that song years ago. Somewhere, I started feeling rather silly at having missed out on such gems, and for not knowing too much on old music.

I decided to buy a Talat Mahmood compilation cassette, but before I could do so, I made a major goof-up. Singer MA Khalid, who has specialised in Talat songs, had organised a tribute concert, and requested some pre-event publicity. Now, I had heard that the late singer’s son was also named Khalid, and thus mixed things up. The write-up erroneously mentioned that Talat-saab’s son Khalid Mahmood would be doing the show.

Naturally, MA Khalid was upset, but gentleman that he is, he invited me to the concert at a Pedder Road auditorium. That was another revelation. The audience was filled with diehard Talat fans, and each song received grand applause. Khalid has a wonderful and soulful voice, and there, I discovered that a few more songs I knew were actually Talat Mahmood classics. Suddenly, I got a fresh meaning to ‘Aye mere dil kahin aur chal’ (Daag), ‘Sham-e-gham ki kasam’ (Footpath) and ‘Itna na mujhse tu pyaar badha’ (Chaaya).

The following day, I picked up Saregama HMV’s ‘The Golden Collection — Talat Mahmood’ from Rhythm House, and for the next few weeks, I made it a point to listen to it at least once a day. A few days later, I also bought the five-cassette ‘Legends — Talat Mahmood’ released by HMV.

Besides hearing the above-mentioned masterpieces closely, I discovered other gems like ‘Meri yaad mein tum na aansoon bahana’ (Madhosh), ‘Seene mein sulagte hain armaan’ (with Lata Mangeshkar in Tarana), ‘Raat ne kya kya khwab dikhaye’ (Ek Gaon Ki Kahani), ‘Aansoon samajh ke kyon mujhe’ (Chaaya), ‘Hai sabse madhur woh geet’ and ‘Andhe jahan ke andhe raaste’ (Patita), ‘Humse aaya na gaya’ (Dekh Kabira Roya), ‘Dil-e-Nadaan’ (with Suraiya in Mirza Ghalib), ‘Zindagi dene waale sun’ (Dil-e-Nadaan) and ‘Main dil hoon ek armaan bhara’ (Anhonee). So many more.

A few days later, on May 25, music director Laxmikant passed away. For some days, there were parallel phases of Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Talat Mahmood, and it was around that time, I felt the need to learn more about Hindi film music, specially details on who sang, composed and wrote what song. And in the pre-Google days, the only quick source was to go to Rhythm House, read the back covers of cassettes, and take down notes.

Since those times, Talat-saab has adorned many of my music listening hours. Besides his film songs, some of his ghazals and Bengali tunes have been absolutely mesmerising. In an absolutely enchanting era where male playback singing also had the great Rafi, Kishore, Mukesh, Manna Dey and Hemant Kumar, Talat Mahmood has been very special — for me, he’s been like a first among equals. Today, I have no regrets about discovering his music much later — everything, I guess, comes at the right time.

Rock biographies: The write stuff

MOST fans of 60s and 70s rock would have heard of Pattie Boyd, the British model who married George Harrison of the Beatles, and then split to wed Eric Clapton, only to leave him much later. What many wouldn’t probably know was the fact that Pattie’s sister Jenny was married to (and later left) Mick Fleetwood of the band Fleetwood Mac, and that another sister Paula dated Clapton much before she herself had got to know him.

This, and lots of other rock trivia, can be found in Pattie’s autobiography ‘Wonderful Today’, which I recently completed. Marketed as ‘Wonderful Tonight’ in the US (after the famous song, naturally), the book talks of Pattie’s upbringing, her entry into modelling, her introduction to Harrison, Beatlemania, their exposure to Indian spiritualism and music, the Beatles break-up, the predominance of drugs in rock music, the entry of Clapton, the split from Harrison, Clapton’s drinking binges, his children from other women, her leaving Clapton, John Lennon’s assassination, her next boyfriend Rod Weston (not a rock star, thankfully), Harrison’s marriage to Olivia, Harrison’s death and how her own life moved on.

Some brilliant love songs have been written about Pattie — Harrison’s ‘Something’, and Clapton’s ‘Layla’, ‘Wonderful Tonight’ and ‘Old Love’ — and this book clears any doubts about what made her so special. Though it’s based on a model’s life story, it’s a typical rock n’ roll book, with loads of tidbits and nostalgia.

I hadn’t known of the existence of this book till I met good friend Parag Kamani over one of our regular dinner outings a few days ago. Besides our passion for music, the other thing we have in common is our fondness for music-related books, specially those revolving around rock stars. Both of us like collecting rock biographies. Each time we meet, we exchange music books: this time, he lent me Pattie Boyd’s ‘Wonderful Today’ and ‘Rod Stewart: The New Biography’, whereas I gave him ‘ABBA: The Name of the Game’ and Albert Goldman’s ‘Elvis’.

Over the years, scores of rock biographies have been published. On the surface, most of them follow similar patterns, in that they begin with the subject’s birth and family situation, and then talk about his first exposure to music, education (or lack of it), his influences (mainly, the blues or rock n’ roll), his first band, his famous band (or how he went solo), success, failure, recordings, songs, record sales, alcohol, drugs, affairs (and extra-affairs), and in some cases, death, legacy and legend.

However, if one is passionate about the genre, this repetition doesn’t matter. What’s interesting is what influenced our favourite songs, the artiste’s musical ideology and some of the specific personality traits each rock star possessed.

