Many people tend to believe the 1970s kicked off the decline in Indian music. After gems from the earlier two decades, the newer material didn’t match expectations. That may be partly true for Hindi film music, specially after 1976, as the trend of violent movies offered little scope for melody.
However, if one looks at the overall scenario, this was perhaps the most dynamic and trendsetting decade in the Indian scenario. While Hindustani and Carnatic music had a steadily increasing following, the period also marked the beginning of the ghazal wave, something which became prominent in the first half of the 1980s.
Indians also became exposed to more international music, through albums and the radio. Those born in the 1950s and early 1960s liked English songs, and the rock and disco craze of the West hit Indian shores too. With the Jazz Yatra starting in Mumbai in 1978, one got to see the best jazz acts live. Abroad, sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, sarod great Ali Akbar Khan and Indo-fusion band Shakti popularised Indian music. Bangalore-bred Biddu had the international hits ‘Kung Fu Fighting” with Carl Douglas and ‘Dance Little Lady’ with Tina Charles.
Mumbai became the main city for things musical. With many recording studios being set up, classical and jazz artistes shifted to the metropolis. The nightspots Slip Disc, Talk Of The Town, Blow Up at the Taj and Cellar at Oberoi were in vogue. Ajit Singh, Usha Uthup, Atomic Forest and Savage Encounter drew packed venues. With Alyque Padamsee staging rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar in 1974, there was a new following for live musical theatre, and its cast of Madhukar Chandradas and Nandu Bhende earned rave reviews.
The advertising industry boomed, and with it, there was a demand for more singers and musicians for ad jingles on radio and television. Doordarshan came to Mumbai in 1972, and film music fans looked forward to programs like Chhaya Geet. The channel also telecast concert recordings and interviews of classical musicians.
Most importantly, with the sudden popularity of cassettes, there was more access to music. Stores would record long-playing vinyl records (LPs) on to tape, people could record from the radio, or at a concert, or from cassette to cassette if they had a two-in-one player. Of course, die-hard audiophiles continued to buy LPs, to enjoy the sound quality and admire the album artwork. But cassettes were easier to carry around – and cheaper too – though they had the risk of the tape snapping or catching fungus. On the industry front, HMV had competition from Polydor (now Universal Music).
Basically, the Indian music industry opened up like never before, and there was activity in newer areas. If only film and classical musicians had opportunities before, different genres began to be accepted.
Yet, film music continued to dominate, even after the post-1976 fall. The first half of the decade clearly belonged to the Rajesh Khanna-Kishore Kumar combine. Almost every Khanna film had hit music. While R.D. Burman composed Amar Prem, Kati Patang, Apna Desh, Mere Jeevan Saathi, Namak Haraam, Aap Ki Kasam and Ajnabee, Laxmikant-Pyarelal had Daag and Haati Mere Saathi. Salil Chowdhury scored the evergreen, Anand.
In films not starring Khanna, S.D. Burman had hugely popular tunes in Abhimaan. Khayyam, who had maintained a low profile for two decades, had a super-hit in Kabhi Kabhie. Kalyanji-Anandji composed music for Amitabh Bachchan films Don and Muqaddar Ka Sikandar and Ravindra Jain was a favorite of the Rajshri banner. Rajesh Roshan came up with the immaculate Julie. Bappi Lahiri had just about arrived, though his hits came later.
Lata Mangeshkar had great songs, but the decade saw a sudden rise in Asha Bhosle’s popularity, especially on catchy tunes. Both singers also recorded a lot in Bengali, besides their mother tongue of Marathi. Among men, Kishore Kumar had a clear edge, though Mohammed Rafi came back into prominence with Hum Kisise Kam Nahin and Sargam. From the older lot, music directors Jaikishen, S.D. Burman and Madan Mohan, and singers Geeta Dutt and Mukesh passed away.
New voices were heard. Shailendra Singh, Bhupinder, Vani Jairam, Kerala star Yesudas, Hemlata, Aarti Mukherjee and Jaspal Singh all had their moments in the sun. The decade also marked the rise of Gulzar as a lyricist with a unique metaphor-driven style, though Anand Bakshi and Majrooh Sultanpuri were the most prolific, and Anjaan has some major hits.
There was an increasing influence of western music in Hindi film songs. Jazz keyboardist Louiz Banks shifted from Kolkata to Mumbai, and many young musicians moved in from Goa. Musicians Manohari Singh and Kersi Lord became regular in movie songs. Sadly, the subjects of films were such that, in many cases, there was little scope for good music. A lot of trash was churned out.
Classical music, both Hindustani and Carnatic, continued to be dominated by the older singers and instrumentalists. Younger artistes included vocalists Parveen Sultana, Veena Sahasrabuddhe and brothers Rajan and Sajan Mishra, violinist L. Subramaniam and tabla exponents Zakir Hussain and Shafaat Ahmed Khan.
A major development was the acceptance of ghazals among the masses. The genre had been around for years, but because it involved complex Urdu poetry, its following was restricted to a select few. For many years, Begum Akhtar and Mehdi Hassan led the movement. Later, Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali became popular among people staying in the US and UK, and Rajendra and Nina Mehta got shows across India.