Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

Archive for July, 2012

Rajesh Khanna’s great gig in the sky


TEN days after leaving Mother Earth, Rajesh Khanna is wondering how he will settle in Paradise, when he is escorted to a door marked ‘Hindi Film Superstars’. It is one of many rooms given to newcomers based on their achievements in life. There, residents are allowed to spend exactly a year, before they move to a larger place called ‘Super Heaven’.

Before knocking on the door, Khanna is very keen to visit the neighbouring room called ‘Musicians’, where Mehdi Hassan, Bhupen Hazarika and Jagjit Singh are rehearsing a song, composed by Ravi and featuring Sultan Khan on sarangi. But the director-general of Paradise insists that he can only enter the ‘Hindi Film Superstars’ room.

Hesitantly, Khanna walks in. The main hall is empty, and statues of KL Saigal and Raj Kapoor are placed in different corners. The walls are lined with pictures of some of the other greats who have entered Paradise — Rajendra Kumar, Guru Dutt, Sunil Dutt, Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Nargis, Nutan and others. Just as ‘India’s first superstar’ is looking around, a door opens.

It’s the evergreen Dev Anand. “Welcome to Paradise, Rajesh,” he says in his trademark style. “Honestly, I didn’t expect you here so early, but such is life.” The two superstars embrace and exchange pleasantries, when they hear the creak of another door opening.

Khanna can’t believe his eyes, as he meets another of his idols — Shammi Kapoor. “Rajesh-bhai, I’m sure Dev-saab must have welcomed you warmly. I can only add to his emotions. I am here for only 18 days more. After my first death anniversary on August 14, I shall be sent to Super Heaven,” he says.

“Don’t worry, Shammi-ji,” replies Khanna. “As long as the three of us are here together, we shall have a grand time.”

Dev continues: “I couldn’t have asked for better company. You know, at least 50 per cent of all male hit songs ever released in Hindi cinema have been picturised between the three of us — Shammi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna and Dev Anand. All this is of course thanks to the numerous music directors, singers and lyricists who worked on these songs.”

Shammi adds: “You’re right, Dev-saab. We must be grateful to all the genius musicians who created these songs for us. For the three of us, they have literally composed the A to Z of male Hindi film music. Only Raj-saab, Dilip-saab and Bachchan had an equal number of hits, perhaps.”

Khanna chips in: “Absolutely! What would my songs be without RD Burman, Kishore Kumar and Anand Bakshi? And all those classic duets sung by Lata-ji and Asha-ji, picturised on my favourite co-star heroines! In fact, my friends on Mother Earth tell me that for the last 10 days, radio stations are only playing songs from my films.”

Dev quips: “They did the same with Shammi-ji and me. Looks like the radio stations desperately wait for our departure so they have something good to play. Otherwise, they don’t have much to play, with today’s kind of music. Anyway, let’s do something to remember these songs, maybe an antakshri or something like that.”

The three of them think for a while, before Dev comes up with a solution. He says: “Hey, didn’t Shammi-ji say the A to Z of male Hindi film music has been picturised on the three of us? So let’s play a game where we take each letter of the alphabet, and talk about songs or films with hit music beginning with that letter.”

Shammi says: “Great idea, Dev-saab. But let’s not go in any specific order. It’ll be something like a buzzer round. I only request Rajesh-bhai to begin with the letter ‘A’, as he’s just come in today.”

“Perfectly fine with me, sir,” says Khanna, and begins the game, which goes on something like this:

A (Rajesh Khanna): All my films beginning with ‘A’ have had hit music. Aradhana, Amar Prem, Anand, Apna Desh, Aan Milo Sajna, Aap Ki Kasam, Ajnabee. Next, the letter ‘B’.

B (Shammi Kapoor, singing): ‘Baar baar dekho, hazaar baar dekho…’. One of my favourite songs. And the films Bluffmaster, Badtameez and Brahmachari had memorable songs too. Dev-saab, what do you have in ‘C’?

C (Dev Anand): Of course, CID! What songs. One of OP Nayyar’s masterpieces. ‘Ankhon hi aankon mein ishara ho gaya’ is one of my all-time favourites. (Sings).

D (Rajesh Khanna, singing one after the other): ‘Diye jalte hain’. ‘Deewana leke aaya hai’. ‘Dil ko dekho chehra na dekho’. Also films beginning with ‘D’ had amazing music — Do Raaste, Dushman, Daag.