Personally, I have been lucky to have read about some of my favourite artistes in detail through some wonderfully written biographies or autobiographies. At the same time, I haven’t yet read books about other 70s favourites like Santana, The Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Simon & Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, Dire Straits and Deep Purple. I haven’t read much or practically any book on post-80s bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Van Halen, REM, U2, Metallica, Nirvana or Guns N’ Roses. The Rod Stewart biography and Dennis McNally’s ‘A Long Strange Trip’ (about the Grateful Dead) are on my soon-to-read list.

But if I were asked to recommend 25 rock biographies, here’s a list below — besides the Pattie Boyd autobiography, of course. As I said, the focus is only on 60s and 70s legends as I’ve mainly read about them. While the titles are self-explanatory, I have put additional notes in brackets, if necessary. Pardon the Doors overdose, but then, that’s one band that’s been written about enormously.

1 The Beatles/ Hunter Davis (first published in 1968, this is the only authorised biography of the Fab Four)

2 Lennon: The Definitive Biography/ Ray Coleman (very in-depth look at John Lennon’s life)

3 Paul McCartney/ Paul James Carlin

4 Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey/ Nicholas Schaffner

5 Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd/ Mark Blake (updated to cover keyboardist Richard Wright’s death)

6 Clapton: The Autobiography/ Eric Clapton (extremely honest autobiography)

7 Crossroads: The Life and Music of Eric Clapton/ Michael Schumacher (not to be confused with the racing champion)

8 Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend/ Stephen Davis (my favourite rock biography)

9 Riders On The Storm: My Life With Jim Morrison and the Doors/ John Densmore (drummer of the Doors)

10 Light My Fire: My Life With The Doors/ Ray Manzarek (keyboardist of the Doors)

11 No One Here Gets Out Alive/ Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman (a biography of Jim Morrison)

12 The Doors: The Illustrated History/ Danny Sugerman (contains some amazing pictures of the Doors)

13 Jethro Tull: Pocket Essential Series/ Raymond Benson (this is a mini-biography; I haven’t read the better-known ‘Minstrels In The Gallery: A History of Jethro Tull’ by David Rees)

14 Midnight Riders: The Story of the Allman Brothers Band/ Scott Freeman (the book that got me into rock biographies, back in the late 90s)

15 The Eagles: Flying High/ Laura Jackson (the writer has also written biographies of Queen, Bono, Jon Bon Jovi, Paul Simon and Neil Diamond, but I’ve only read this and Queen)

16 Queen: The Definitive Biography/ Laura Jackson

17 Hammer Of The Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga/ Stephen Davis (Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page rejected this one, saying it misrepresented the band: interesting reading, all the same)

19 Chronicles: Volume One/ Bob Dylan (The singer-songwriter talks about his influences and glorious moments — in his own inimitable style)

19 Do You, Mr Jones?: Bob Dylan with the Poets and Professors/ Edited by Nick Corcoran (various poets and professors analyse Dylan’s work: perfect for diehard Dylan fans, not for those who’ve heard him only superficially)

20 According to the Rolling Stones/ The Rolling Stones (members of the band relive their experiences)

21 Rolling With the Stones/ Bill Wyman (bassist of Rolling Stones)

22 Elvis/ Albert Goldman

23 Crosby Stills & Nash: The Biography/ Dave Zimmer

24 Jimi Hendrix: Inside The Experience/ Mitch Mitchell (drummer with Jimi Hendrix)

25 Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy: Classic Rock & Pop Writing from Elvis To Oasis/ Edited by Dylan Jones (not a biography, but an essential collection of articles revolving around rock and pop stars including Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Chuck Berry, Frank Zappa, Elton John, George Michael, Annie Lennox, Sid Vicious and Oasis)

Well, that’s my list. As mentioned, there are many which I haven’t yet read (recommendations are welcome). All the 25 books may not be brilliantly written — and none of them would qualify for the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Laura Jackson books, in particular, are not as detailed as some of the others. But where they score lies in the trivia, and the wealth of information they provide.

Rock star Frank Zappa once described rock journalism as ‘people who cannot write doing interviews of people who cannot think in order to please peope who cannot read’. Nothing so exterme about these books, but if you possess the rare and deadly combination of rock and reading, do try them out.


Jagdeep Singh, who’s read this blog, suggests some books. He writes:

On the subject of biographies, I am an avid reader of rock biographies too. While some turn out to be written by ghost writers and hold nothing interesting than the surface level info we already know, some are painstakingly written…I wanted to mention some in my collection:

1) Smoke On the Water: The Deep Purple Story: Nothing new here, written by a fan, it has all the quotes and story matter we already know of, no special insights, at some level turns out to be the a series of events during their hey days put together….I was pretty disappointed since I was expected something interesting like The Hammer of Gods…

2) Ian Gillan: Child In Time: Very nicely written and interesting read.. insight on (Deep Purple’s) Gillan’s struggles post his resignation from the band in 72 upto his rejoining in 84 (in fact life in 84 is the last chapter of the book)…you know the man has written it himself…

3) Slash / Eric Clapton: another set of nice books, you get some interesting insights into their lives…

4)Keith Richards’ Life: A ‘thick’ book…I am currently reading it and it is pretty engrossing, you know the man has written it himself, because the writing is how Keith would have been speaking, it defies the literary rules of English writing every now and then, his own imaginative sentences

5) Bob Dylan: Chronicles….don’t know about this one…it started out interesting, but I havent finished it in 4 years…so there….

Honorary mention: Biddu: Made In India: It’s short and interesting, didn’t know Biddu’s Mumbai fame and the struggles he had to go through to reach Kung Fu Fighting status…

Thanks Jagdeep, for the inputs

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