In 2011, director Mysskin introduced composer K to the film industry through Yuddham Sei. In the five years since then, he has composed for over fifteen films, worked with Rajeev Ravi twice, and even acted in one of them – Kallappadam. He may be an engineering graduate, but he is no night owl; he prefers to think of music composition as his ‘9 to 5 job’. He also likes his music warm and neat, and is happiest when he’s listening to songs from the ’60s. Ahead of World Music Day (June 21), he takes a trip down memory lane, introducing us to songs that continue to inspire him.
1. Ilaya nila – Payanangal Mudivathillai
The Film: Payanangal Mudivathillai
Singer – SP Balasubramanian
Composer – Ilaiyaraaja
Featured Players – Mohan, Poornima Jayaram
The Setting: A fairly tame setting for a song so profound, it continues to serve as the soundtrack of many romantic relationships. Filmed like an impromptu jam session, the song features Mohan doing his best SPB impression, alongside Poornima as his adoring muse. The intention is clear: let nothing distract you from the music.
Acoustic guitar, flute, and SPB’s effortlessly beautiful vocals blend together to create this gem of a song that’s ideal for listening while walking along a shoreline, staring at the moon. The track was originally composed for Balu Mahendra’s Moodu Pani. The director opted to go for En Iniya Pon Nilave for his film instead.
“I was in class 8 when I first listened to it. I was a hardcore Rahman fan and this song was a turning point for me. I believe it was what got me into the world of Ilaiyaraja. It was a very ‘ear-opening’ moment. It was the peak of ‘digital’ music and this song just blew my mind with its beautiful analog sound. I was simply hooked. I like this song so much because of the simple yet beautiful guitars, bass, and drums.”
2. Just The Two of Us – Bill Withers
The Artist: Bill Withers
The Song: Just the two of us. A dreamy ode to love, the song’s easy rhythm and catchy tunes make it one of the most covered songs of all time. When Withers sings about ‘building sandcastles in the air’, he pulls us into scenes of uncomplicated romance – where there’s no room for sadness (‘no time for tears; wasted water’s all that it is’).
“It’s probably one of the most covered songs ever. For me, the groove and chord sequence was just so captivating. There’s a certain movement when the saxophone kicks in which really appealed to me and this made me look for similar patterns in other songs.”
3. Promentory – The Last of the Mohicans
The Artists: Dougie Maclean & Trevor Jones
The Song: Dougie Maclean’s The Gael was adapted for The Last of the Mohicansby Trevor Jones. The lilting main riff comes from The Gael, while the slow notes are the creation of the film’s composer Jones. When the two combine, it is pure magic; a fitting score for Alice Munro’s tragic end.
Though 24 years have passed, the song and in a larger sense – the film’s hold over the public has not swayed. It showcased a romance that transcended race and suffered a tragic end for it. We saw the slow disappearance of an entire tribe and then, at the very end – a bittersweet hope that we all place in the future.
In an interview, Trevor Jones explained that he wanted to adapt the Celtic based song in such a way that it would suit the tone of the film. “There’s no two ways about it. This is a Mohican film and as such introducing music alien to their setting would be blatantly arrogant. So, we got the basic arrangement and attempted to err..Mohicanise it.”
The simple tune continues to mesmerise listeners the world over to this date. It has been covered a lot by aspiring fiddlers, and has spawned many an online fan community purely devoted to the song.
“The violin-based theme is a simple yet haunting one – one of the first pieces of western film music I had listened to properly. I remember trying to play it on my keyboard and discovering that it was quite difficult to recreate the nuances of the real instrument. I think this was when I was in class 5.”
4. You Are The Sunshine Of My Life – Stevie Wonder
The Artists: Stevie Wonder,Lani Grover and Jim Gilstrap
The Song: You are the sunshine of my life. Though it is credited to Stevie Wonder, the first three lines of the song aren’t actually sung by the late artist; Lani Grover and Jim Gilstrap had that honour.
The lyrics – “You are the sunshine of my life/You are the apple of my eye” – are rather unremarkable. It is Wonder’s superlative singing that truly elevates the song from just another catchy pop tune to a hit for the ages.
The album Innervisions, which featured You are the sunshine of my life was a remarkable comeback for Wonder, who’d been comatose for much of 1973 following a serious car accident. He went on to win four Grammys, spending much of his time making multiple acceptance speeches with his family members. He also dedicated his Grammy for Best Pop Performance, Male to fellow nominee Jim Croce, who had died tragically in a plane crash in 1973.
“It holds a very special place in my list thanks to the lovely use of the electric piano, one of my favourite sounds. This song has a rhythm which almost becomes ‘Indian’ at one point, owing to the swing and bounce. Stevie is also on top of the list of my favourite musicians.”
5. Smoke on the water – Deep Purple
The Song: Smoke on the water, Fire in the sky. A first-person account of a fire that engulfed the Montreaux casino in Switzerland, outside which Deep Purple’s mobile studio had been stationed. Executed in ‘blues scale’ melody by the band’s Ritchie Blakemore, it is one of their best-known (and loved) hits, and arguably boasts the best guitar riffs known to mankind.
Artists: Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Jon Lord, Ian Paice, Ritchie Blakemore
“My initiation into the world of Rock. I’m sure it’s the same for millions of people around the world. This one is special to me because I’ve sung and played this with many groups when I was in school. I also remember it being part of the first MP3 CD compilation I bought from a CD store. It was a thing back then (Class 7/8)! P.S – I realised later on, that Deep Purple was more than just smoke on the water!”
6. Guinnevere – Crosby,Stills, Nash and Young (CSNY)
The Song: Guinevere. A hauntingly beautiful ode to Lady Guinevere, the song is pure CSNY. Though it deals with issues of freedom, David Crosby is said to have written it about the three women he loved – singer Joni Mitchell, Christine Hinton, and ‘somebody he couldn’t name’. Whatever its core theme, no one can deny the profound effect it has on first-time listeners, or its ability to transport one to a magical land full of chivalrous knights and golden haired Queens.
The Artists: David Crosby, Stephen Stills, & Graham Nash
“It’s a magical song which immediately conjures up the most beautiful imagery one has ever seen. I’ve never gone into what the song means and all that. For me, it’s just beautiful and warm and all things nice. CSNY are known for their vocal harmonies and I think that’s one of the primary reasons it appealed to me – when I was in Class 12.”