E (Shammi Kapoor): ‘Ehsaan tera hoga mujhpar’ from Junglee. The film Evening In Paris too. Shankar-Jaikishen rocked.

F (Dev Anand): The film Funtoosh. SD Burman classics like ‘Dukhi man mere’ and ‘Aye meri topi’.

G (Dev Anand, again): Sorry to break the order but ‘G’ has to mean Guide. Sachin-da again. Also Gambler, which had that super-duper hit ‘Dil aaj shayar hai’. I won’t go on for ‘H’.

H (Rajesh Khanna):  ‘Hum dono do premi’, that train song from Ajnabee that only Pancham-da would have composed. Also ‘Hamein tumse pyaar kitna’ from Kudrat. Among the films with hit music, Haathi Mere Saathi, by Laxmi-Pyare.

I (Dev Anand): Definitely the film Ishq Ishq Ishq. Don’t remember much of the film myself, but RD was definitely in great form on ‘Valla kya nazara hai’.

J (Dev Anand, continuing): ‘J’ is to me what ‘A’ is for Rajesh-bhai. The songs of Jewel Thief, Jab Pyaar Kisise Hota Hai, Johnny Mera Naam, and that one hit from Joshila — (singing) ‘Kiska rasta dekhe, ai dil hai saudaai’. Actually, even ‘K’ has a lot of my hits like Kala Bazaar, Kala Paani, the songs ‘Khoya khoya chand’, ‘Khwab ho tum’ etceteraaaa etceteraaaa. But I have played two rounds continuously so might as well give the others a chance. I never believed in monopoly, you see. Shammi-ji, you’ve been silent for a while.

K (Shammi Kapoor): Sorry am a bit distracted as I’m missing my computer and gizmos. Hope to bump into Steve Jobs in Paradise one of these days and propose an Apple Afterlife series for people like us. Anyway, ‘K’ for Kashmir Ki Kali. How can one forget songs like ‘Diwana hua badal’, ‘Taareef karoon kya uski’ and ‘Isharon isharon’. Another of my favourite ‘K’ songs is from Junglee — ‘Karoon main kya suku suku… Aai yai yaa’ (dancing for a while).

L (Dev Anand): Love Marriage. Who can forget its classic song ‘Dheere dheere chal chand gagan mein’? (Sings the whole song).

M (Rajesh Khanna): I have loads here. ‘Mere sapnon ki rani kab aayegi tu’. ‘Mere dil mein aaj kya hai’. ‘ ‘Main shayar badnaam’. ‘Meri pyaari bahaniya banegi dulhaniya’. ‘Maine tere liye hi saat rang ke sapne’. ‘Mere naina saawan bhadon’. ‘Maine dekha tune dekha’. ‘M’ was a very lucky letter for me.

N (Dev Anand, singing): ‘Nafrat karne waalon ke seene mein pyaar bhar doon’. Kalyanji-Anandji’s music and Indeevar’s words in Johnny Mera Naam.

O (Rajesh Khanna, singing the whole song): ‘O mere dil ke chain…’. Kishore, RD and Majrooh-saab combined to produce one of my biggest hits.

P (Shammi Kapoor): I just missed pressing the buzzer for ‘O’ with the Teesri Manzil song ‘O haseena zulfonwali’. But for ‘P’, I have Prince and Professor. Specially for the songs ‘Badan pe sitare’ and ‘Aye gulbadan’.

Q (they all think a while, and don’t remember a song, before Dev Anand asks): Guys, can I cheat a little? Since we can’t think of a song in Q, will this do? (Sings). Qasam li. Hey maine qasam li. Nahin honge judaa, hum-m-m. Okay, okay, I know, it’s Kasam, not Qasam, but this was the closest I could get. Hopefully, there are no nitpicking music critics here (The others agree).

R (Rajesh Khanna, singing): ‘Roop tera mastana, pyaar mera deewana’. One of my biggest hits ever.

S (Rajesh Khanna, again): The films Safar and Saccha Jhoota had some gems from Kalyanji-Anandji.

T (Dev Anand): Tere Ghar Ke Saamne (sings the title song). Teen Deviyan. Taxi Driver. Tere Mere Sapne. All SD Burman beauties. In fact, Sachin-da gave me most of my biggest hits.

