SPB: The Voice Modulation Expert

The untimely demise of Shri S.P.Balasubramaniam (SPB) was one of the most tragic events for Indian music lovers in 2020. But he still lives on through his songs. When I think of this Legend, one unique feature of his singing was how he emoted and modulated his voice. Another legend Kishore Kumar was very famous for his yodling and voice modulation, I can safely say that SPB was as good as him. Let’s look at some Tamil songs which showcase the great singing of SPB Sir.

  • Hey Ranga Srilanka/Puducherry Kutcheri: Both these songs are from the same movie Singaravelan. Both are very catchy songs composed by Ilaiyaraja. The level of voice modulation that SPB has done is heard to be believed. Moreover many of the touches he gives will be in different beats(Talams) and how beautifully he comes back to the original beat of the song is just brilliant.
  • Thanga Thamarai: This is a rare case where SPB has sung an entire song with a falsetto voice. He sang it so well that he got a National Award for this song! A wonderful tune by ARR, am sure SPB enjoyed the challenge of singing this song.
  • Ada Mappillay: A very nice situational song by SPB from the movie Siva. Ilaiyaraja’s masterstroke is that he has composted a peppy song in the sober raga Kaapi. SPB is just magical here, he imitates the priest who has come to sermonise the marriage and comes back effortlessly to his lines. Sheer Genius.
  • Unnai Paarthapinbu: Wow, what a song, the only way to describe this song is ballistic. It looks like this song was made-for-SPB. The way he sings Yaen Yaen Yaen shows the throw of his voice. A wonderful composition by Ramani Bharadwaj with excellent orchestration (distortion guitar/saxophone/acoustic guitar).
  • Ennamma Kannu: A male suet song of SPB & Malaysia Vasudevan. This is a dream situation for a composer and singer where the father and son are competing against each other. Both the singers have sung this very well but SPB singing for the son (for Rajini) gives the necessary modulations (Gambheeram) taking the song to a different level.
  • Enna Samayalo: This is one of the most unique songs in Indian music with a situation to die for. It’s based on a broker her and sister cooking together and the ingredients used while cooking. We cannot think of anyone but SPB for such a song. Chitra has done a brilliant job and SPB/Chitra is my favourite duet songs pair.

Quarantine from Reality: Reinvigorating Tamil Music

The Corona pandemic completely changed so many things and almost every country experienced a lockdown. Just like a silver lining in the clouds, some wonderful things happened during this time and for all music lovers it was a new YouTube series called “Quarantine from Reality.” QFR was a very novel concept wherein a famous music presenter/organiser Subhasree Thanikachalam presented covers of rare Tamil songs. It started with the 50’s-60’s songs and gradually moved up to the 90’s songs of Raja.

The quality of the covers left me pleasantly surprised. I can confidently say that almost 80% of the songs sound as good as the original songs and they even sound better in many cases because of the superior recording quality. The QFR team has tried their best to recreate every interlude accurately with the same instrument by using a lot of live instruments, making them sound very authentic. The show has completed almost 180 episodes and they are presently targeting at least 200.

The daily ritual of every music fan is to wait for the QFR song of that day. They did not publish a song only on one day when the legendary SP Balasubramaniam passed away leaving all music fans in grief. Perhaps, they did it as a mark of respect for the maestro. I created a playlist called QFR and started adding all my favourite numbers there. The QFR series is so good that even people who do not know Tamil would enjoy it. Ms Subhasree has done a great job of assembling a great team of singers and musicians, they fit the song to a T in almost all the cases. I saw many singers from erstwhile reality shows who have grown big and are singing really well now. My favourite singers have been Krishnamurthy/Sharat Santhosh/Vishnudev/Deepshikha/Varsha/Vinaya etc. More importantly, they have recreated many classic songs very beautifully, making us fall in love with those numbers again. My playlist from QFR is shared below and I am sure you will have many more songs which you will like. Check out all the songs from their official YouTube channel.


Innocent Songs of Ilaiyaraja

Do not be intrigued by this catchy post title, it is there for a reason. Ilayaraja is one of the few composers who manages to manifest every known human emotion through his songs. Be it happiness or sadness, inspiration or dejection, elation or shyness, you have a Raja song for every situation. While listening to a few songs I felt they had a certain pure, innocent quality and feel to them and these are the songs that I will highlight.

  1. Paarijatha Poove: A fantastic song with a retroish feel, the choice of singers is also very apt (Surendar & Chitra). It seems to be based on the Mohanam scale and I believe this song was a huge hit when the movie (En Raasavin Manasile) was released. The overall sound is so refreshing and unlike any typical Raja song.
  2. Onna Paatha Neram: Once again its Chitra with Malaysia Vasudevan singing this happy-go-lucky tune, its sounds as if two children are singing to each other. More wonderful is the fact that this was in a Rajini film (Adhisaya Piravi).
  3. Kuyile Kuyile: Chitra scores a hattrick here, her voice is so silken that it seems tailor made for such songs and Malaysia Vasudevan again lends excellent support. This song is based in Madhyamavathy raga and Raja explores different dimensions of the raga.

