Music Notes #1: The unending pleasures of MSV-era melody lines

Posted on November 10, 2021

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More than a few people here know that I consider MSV the greatest melody-maker, bar none, of Tamil cinema. I am only talking about the tunes — not instruments (though sometimes, that, too). If there were four lines in the first stanza, each of them would have a different melody, and so on and so forth — most music lovers know this.

But before I get into more MSV, here’s — as far as I know — the first song that captures two quintessential qualities of two of Tamil cinema’s greatest music composers: (1) MSV’s tendency to give each line a different tune (without repeating), and (2) Ilaiyaraaja’s tendency to score entirely different interludes for both instrumental sections (which MSV and earlier generations of composers usually did not do).

I just love this 1958 G Ramanathan song, with my all-time-favourite female singer in Tamil (P Sushila; I have not heard many of her Telugu songs). Does anyone know of an earlier song that combines both these elements: the four-different-melody-lines plus the two different interludes? If yes, please post away.

Anyway, on to two songs that have been on recent loop: the first is Manamedai from Gnana Oli, in 1972. I did not know of this song much earlier. On radio or TV, they always used to play the boring (IMO) Devane ennai paarungal, and I now wonder how this beauty was so ignored.

It has one other MSV trademark: three charanams with the middle one being different from the one on either side. But it’s the pallavi that made me freeze. It’s no simple metrically precise set of four lines. (For example: Ma-na-me-dai has four syllables. Ma-lar-ga-lu-dan-dhee-pam — the next line — has seven syllables.) How seamless he makes it all sound, like a sari billowing in the wind.

My favourite part of the song though comes in the first stanza, where Sushila sings Nee pagalil theriyum nilavu… oh, that dip in theriyum. I could go on, but here’s the song (close your eyes and listen).

Here’s another film (Shanthi, 1965), where other songs got more famous: Yaar andha nilavu, and Vaazhndhu paarka vendum. (This was a Viswanathan-Ramamoorthy album.) The greatness begins with the dip/minor scale change at Kanavulagil naan vaaznthiruppen in the charanam. And then the stanza starts, Noolidai meedhu…. Sushila is OUTSTANDING!

Just felt like writing about these two songs.