U (Dev Anand, getting up and swaying to the tune): ‘Uff yumma’. It became a catch phrase when Jab Pyaar Kisise Hota Hai was released. It was a rage. Uff yumma! (accompanied by the Dev swagger)

V (Rajesh Khanna): ‘Vaada tera vaada’ from Dushman was one of the biggest hits of its time.

W (Rajesh Khanna again, singing): ‘Woh sham kuch ajeeb thi’ from Khamoshi. Hemant Kumar’s composition and Kishore Kumar’s voice. Bliss!

X (for a while, they can’t figure out a song, and Dev Anand jokes): None of us do X-rated songs or X-rated films. Leave that for today’s generation. Ha ha ha! (the others join in the laughter). So let’s move to ‘Y’.

Y (Shammi Kapoor, in a total rock and roll mood now, dancing and jumping): Yaaaahoooooo!!!! Yaaaahoooooo!!! Chahe koi mujhe junglee kahe….. (He sings and enacts the entire song).

Z (Rajesh Khanna): The word ‘zindagi’ was used in so many hit songs. (Sings the first lines of each). ‘Zindagi ka safar hai yeh kaisa safar’. ‘Zindagi ek safar hai suhana’. ‘Zindagi kaisi hai paheli haaye’. “Zindagi ke safar mein bichad jaate hain jo makaam’. Strange I am still singing them after my ‘zindagi’ is over.

The game over, the three superstars are full of joy. They all want to continue the celebration. Dev says: “Yes, there’s no doubt that 50 per cent of the hit male songs of Hindi film music have been picturised on the three of us. Someone should give us a combined Lifetime Achievement Award for our contribution to music.”

Rajesh yodels: “Udley udley yohooo, udley udley yo’, and Shammi does an Elvis Presley jig.

Suddenly, the main door is swung open. A voice comes out of nowhere. It says: “I want to play too. Let’s start again with the letter ‘A’. ‘Awara hoon. Awara hoon. Ya gardish mein hoon aasman ka taara hoon.” It’s the great Raj Kapoor, who has walked in with Mukesh, Shankar and Jaikishen.

Shammi Is stunned. “Bhai-saab, so good to see you. Am surprised you could make it. I wasn’t allowed to meet you till August 14, but you were the first person I wanted to meet here.”

Raj replies: “I was sitting in Super Heaven, when I heard you guys partying. I couldn’t resist. Honestly, 60 per cent of all male hit songs have been picturised on the four of us. I wasn’t allowed entry into this room, but after much pleading, the director-general of Paradise made an exception, only for a day.”

Another voice is heard. It says: “I too managed to make it for a day. I’m playing the game too. ‘B’ for ‘Baharon phool barsao’.” It’s Rajendra Kumar!

Suddenly, Guru Dutt also comes in. He says: “’C’ for ‘Chaudhvin ka chand ho ya aftaab ho’ (sings the full song). The most romantic song ever written.” Composer Ravi walks in from the neighbouring room. And a few minutes later, the song’s singer Mohammed Rafi and lyricist Shakeel Badayuni march in together.

Within half an hour, the greatest names from Hindi films and film music are in the room. All the legends who have left Mother Earth. The next to come in is the legendary Naushad, greeting everyone with his trademark ‘Khawateen-o-hazrat’. To which Dev whispers into Khanna’s ears: “Sadly, I left my dictionary on Mother Earth.”

Jagjit, Bhupen, Sultan Khan and Mehdi-saab walk in from the neighbouring room. Soon, the ‘Hindi Film Superstars’ room is packed.

The stars include KL Saigal, Bharat Bhushan, Sunil Dutt, Rajkumar, Ashok Kumar, Balraj Sahni, Shantaram, Nargis, Madhubala, Nutan and Meena Kumari. Among the singers, Kishore Kumar, Hemant Kumar, Talat Mahmood, Geeta Dutt, Noorjehan and Suraiya join those already present. Among the music directors, SD Burman, RD Burman, Madan Mohan, OP Nayyar, Roshan, Salil Chowdhury, C Ramchandra, Anil Biswas, Jaidev, Laxmikant and Kalyanji arrive too. The list of lyricists is long: it includes Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi, Anand Bakshi, Kaifi Azmi, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Shailendra, Rajendra Krishan, Indeevar, Hasrat Jaipuri, Gulshan Bawra and Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, among others.

