A Guitar is perhaps the only instrument that almost everyone “plays”. Quite often, we see someone “playing” an ‘Air-Guitar’ (acting as though you are playing the Guitar with both hands, but without any real instrument!). I am sure you would have “played” air-guitar at least a few times and perhaps often. I guess most of the songs accompanied by the air-guitar were lively and energetic ones!
Why is a guitar so memorable? A guitar generates notes that are distinct, strong and clear. Also, some types of guitar create sounds that are sweet and enchanting to the ears. Guitars stand out among all other instruments because of these qualities of clarity and enchanting sounds.
In addition to these qualities, a guitar is perhaps the instrument more strongly associated with ‘western’ than anything else. Thus, a number of western songs that are usually full of energy and liveliness feature a guitar.
As mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I enjoy listening to songs on the radio or iPod. I only focus on what I hear in a song. So, when I use the term Guitar songs, I mean a film song where a guitar is heard in the song. To me, it does not matter whether someone in the visuals is actually playing the guitar. If someone is actually playing a guitar on screen, it is a coincidence!
As an interesting ‘guess the song’ exercise for you, I created a medley of guitar pieces from 15 handpicked songs. If possible, listen to the medley and try and identify the associated song for each guitar piece. I hope you find this medley to be fun, interesting with quite a few ‘Aha….THAT song!’ moments for you. Enjoy the medley below and try and guess the songs. The medley runs for less than 5 minutes.
Of course, you can always listen to the songs on the player first or take a sneak peek at the commentary below. But, that would spoil the fun for you.
While all music directors in the 1940s, 50s and 60s used guitar extensively, it gained prominence with the catchy prelude in the chart buster song – Dum maro dum (Hare Rama Hare Krishna) composed by the trendsetter R D Burman. Enjoy this lovely prelude here.
Several musicians were associated with Guitar in film songs. Prominent players include Dilip Naik, Boney D’Costa, D’Melo, Bhupinder (the singer), Bhanu Gupta, Sunil Kaushik, Ramesh Iyer.
Enjoy the 15 handpicked songs on the player below. I restricted myself to songs from the 1950s to early 80s since my familiarity with film songs is mostly from this period.
(The player stops playing when you click the back button or go to another link on this page or somewhere else. This happens because the player is embedded on this page. To listen to these songs without any break, open another window after clicking the play arrow on the player. If you want to browse further on this site or another site, use the newly opened window. The player will keep playing the songs as you browse in the new window).
A Guitar is the obvious choice for lively club songs. Ravi, known for his simple melodies created songs that had lovely guitar pieces. Baar baar dekho (China Town) is one such lively number that was a big hit. Another unforgettable club song is O P Nayyar’s Mera naam Chin Chin Choo (Howrah Bridge) that features Geeta Dutt’s lively and energetic vocals and is perhaps a landmark song in her career.
Check out this link from Madhulika Liddle (Dustedoff) about her uncle Sammy Daula, who played the guitar in Baar Baar dekho. http://madhulikaliddle.com/2012/12/03/introducing-another-guitarist-sammy-daula/
Shanker-Jaikishen introduced new types of arrangements in Hindi film music. Several of their hugely popular songs were lively numbers with energetic guitar pieces. Yakeen karlo (Yakeen) features guitar extensively. Another lively number from Brahmachari, Aaj kal tere mere pyaar ke also had delightful guitar in the prelude.
But the credit for the best lively guitar song goes to R D Burman. Dilip Naik played the guitar memorably in the unforgettable prelude in the trendsetter Aaja aaja main hoon pyaar teraa (Teesri Manzil). Music directors rely on computers today to help in music ‘composition’. But, nothing can beat the sheer creativity, talent, passion of the music directors and musicians of the 60s and 70s when songs were recorded ‘live’. Those were the days when composers and musicians relied and were inspired by creative forces, not computers. One can only bow in reverence to R D Burman and his team of musicians who created this song that will rank among the best guitar songs of all time and enjoyable even today in the days of computer programmed music. In fact, apart from the outstanding guitar, this song also features some of the best performances on other instruments including drums, the brass section, flute and almost every instrument used in this song.
Strange as it may seem, the Guitar also has a strong role in sad songs. Shanker-Jaikishen’s Ajeeb dastan hai yeh (Dil apna aur preet parai) appears lively but also has a hidden sadness. This is based on a western song, My lips are sealed by Jim Reeves. Karz featured a Guitar theme, by Laxmikanth-Pyarelal that can be heard throughout the film and leaves you with a haunting feeling. This tune too was inspired by a George Benson’s tune, We as love.
A Kalyanji-Anandji chart-buster, Mera jeevan kora kagaz (Kora Kagaz) features guitar that seems to blend with the rhythm and matches Kishore’s emphasis on the words.