Haunting Songs

There are certain songs which we keep remembering long after listening to them, they literally keep playing in our head in the background. A few examples of songs in this category are:

    Varugiraai (Anbe Aaruyire): This is by ARR and like a few ARR songs it will not impress you in the first listen, it might sound ordinary. But its a cracker of a song with excellent singing by Hariharan and Chitra. Apart from the tune, the crescendo effect at the end is is a nice touch to end the song.
    Our Thuli Vishamaai (Aadhi Bhagavan): This is an engaging song from the word Go. It has a Hindustani feel with nice some nice swara patterns in the second interlude. Yuvan composes this and the singing is by Sharib Toshi and Shreya. One of the highlights of the song is the orchestration featuring a couple of stringed instruments (Amalraj) which sound very apt for the song.
    Praaptham(Chekka Chivantha Vaanam): Once again ARR creates a tune with a very unique feel and structure and it is an instantly likeable one too. Karthik sings it with a husky feel which totally suits a song of this nature (my guess is its ARR’s idea). The second charanam is different from the first with a little more gusto and it beautifully switches back to the pensive mood once again.
    Jaaniya Ve (Dus): This song by Vishal & Shekhar is a very soulful one and the tune gets unpredictable in the charanam (in a good way) adding to the overall variety. Hariharan and Mahalakshmi completely ace it.

Rebirth of a Song

Sometimes composers recreate their own song by adding a different orchestration and in some cases the new version sounds even better than the original. A few such examples are:

Prathidhinam Nee Darsanam (Anumanaspadham): This is a recreation of the Tamil song Mayanginen Solla Thayanginen and was used in the Telugu movie Anumanaspadham by Ilaiyaraja. The newer version sounds better owing to the updated orchestration, another worthy addition being the nice alaap after the first paragraph by Shreya Ghoshal. Unnikrishnan and Shreya do a very good job with the singing.

Saara Yeh Aalam (Shiva): This is the recreation of the famous Tamil song Aanandha Raagam Ketkum Neram from Panneer Pushpangal, sung by Uma Ramanan. The Hindi version becomes a duet song and is sung very well by Roop Kumar Rathod and Shreya Ghoshal. The strings-based orchestration sounds more grand and powerful.


45: Song of the Day: Azhaga Azhaga

Song: Azhaga Azhaga

Composer: Vijay Antony

Singer: Hariharan, Sadhna Sargam

Lyrics: Vairamuthu Ramasamy

Movie: By 2

Brindavanasaranga is a raga which evokes a feeling of happiness and auspiciousness. It is a sister raga of Madhyamavathy but that one note difference is very evident between both the ragas. Vijay Antony has composed this very unique song in this raga and the tune, orchestration and singing are all top notch. The composer uses the strings and flute in ample measure to support the unpredictable tune and comes out a winner.


44: Song of the Day: En Maname

Song: En Maname

Composer: MSV-Ilaiyaraja

Singer: Tippu, Poornima

Lyrics: Ilaiyaraja

Movie: Vishwathulasi

It is very rare in cine music that competing composers get together to compoase music for films but in Tamil music, we have two legends, MSV and Ilaiyaraja who have composed music for over 5 different movies and all of them are fantastic albums. This song is from their last collaboration and it is set in Thilang raga. The orchestration by Raja is little synth-based but when the live instruments like flute and Veena take over in the interludes, it reaches its full potential. The singing by Tippu is fantastic and the depth of his voice add lustre to the tune. This whole album has melodious songs and is worth a listen.

43: Song of the Day: Chantham Thelinju

Song: Chantham Thelinju

Composer: Ouseppachan

Singer: Rahul Nath, Mridula Warrier

Lyrics: PS Rafeeque

Movie: Utopiayile Rajavu

Nalinakanthi is a very beautiful raga with  not too many songs composed in films. We have a couple of songs in Tamil/Malayalam and this song is my favourite in this raga. Ouseppachan, the legendary composer has created a very beautiful song, exploring the different contours of this raga. The singing by Rahul Nath (never heard of him much, he seems to be a Carnatic singer) and Mridula Warrier is fantastic. This is one of the best melodies you will hear for sure!

The Composer Bible Series: An Introduction

I will be starting a new series of posts on the best, handpicked songs of different composers. Some composers have a very large body of work, so we will go 10 songs at a time to build a series and for other smaller composers it might be covered in just a single post. If you want to know which are the best songs of a composer, it will be very useful for you. I am curating this list because in many cases all the songs in a movie/album are not always good, so I will select the best songs from the major composers starting with the Ilaiyaraja era. The obvious list for this would cover ARR, Vidyasagar, Bharadwaj, Yuvan, Deva etc. If you notice some of these composers hardly compose these days but the songs always outlive the composer and so I will also be covering niche composers like Sabesh-Murali, Srinivas (the singer, he is a damn good composer) etc.