Each genre of Indian music is represented. Bhimsen Joshi and Bismillah Khan. Begum Akhtar and Nusrat. The divine Subbulakshmi herself.

In Paradise, the biggest musical night in history has just begun. It’s the greatest gig in the sky, the mother of all music get-togethers. And in the audience, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, ‘newcomer’ Jon Lord and scores of other international luminaries are getting a first-hand taste of old Hindi film music, hearing some of the most tuneful, wonderful and heavenly melodies ever produced.

The Lord of the Rock Keyboards


IF fate hadn’t intervened, ‘Who Cares’ would have been one of the biggest rock supergroups ever. Imagine a line-up consisting of Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan, Black Sabbath guitarist Toni Iommi, Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain and Deep Purple/ Whitesnake keyboardist Jon Lord.

‘Who Cares’ had just begin working on an album, when Lord passed away on July 16, leaving behind a void, a legacy, a wealth of memories and thousands of mourning fans the world over. Not many knew he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and the end came as a total shock. An era had ended.

Lord was unique, after all.

In a rock music universe ruled by high-pitched vocalists and riff-spitting guitarists, he was somebody who stood out as a keyboardist/ organist, whether he was playing his Hammond C3 organ or an RMI 368 Electra piano/ harpsichord. And that too in a band like Deep Purple, where everyone was an equal contributor — besides him, the Mark II line-up featured icons like vocalist Gillan, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, bassist Roger Glover and drummer Ian Paice.

Lord’s signature sound played an important part in most Deep Purple classics from early songs like ‘Hush’, ‘Anthem’ and ‘April’ to the extra-popular ‘Child in time’, ‘Smoke on the water’, ‘Highway star’, ‘Black night’, ‘Space truckin’ and ‘Lazy’, to later songs like ‘Knocking on your back door’ and ‘Perfect strangers’. With Whitesnake, his talent was evident on songs like ‘She’s a woman’, ‘Wine woman and song’, ‘Till the day I die’ and ‘Here I go again’. His earlier effort in fusing the diverse idioms of rock and clasdical music in the 1969 Deep Purple venture ‘Concerto for Group and Orchestra’, and his later focus towards classical and orchestral music (for instance, the album ‘Beyond the Notes’), were proof of his versatility and willingness to experiment.

What made Lord so special? Before analysing that, let’s take a look at the keyboard in rock history. Though the piano was used prominently in rock and roll music, and Ian Stewart played keyboards for the Rolling Stones, the first keyboardist to perform a lead role in a rock band was Billy Ritchie, who played in the mid-60s with the Satellites, the Premiers, 1-2-3 and Clouds.

The period from the late 60s to the late 70s saw a huge amount of talent in this field. Besides Lord, the four best-known names were Steve Winwood (the Spencer Davis group, Traffic, Blind Faith, solo career), Ray Manzarek (the Doors), Gregg Allman (Allman Brothers Band) and Richard Wright (Pink Floyd).

There were also others with a huge fan following — Keith Emerson (Emerson Lake & Palmer), Rick Wakeman (Yes), Ken Hensley (Uriah Heep), Brian Eno (Roxy Music, solo), Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson (both Supertramp), Tony Banks (Genesis), Donald Fagen (Steely Dan), Doug Ingle (Iron Butterfly), Christine McVie (Fleetwood Mac) and Garth Hudson (The Band). There were supremely talented keyboardists who were somehow always overshadowed by their bands’ frontmen, like Tom Constanten and Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernann (both Grateful Dead), Gregg Rollie (Santana, later Journey) and John Evan (Jethro Tull). And there were freelance keyboardists like John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick, who played with The Who and Free.

Initially, many groups used the Hammond organ, the Mellotron or the Fender Rhodes electric piano. Ray Manzarek of the Doors took to the Moog synthesiser, an instrument which was also used by the Rolling Stones, the Moody Blues, Emerson Lake & Palmer and later-day Beatles.

Despite the increasing use of the keyboards in rock music, the instrument was never able to replace the guitar in terms of mass popularity, and guitar gods like Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, David Gilmour, Duane Allman, Jerry Garcia, Jeff Beck and Carlos Santana were always higher on the star stakes.