Perhaps the best guitar song in the sad category is Kalyanji-Anandji’s O Saathi re (Muqaddar ka Sikandar). The guitar notes seem to blend seamlessly with Kishore’s humming in the prelude and you can hear the guitar as an undercurrent throughout the song without drowning the pathos filled vocals of Kishore. Kishore’s singing and the guitar blend to become one in this chartbuster. Ramesh Iyer played the guitar in this chartbuster.
Paul Mauriat, the world renowned French orchestra leader, selected songs from various countries to be played by his orchestra. He selected O Saathi re as his tribute to India. His arrangements for this song are different and can be heard in the following link.
Sweet & Romantic Guitar
Guitars like Acoustic or Spanish guitar creates sounds that are very sweet, romantic and enchanting. This is perhaps why you hear Guitar in the prelude in a number of memorable romantic songs.
Naushad used guitar to create an interesting ‘building up anticipation’ feeling with the opening strains of guitar in Mere jeevan saathi (Saathi). Though the guitar notes sound simple, the use of guitar in this song is certainly creative and different.
Shanker-Jaikishen’s masterpiece Yeh raat bheegi bheegi (Chori Chori) as well as the lovely evening song Raat ke humsafar (An Evening in Paris) feature sweet sounding guitars in the prelude. Another romantic classic by Kalyanji-Anandji, Pal pal dil ke paas (Blackmail) also starts off beautifully with guitar.
R D Burman used guitar beautifully in Churaliya hai tumne (Yaadon ki baaraat) – guitar played by Bhupinder. However, this song is based on If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium. Bappi Lahiri (before he became the Disco man) created a lovely title song in Chalte Chalte. This also features simple, yet attractive use of guitar in the interlude.
But the best use of guitar in a romantic song is Ravi’s Aage bhi jaane na tu (Waqt). Sahir Ludhianvi’s wonderful ‘timeless’ lyrics about the power of Now were beautifully captured in this song. Asha Bhonsle sang her heart out in this song that will perhaps rank as one of her best. The guitar and the entire music create a romantic effect, though the visuals try to convey multiple stories.
Kalyanji-Anandji composed a very unusual lively song Chup Chup Chup kyon baithi ho in Hamrahi. The unusual feature in this song is almost 100% use of guitar in the song. The prelude and interludes have nothing but guitar (except for a few seconds of the train whistle). This is indeed very rare and innovative in Hindi film music.
Top 3 Guitar songs
Apart from the best songs in lively, sad and romantic categories, I have selected 3 songs as the Top 3 guitar songs. How did I choose the Top 3? This choice is based on the place and domination of the guitar in the prelude and interludes. Apart from the almost 100% guitar song of Kalyanji-Anandji that I highlighted earlier, here are 3 songs where the guitar totally dominates the prelude and interludes. I have used only this criteria to filter the top 3 songs. In each of the top 3 songs, you can hear the dominant guitar at least 80% of the time.
O P Nayyar created a memorable song in Laakhon hai yahaan dilwale (Kismet). Mahendra Kapoor’s soft voice and the easy paced sweet sounds of the guitar make this one of the most memorable guitar songs. Technically speaking, there is a lovely counterpoint (where two or more instruments are played at the same time but in different melodies or patterns) between guitar and viola in the interludes.
The other two songs in the Top 3 category have a lot in common yet are poles apart. You may be wondering how this is possible. Kalyanji-Anandji composed lovely and fast paced guitar pieces in Neele neele ambar par (Kalaakar). These guitar pieces have become so popular that most guitar students in India aspire to play the fast guitar pieces as a sort of ‘benchmark’. If you can play the fast guitar pieces of the song, then you have reached a milestone in learning guitar! The guitar notes played by Sunil Kaushik are also considered the fastest in Indian film music!
The song Neele neele ambar par is based on a song composed by Ilayaraja, the genius from South India. Ilayaraja, an accomplished guitar player himself composed the delightful Ilaya nila (Payanangal mudivithilai) with acoustic guitar pieces that went on to become an all-time classic in South Indian film music. S P Balasubrahmanyam, makes this an easy and soothing song to the ears with his mellifluous voice. S P Balasubrahmanyam also recounts an anecdote about the recording of this song. Apparently, this song was okayed after 16 takes because Ilayaraja, the perfectionist, wanted the right notes from the guitar and the guitarist Chandrasekhar. The delightful notes of the guitar that end this song are truly memorable. This song will rank as one of the best acoustic guitar songs in Indian film music. If anyone can share a better guitar song than this in any Indian language, I would be delighted to hear such a song.
Kalyanji-Anandji must be credited with retaining the base of the song, yet making it totally different with guitar pieces that are faster, delightfully composed and played.
You can hear the two songs below to appreciate the similarity and common base as well as the huge difference in the guitar pieces.
Some of the songs with guitar will remain etched in our memories forever because of the distinctive and sweet sounds of this wonderful instrument. We are fortunate that we had creative music composers and talented musicians who could bring out the best from the Guitar to give us such memorable songs.