Melody and Rhythm are two essential elements of any Hindi film song. In film songs, melody is mostly identified with the vocals or the singable part and rhythm is usually identified with accompanying percussion instruments like Tabla or Bongo or Drums. Most film songs have vocals and percussion and these two are distinctly heard as they are essential elements in the song.
If you try to list songs that do not have tabla, bongo or any other percussion instrument, you may find it difficult. However, you may be surprised to learn that some of the most popular songs of the Golden era (mostly 50s and 60s) do not have any percussion instrument. Yes, you read that right. There are no percussion instruments in some of the most popular songs. In short, these hugely popular songs have Nothing but melody.
After some reflection, you may think that the songs that do not have percussion are sad, slow songs. The songs that are Nothing but melody are not necessarily slow, sad songs. There are some bright, cheerful songs as well that have Nothing but melody.
Madan Mohan’s immortal song for Lata, Lag Jaa Gale (Woh Kaun Thi) does not have any percussion instruments. Similarly, the bright number Main hoon Jhum Jhum Jhumroo (Jhumroo) composed by Kishore Kumar also does not have percussion instruments.
If Tabla or Bongo are not used in a song for rhythm, what do composers do? It is possible to create the rhythm for a song without using percussion instruments. Most composers create rhythm by using guitars, banjo or some other stringed instrument like a Double Bass or even a Piano. In film songs, guitar can be played in three ways – as a lead guitar, bass guitar or rhythm guitar.
Here is a playlist of songs from the 50s and 60s that do not have any percussion instrument at all (No tabla, Bongo or drums….). The rhythm is provided by a variety of stringed instruments like Double Bass, Guitars and so on. I hope you enjoy these extremely popular Nothing but melody songs.
Lively, energetic songs
Apart from Main Hoon Jhumroo, there are other lively numbers that have Nothing but melody. The cheeky Ek ladki bheegi (Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi) composed by SD Burman does not have percussion. During the song, Kishore Kumar is seen using many instruments to create rhythm including spanners! Interestingly, this song is ‘inspired’ from the song 16 tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford. (The other song from Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi Hum the woh the is also inspired from another Tennessee Ernie Ford song, The Watermelon song. These two inspired songs do not take anything away from the superlative work of SD Burman, who stood tall among his peers with his own inimitable style of music)
Composer Ravi is known for creating simple melodies.He has a big share in creating songs that have Nothing but melody. Yeh Raaten Yeh Mausam (Dilli Ka Thug), Aa Bhi Jaa (Gumrah) and Aage bhi jaane (Waqt) have strong base of guitars and double bass to create the rhythm. The original rhythm king, OP Nayyar created many songs with lovely rhythm. He excelled in using side percussion instruments like Castanets.
There is an interesting anecdote about the song Main pyaar ka raahi (Ek Musafir Ek Hasina). Apparently, the tabla and percussion players who were supposed to play in the song did not arrive in time for the recording. OP Nayyar, a man with very strict views, went ahead and recorded the song without the tabla and percussion!
Hemant Kumar too seems to have a penchant for composing songs without percussion. His lively Bekarar karke (Bees Saal Baad), surprisingly does not have any percussion instruments, very unusual for the situation in the movie.
Apart from Madan Mohan’s Lag Jaa gale, there is a wonderful song in Khamoshi composed by Hemant Kumar. Tum Pukaar Lo is a very haunting tune without any percussion that keeps playing in your head over and over again. Anupama is one of Hemant Kumar’s best musicals. Kuch Dil Ne Kahaa is a lovely song by Lata that has no percussion at all.
SD Burman’s Jalte hain jiske liye is a delightful tune that is sung over the phone in which SD Burman also uses Piano to provide rhythm.
SN Tripathi’s Na kisiki aankh ka noor (Lal Qila) is perhaps the best example of a typical slow, sad song where you do not expect percussion. Rafi fills the song with pathos in his unbeatable style.
In Anupama, Hemant Kumar created an unforgettable tune – Ya dil ki suno. This haunting melody is one more example of a Nothing but melody song without any percussion instruments. Hemant Kumar also sang one more pathos filled song in SD Burman’s masterpiece Pyaasa – Jaane woh kaise log in which piano supplements guitars and double bass for rhythm.
SD Burman was a composer who paid a lot of attention to vocals, the singer and the emotion. He would therefore bring out the emotion in a song by using the right singer and by eliminating unnecessary elements in the orchestra. SD Burman’s Waqt Ne Kiya in Guru Dutt’s Kagaz ke phool is not only beautifully rendered by Geeta Dutt, but is also a visual masterpiece.
Ilayaraja, the South Indian genius created an innovative song where you hear Nothing but melody. This song Paruvama from Mouna Geetham (Telugu) is a song where the lead pair go on a jog. Ilayaraja used the sound of footsteps to create the rhythm. Enjoy the song with folksy vocals, beautiful violin, guitars, flute like a Western symphony and footsteps!
I hope this post brings out a hidden and enjoyable dimension of film songs and the creativity of our music composers. I hope you enjoy these songs and this unusual dimension of Nothing but melody.
(This blog is meant for appreciating various dimensions of film music but is not meant to be a deep analysis or discussion on technical aspects of film music. Technically, apart from Melody and Rhythm, some also add Harmony as the third essential element of a song. Also, while we may separate melody and rhythm, in reality, melody finally conforms to a rhythm, technically speaking.)