For its part, Deep Purple too had a guitar god in Ritchie Blackmore, but what actually made the group sound distinct was the Jon Lord sound. To begin with, he rejected the popular Moog, and adapted the equally-popular Hammond organ to give it a raw, bluesy sound, using distortion too to create that extra effect. He would switch to the RMI 368 — and later a Yamaha Electric grand piano — if the song desired. Since he was playing with a lightning-fast player like Blackmore, he came up with equally speedy solos.

Lord’s sound was unique too, as used his childhood influences and amalgamated them with contemporary rock flavours. He blended the energy of hard rock and ambience of psychedelic rock with the melody of classical music and raw sounds of the blues.

What Lord played was technically very sound, advanced and innovative — he was a musician’s musician, and a source of inspiration to numerous young keyboardists. And yet, his music was exciting enough to enchant even the lay listener who had no or little knowledge of technique or theory. He played for what was once described as the world’s loudest band, but in his musicianship, there was a melody to the loudness, a method to the madness. That truly was the beauty of Jon Lord, the ultimate rock star among rock keyboardists.

A fascination for Faiz


HONESTLY, I am not qualified to write about the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Yes, he has been one of the greatest writers of the Urdu language, Pakistan’s most popular poet and someone who’s made a huge mark as a revolutionary, an intellectual and a genius. But an in-depth analysis of his oeuvre would best be left to someone who has followed his work thoroughly and extensively.

Yet, the reason I’m writing this blog is because to me, Faiz has been an obsession. Some of the most beautiful ghazals ever created have been written by him; the only other poet who must have been covered in equal or more detail is Mirza Ghalib. Though the ghazals of many others like Mir Taqi Mir, Momin Khan Momin, Dagh Dehlvi, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Allama Iqbal, Shakeel Badayuni, Ahmed Faraaz, Qateel Shifai, Jigar Moradabadi, Kaifi Azmi, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Hasrat Mohani,  Sudarshan Faakir, Gulzar and Javed Akhtar have been sung regularly, Ghalib and Faiz perhaps top the list in terms of sheer number.

Besides mentioning some of Faiz’s really wonderful ghazals and nazms, the effort of this piece is to initiate ghazal lovers who haven’t really heard much of Faiz into the beauty of his repertoire. For that, I am ending the blog with my 10 favourite Faiz works.

My first exposure to Faiz was Mehdi Hassan’s ever-so-popular ‘Gulon mein rang bhare’. For years, I loved the song without knowing the poet’s name, and admired it mainly for the singing and tune. Even after realising it was written by Faiz, the meanings of many words escaped me, and it was only much later that I started following the true meaning of the ghazal.

Later too, though I would know the names of Faiz’s songs, it would take me a while to grasp the actual meaning. Very often, the words and metaphors he used were too high-flown for me, but they sounded truly graceful and magnificent. And I loved the songs so much, specially if they were sung by the likes of Iqbal Bano, Farida Khanum, Abida Parveen and Nayyara Noor, that I would make an extra effort to follow them more deeply.

Even today, there are quite a few songs which I don’t understand 100 per cent. But they’re among my favourites, because of the way they’ve been treated by the singer. Keeping that in mind, I thought I’d write about some of my favourite Faiz ghazals and nazms, as rendered by some really extraordinary voices. Let’s take them singer by singer, and also mention some other wonderful versions:

Mehdi Hassan and Faiz: The late Mehdisaab was known to have sung a large cross-section of poets, both well-known and lesser-known. As such, only a limited percentage of his repertoire was written by Faiz, of which ‘Gulon mein rang bhare’ is undoubtedly the most famous — Talat Aziz does a wonderful live version, and Runa Laila’s version is popular too. But there have been other Mehdi Hassan classics too, like ‘Aaye kuch abr kuch sharaab aaye’ (also sung by Begum Akhtar, Ghulam Ali, Runa Laila and Suraiya Khanum), ‘Tum aaye ho na shab-e-intezaar guzari hai’ (versions by Noor Jehan and Amir Ali Khan) and ‘Na ganvaao naavak-e-neemkash’ (whose version by Hyderabad-based Vithal Rao is also mesmerising). In each song, Mehdi-saab’s voice has been enchanting, but then, whose ever verse he sang, he had his own unique style.

