Wednesday, October 29, 2003

on the repeated listenability of a song

JR and Harish have been writing about going back to the tunes in ARR's latest effort Tehzeeb {last thread in this blog's obsession with the same}.

So what makes you go back to a song or an album that at first listening didn't really grab you? Here are some reasons that I can think of from experience:

* "When" you heard the song has a lot to do with how you reacted to it. Always. And I believe there's also a second reaction that your subconsciousness registers. This gestates in the mental background and resurfaces as a faint desire to revisit the track/album. It may take more than one repeated listening for the subconscious impression to get a shot at becoming the dominant impression. The strongest final impression triumphs. For the moment.

* Things happen that can change your impression of a song. Perhaps the composer or singer or someone else associated with the song is in the news (perhaps a death), adding some historical (and even nostalgic) context to the song. Perhaps over time different public reactions evinced compel you to return to the song. Perhaps something you find out about the song can change your perspective.

* Time for examples: I've been an R D Burman fan for a while now. This blasts all chances of being objective to smithereens. Which (thankfully) does not imply that I love everything he ever churned out (musically, that is). And I am also constantly on the lookout for more information and background (historical/locational/circumstantial context) that always adds something special to a song: it could augment your preference for a song or swing your opinion around. And this works for all non-RDB music as well. So, while the mainstream adores 1942: A Love Story, I realise that his unfortunate demise that made it his swan song had a lot to do for swinging public opinion (Only the fervent supporters who constantly offered encouragement and promise in print and media for the declining star of R D Burman have some claim to the "I told you so!"). And despite there being several appealing bits to the soundtrack (the dismal state of the film notwithstanding), I find other scores (some popular, some relatively unknown) more appealing. Like mile jhuum ke a reincarnation of a Bengali tune of his for what turned out to be Sanjeev Kumar's last film Professor Ki Padosan. The rarity of the track was one appealing factor. The other was the use of Raag Megh. All together, it makes the song a little more special than the musical and lyrical synergy of ek laDakii ko dekhaa.

* Another useful catalyst is something that Harish provides an example of. Musical baiThaks or sessions of any kind go a long way to creating musical opinions. I am not talking, of course, of things like antaaKshariis! I have had the pleasure of sitting in on several sessions (and even participating on occasion) and several RDB songs became more appealing, as did some other songs (Rut aa gaii re in puryaa dhaanashrii from 1947: Earth, and Sanjeev Abhyankar's lai jaa re badaraa in raag hamsadhwani (and Hariharan's more word-laden sibling swaagatham) from Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar!: here the use of the songs along with the generally positive impression I had of the film had already helped, as did the fact that they were Vishal tunes).

* Every finished musical product (song or album) is required to sound seamless and effortless. The downside is that there are appealing elements of the effort that went into making this product, which are usually lost to the end listener who desires to know more. Such information almost always adds more value to the song, be it a popular or relatively unknown song. Cases in point: (1) RDB's popular mahabuubaa employs component rhythm patterns on different instruments (primarily the maadal) and a Pune tribute show broke this out for all to hear (and see!). After that the song ceases to remain the same; (2) The second example is another RDB song, mai.n huu.N ##lily## from Bond 303. Lyricist Gulshan Bawra was kind enough to allow the Pune show organizers to sample from his tapes of the recording sessions for the song. You hear RDB working out the tune and even rhythm patterns of the song, before the lyrics came in, based on the general idea of the piece (it was to be a club number). And you hear him putting in dummy words in the final a.ntaraa, which in effect, give you directions to finding Lily. Bawra retained these dummy words in the final version, with minor modifications. From being a cool funky song with lots of riffs and grooves, the song moves up a notch now for me.

There we have it. My 2 cents worth. As for ARR, I'll simply credit him for being a skilled exponent of the "subconsciously appealing hook". Makes for good business too:)

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