Composers as Singers

A big trend now that is seen is that almost every composer is jumping into the singing bandwagon. In most cases composers are never as good as professional singers but they are tolerated owing to their composing talent. Let’s look at some composer singers:

  1. M.S.Viswanathan: He was a decent singer, he had a high pitched voice and a slight nasal twang. He did not sing too many songs unlike other composers.
  2. Ilaiyaraja: He is a great composer but an incredibly overrated singer. He is almost as nasal as Kumar Sanu and has sung so many songs. If they had been sung by a professional singer it would have been so much better! Examples being Undhan Raajiyathil/Kadhal Oviyam/Ye Jagaala Sangamamo…the list goes on & on.
  3. A.R.Rahman: He started singing a few numbers here and there but over time his singing also increased. His voice sounds very laboured and screechy as he sings very high-pitched.
  4. Yuvanshankar Raja: The second worst singer among all…..the worst one is at No 5 below.
  5. Deva: The worst composer singer in Tamil cinema….period.
  6. Anirudh: The best composer singer, relatively speaking, at least he sings in the correct pitch unlike most others.
  7. Ramesh Vinayagam: Almost as good as Anirudh, the good thing is he rarely sings his own compositions knowing his limitations.
  8. Sean Roldan: A pretty good singer with a husky voice, he has sung a lot of songs for many composers.
  9. Imman: He has improved over time but not the best singer.



42: Song of the Day: Uruginen

Song: Uruginen

Composer: Ilaiyaraja

Singer: SPB, Janaki

Lyrics: Vaalee

Movie: Anney Anney

Ilaiyaraja has composed for over 1000 films, which ensures that there are always ” rare Songs” for fans to dig into. One such rare song is Uruginen. It is a fantastic tune which is as good as his well known ones. I am not a huge fan of the voice of S. Janaki but this is one of those songs where she sounds pretty good. SPB is as great as always. The orchestration is vintage Raja with trumpets, the strings section, flute etc. The uniqueness in the song is that it changes form in the second charanam adopting a more hip ,western form. Even the song delivery by both the singers is very different and interesting. I can imagine the fun SPB (Janaki would have had along with the live orchestra. This song is one of the rarest gems of Raja and it deserves to be universally known.


41: Song of the Day: Noor-E-Khuda

Song: Noor-E-Khuda

Composer: Shankar-Ehasaan-Loy

Singer(s): Adnan Sami, Shreya Ghoshal, Shankar Mahadevan

Lyrics: Niranjan Iyengar

Movie: My Name is Khan

Songs based on devotional themes generally do not have very unique tunes or orchestration as there is not much creativity in this genre. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy have created this beautiful song which is a clarion call to God. The song starts in the voice of Shankar Mahadevan singing an alaap. Once the song main stanza begins, Adnan Sami takes over and the noor-e-khuda refrain continues in the song background and it gives harmony to the song. The best part is the second stanza when Shreya Ghoshal launches into the song, humming her way and another surprise is that the tune here is different and it adds more variety to the song. The orchestration throughout is top- notch with Saarangi, strings section etc. This is one of the best songs in the “devotional ” genre. Listen to it and feel inspired! Special mention also to the wonderful lyrics by Niranjan Iyengar.

40: Song of the Day: Enthaavo

Song: Enthaavo

Composer: Justin Varghese

Singer: Sooraj Santhosh

Lyrics: Santhosh Varma

Movie: Njankalude Nattila Oridavela

Enthaavo is a very good song composed by Justin for his debut movie. It is a peppy, melodious number with some unique orchestration, full of live instruments. The interludes are pieces played on a stringed instrument which sound beautiful, you must hear it to believe it. The singing by Sooraj Santhosh is soulful and effortless. I hope Justin gets more chances to showcase his talent further.

39: Song of the Day: Kannil Paarvai

Song: Kannil Paarvai

Composer: Ilaiyaraja

Singer: Shreya Ghoshal

Lyrics: Vaali

Movie: Naan Kadavul

Rasikapriya is a rarely used raga in films, there are only a handful of songs in the raga and in Naan Kadavul, Raja creates a mesmerizing composition. The tune is a stunner as per the usual Raja standards. He embellishes it with intricate Saarangi pieces and an excellent strings ensemble. One more highlight of the song is a Chenda- like percussion supporting the song as the background rhythm. The song situation is about a blind girl lamenting on her situation and the song effectively conveys the brooding emotion very aptly.

38: Song of the Day: Oru Kadhal Vanducho

Song: Oru Kadhal Vanducho

Composer: Raghav-Raja

Singer: Shankar Mahadevan

Lyrics: Thaamarai

Movie: Hey Nee Romba Azhagairukka

Hey Nee Romba Azhagairukka was probably the first movie in Tamil to have more than 2 composers. This song was my favourite among all the other songs. It is composed in Desh raga. The whole song is like a celebration, melodious, yet full of verve and energy. The use of diverse instruments, time, the vocal harmonies and the energetic singing by Shankar Mahadevan make it the best song of the movie. The lyrics by Thaamarai are also very poetic. It’s sad that the composers Raghav-Raja got no more chances for anymore movies.