Iqbal Bano and Faiz: The late Delhi-born, Lahore-settled Iqbal Bano sang numerous ghazals in her rich, heavenly voice, but she was most identified with Faiz, primarily because of two songs — the revolutionary anthem ‘Hum Dekhenge’ and the solitude-filled ‘Dasht-e-tanhai’, both of which are among the greatest ghazals ever rendered. With its ‘Inquilaab zindabad’ crowd chant, the former is also one of the best rendered and most moving live nazms. But while these two songs remain her most popular, Iqbal has also rendered gems like ‘Mere dil mere musafir’, ‘Kab thehrega dard’, ‘Aaye haath uthayen’ and ‘Rang pairahan ka’. Pure magic all over.

Farida Khanum and Faiz: The lay listener will identify Pakistani ‘Mallika-e-ghazal’ Farida most with ‘Aaj jaane ki zid na karo’, written by poet Faiyaz Hashmi. But her rendition of Faiz is no less astounding, though it’s been followed more by the serious connoisseurs. The masterpieces include ‘Yaad-e-ghazaal-e-chashma’, ‘Sab qatl hoke tere’, ‘Yun saja chand’, ‘Is tarah qissa mera’ and the outstanding ‘Donon jahan teri mohabbat mein haarke’, (which also has a divine version by Begum Akhtar).

Begum Akhtar and Faiz: We’ve already mentioned Begum Akhtar’s ‘Donon jahaan teri’ and ‘Aaye kuch abr’, but some of her other marvellous Faiz numbers include ‘Dil mein ab bhoola hua gham’ and ‘Shaam-e-firaaq ab na pooch’ (also sung by Ghulam Ali). The great Begum was probably known more for her rendition of Ghalib, Mir, Shakeel Badayuni, Momin and Sudarshan Faakir ghazals, but she was brilliant with Faiz too. One of the most enchanting and pathos-filled voices in history.

Noor Jehan and Faiz: The legendary singer probably sang the most popular of all Faiz songs — ‘Mujhse pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob na maang’. But old-timers will also recall her rendition of ‘Tum aaye no ha shab-e-intezaar guzari hai’ and ‘Aaj ki raat saaz-e-dil-e-par-dard’.

Nayyara Noor and Faiz: Assam-born, Lahore-bred Nayyara Noor has one of the sweetest voices in the ghazal genre. She recorded 12 Faiz songs in her album ‘Nayyara Sings Faiz’, of which the most charming were ‘Tum mere paas raho’ (of which we’ve heard different versions by Mallika Pukhraj and Vidya Shah), ‘Hum ke thehre ajnabi’ (which Shubha Mudgal has often sung live), ‘Aaj bazaar mein’, ‘Chalo phir se muskurayen’ and ‘Utho ab maati se’. Like Iqbal Bano, Nayyara has been identified most with Faiz, though her semi-classical, easy listening style is a nice contrast to Iqbal’s deep and rich classicism.

Abida Parveen and Faiz: Though she’s known more as a Sufiana singer, Abida Parveen has also shown supreme adeptness at the ghazal. Her rendition of Faiz’s poetry is captured on the Times Music album ‘Abida Sings Faiz’, which includes gems like ‘Shaam-e-firaaq ab na pooch’, ‘Gul hui jaati hai’, ‘Yeh jafa-e-gham ka chaara’ and ‘Tere gham ko jaan ki talaash thi’.

Zehra Nigah and Faiz: Herself a poet, Zehra Nigah has specialised in reciting Faiz’s nazms in a semi-sung, semi-spoken manner. She chose some of Faiz’s best poems and dazzled audiences with her presentation. Pieces worth checking out are ‘Heart attack’, ‘Ghazal’, ‘Intesab’, ‘Dua’, ‘Daricha’ and ‘Khursheed-e-mehshar’.

(This paragraph was added after I originally wrote the blog as the album was released later) Pankaj Udhas and Faiz: Recently, Pankaj Udhas released the album ‘Dastkhat’, consisting of his renditions of Faiz poetry. Included are gems like ‘Kab tak dil ki khair manaayein’, ‘Yun sajaa chaand’, ‘Shaam-e-firaaq ab na pooch’ and ‘Tere gham ko jaan ki talaash thi’. He says he used the title ‘Dastkhat’ as the choice of poetry reflected Faiz’s signature style of singing.

Other singers and Faiz: Though we’ve covered most of the popular versions of Faiz songs above, and have included singers like Ghulam Ali, Amir Ali Khan and Runa Laila too, a few other singers have sung exceptional versions of Faiz. Commendable among them are Mallika Pukhraj’s ‘Kab tak dil ki khair manaayein’ and ‘Yeh kaun sakhi hain’. Pakistani singers Tina Sani and Tahira Sayed have also recorded a fair amount of Faiz. Among the male singers, Shaukat Ali’s ‘Garmi-e-shauq-e-nazara’ and ‘Tere gham ko jaan ki talaash thi’ and Amaanat Ali Khan’s ‘Teri umeed tera intezaar jab se hai’ are recommended.

(To keep readers updated, Talat Aziz also did a show featuring the poetry of Ghalib and Faiz in July 2013.)

Finally, my top 10 Faiz: For a basic initiation into the poet, one can try out the three-CD set ‘Great Works of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’, released in India by EMI Music. But if you’re looking for 10 songs to begin with, my favourites are: 1. Gulon mein rang bhare — Mehdi Hassan 2. Hum dekhenge — Iqbal Bano 3 Tum mere paas raho — Nayyara Noor 4. Dasht-e-tanhai — Iqbal Bano 5. Mujhse pehli si mohabbat – Noor Jehan 6. Donon jahaan teri – Begum Akhtar 7 Yaad-e-ghazaal-e-chashma – Farida Khanum 8. Hum ke thehre ajnabee – Nayyara Noor 9.Tum aaye ho shab-e-intezaar guzari hai – Amir Ali Khan, and 10 Aaye kuch abr kuch sharaab aaye – Mehdi Hassan. And yes, Ghulam Ali, Pankaj Udhas and Abida Parveen fans could check out their versions of  ‘Shaam-e-firaaq ab na pooch’.

It may take a while for some of you to get a hang of each and every word. But the truth is that these are some of the most beautiful songs ever written and ever sung. And in all cases, a combination of the Faiz charisma and great singing worked wonders.

The Linkin Park story


AMONG all the 21st century rock bands, Linkin Park and Coldplay are arguably the most successful and popular. Both released their debut recordings in 2000, and both have so far released five studio albums of brand-new material. And while both have a huge number of followers — and a completely different sound — I personally prefer Linkin Park, probably because of their distinct sound, overall consistency and willingness to experiment.

The objective of this blog, of course, is not to get into deep comparisons between the two giants, but to track the journey of Linkin Park over the past 12 years. The band has recently released the 12-track album ‘Living Things’, and it would be appropriate at this stage to see how they’ve grown as a group, ever since they released the hugely successful debut ‘Hybrid Theory’, blending hard rock, metal, grunge and hip-hop to create their own brand of ‘nu metal’.

First, a few lines about ‘Living Things’. To begin with, it is a short, 37-minute album with four excellent numbers — ‘Burn It Down’, ‘Lost In The Echo’, ‘Castle Of Glass’ and the ballad ‘Roads Untraveled’. Actually, make that five excellent numbers, if one were to include ‘In My Remains’, though my complaint is though it’s a superb song, it’s too much in keeping with the Linkin Park formula.

In terms of sound and track assortment, ‘Living Things’ is very similar to ‘Hybrid Theory’ and its follow-up ‘Meteora’, barring the additional use of electronica flavours. The vocal coordination between Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington follows similar structures as we’d seen on the first two albums.

As such, ‘Living Things’ caters more to the hardcore fans, who got into the band after listening to their first two albums. In other words, the group seems to have played it safe this time, instead of experimenting the way they did on ‘Minutes To Midnight’ and ‘A Thousand Suns’. On most tracks, they have stuck to the old formula.

From the above paragraphs, it’s pretty obvious that when Linkin Park released ‘Hybrid Theory’ in 2000, they had a distinct ‘nu metal’ sound. The album was a phenomenal hit, with songs like ‘In The End’, ‘One Step Closer’, ‘Crawling’, ‘Points of Authority’ and ‘Papercut’. The band successfully repeated the formula in ‘Meteora’, which featured the hits ‘Numb’, ‘Faint’, ‘Somewhere I Belong’ and ‘Breaking The Habit’.

Between these two albums, they also added to their fan base by releasing a live CD + DVD (‘Live In Texas’), a remix album ‘Reanimation’ and a collaboration with rapper ‘Jay-Z’ on the mash-up album ‘Collision Course’. But the ultimate aim, it seems, was to grow musically, and move into another space.

Thus, for the third album, Linkin Park decided to experiment. ‘Minutes To Midnight’ got into the concept album mode, brought in a great deal of variety and had outstanding numbers like ‘Shadow Of The Day’, ‘What I’ve Done’, ‘Hands Held High’ and ‘The Little Things Give You Away’.

Many hardcore fans abhorred the new sound, but that didn’t deter the band from releasing the out-and-out concept album ‘A Thousand Suns’, which had such masterpieces as ‘The Catalyst’, ‘Burning In The Skies’ and ‘Iridescent’. The 2010 release received extreme reactions — while many of the earlier fans felt Linkin Park had completely lost it, there was also a large section which thought this was the best music they’d ever produced.

Quite clearly, Linkin Park seemed to be in a dilemma while deciding the future direction of their sound. The innovations hadn’t worked as well as they thought, or maybe their fans hadn’t matured the way they expected. The simplest thing was to get back to their own roots, and yet sound contemporary. So on ‘Living Things’, they added a few more electronica elements and used currently-popular flavours, but essentially stuck to their core songwriting style.

Going by initial reactions and reviews one has read on the Web, ‘Living Things’ has received a fantastic response. While that’s great for the band, the overall trend also proves that a majority of their fans are not in favour of their experimenting too much.

For instance, let’s see Amazon’s customer reviews, which are a fairly accurate source to gauge public reaction to a music release. In the table below, compiled on July 6, we look at the overall response to each of the five albums, and also the percentage of people who gave it a five-star rating (meaning they totally loved the album) and those who gave it one star (who hated it). The results are self-explanatory:

No

Album

Total reviews

5-star

1-star

5-star (%)

1-star (%

Avg rating

Rank

1

Hybrid Theory

1,797

1,231

180

68.5

10

4.3

1

2

Meteora

1,499

820

200

54.7

13.3

4

2

3

Minutes to Midnight

734

231

157

31.5

21.4

3.2

4

4

A Thousand Suns

590

220

171

37.2

43.8

3.2

5

5

Living Things

112

57

15

50.9

13.4

3.8

3

A close look reveals that the highest rating of 4.3 goes to the path-breaking debut album ‘Hybrid Theory’, followed by 4 for ‘Meteora’ and 3.9 for ‘Living Things’. Though the lowest of 3.2 is technically shared by the experimental ‘Minutes To Midnight’ and ‘A Thousand Suns’, we have given the last position to the latter because of the other parameters involved.

Going by individual customer ratings, some 68.5 per cent of reviewers totally loved ‘Hybrid Theory’ (five-star reviews), as compared to 31.5 per cent for ‘Minutes To Midnight’. But when it comes to detesting an album, ‘A Thousand Suns’ is way ahead – the 43.8 per cent figure is double that of ‘Minutes To Midnight’ (21.4 per cent) and over four times more than ‘Hybrid Theory’ (10 per cent).

At the moment, ‘Living Things’ is at No 3 on the Amazon index. But then, it’s still new in the market: only 112 people have posted their reviews, as of July 6. It’ll be interesting to see the tally a month or two later.

Any which way, the Amazon ratings prove that Linkin Park’s more experimental ventures received less mass approval compared to their typical albums. True as that may be, it’s also a sad indicator of tastes in general, as it often deters most bands from trying out new things, and encourages themselves to repeat themselves to stay true to their biggest admirers. Of course, there are bands which don’t bother about that factor, keep experimenting gloriously, and yet continue to maintain their fan base — a classical example being Radiohead.

That brings me to an obvious question: which is my favourite Linkin Park album? Positively, it’s ‘A Thousand Suns’, with ‘Hybrid Theory’ coming second, and the others being a close third. And yes, I love ‘Living Things’ too, even though a large part of it is like old wine in a new bottle.

Musically and creatively, however, ‘A Thousand Suns’ was a landmark by itself, though it’s a pity a majority of fans didn’t think so. But then, if the band had kept on doing the same thing album after album, they’d have fallen in the same rut as Coldplay. Oops… I thought I’d mentioned there would be no comparisons between the two. Sorry about that, but Linkin Park totally rocks.

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