From I am Sweetie to Eye to Eye, NFP rounds up the most memorable pop songs of our times and what led to their fame.
No 6: Jab Sey Hoi Mohabbat: Rasheed Ahmad Tabrezi
Rashid Ahmad Tabrezi (aka RAT) emerged in 1989 with a bang. He was very much a part of the Pakistani pop scene which had begun to develop and grow at the time.
But more than his vocal style and songs (which were a conventional fusion of light pop and Pakistani filmi music), it were RAT’s innovative dance moves in his videos which caught the attention of young Pakistani pop music fans.
The ‘RAT Wave’ (as it was called) truly caught on when he released the video of Jab Sey Hoi Mohabbat in May 1989, impressing not only Pakistani fans with his brilliantly choreographed dances, but also some major players in Bollywood.
Indian actor, Jeetendra, immediately offered RAT to appear as his dancing double in a Bollywood film, but RAT refused. He told an Indian newspaper: "Jeetu Bhai Motor Chalay Pum Pum Pum …" Explaining this perplexing response, RAT added: "I have nothing to add."
But just as Pakistani and Indian fans were making RAT’s video the most requested video on TV (some even asked it to be played on radio), RAT’s fame went through the roof when he received a call from the King of Pop, the late Michael Jackson.
In September 1989, the New York Times reported that Jackson had placed a call to Pakistani pop star, RAT, and praised his dancing. Jackson was reported to have told RAT that his (RAT’s) moves in the video have surpassed even the Moonwalking dancing style popularised by Jackson in the early 1980s.
Jackson invited him to Los Angeles to help him choreograph a dance sequence in a video he was working on, but RAT politely declined. He told NYT: "I dance alone."
RAT’s rigid attitude, unwillingness to collaborate with other performers and refusal to toe the line of the recording companies isolated him. He did not record another song or release another video after Jab Sey Hoi Mohabbat. He became a recluse.
In 2009 when Michael Jackson passed away, UAE’s Khaleej Times quoted Jackson’s sister Jennet Jackson as saying that one of Michael’s greatest regrets was that he couldn’t dance like Riaz Ahmad Tabrezi.
Jennet said that her brother had watched RAT’s video multiple times but he just couldn’t replicate the innovative brilliance of RAT’s momentous moves.
No 5: Started With the Desert: The Royals
The Royals were a Pakistani pop band formed in 1979. After failing to achieve much success in their own country, the band relocated to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.
The Royals often fused carefully constructed pop tunes with the more complex rock genres such as Prog-Rock and Neo-Psychedelia. They also wrote socially-conscious lyrics.
Their brand of pop could not find any takers in Pakistan. So, in 1987, the Royals moved to Riyadh where they managed to attract a more responsive audience. The band constantly topped Saudi Arabia’s pop charts. Then in 1992 they became the country’s biggest-selling pop act with their single, Started with the Desert.
The song, which incorporated elements of Techno-Pop, Prog-Rock and the then newly emerging House/Trance music genre, added a cutting-edge dimension to the Saudi/Pakistani pop music variety.
Enriched by a complex but highly danceable groove constructed through some dexterous synthesiser antics and a rugged, thumping drum-machine beat, the song’s other strength lies in its rather insightful lyrics.
The words are a mediation on the harsh desert life. It is based on a concept in which a man called Al-Fahad spends his harsh desert life hunting foxes and contemplating the meaning of harsh desert life.
Then one day while he is trying to dig a well in the harsh desert life, instead of water, he strikes oil in the harsh desert life. As the oil spills over the harsh desert life, the harsh desert life turns green. Buildings begin to appear and roads and bridges and shopping malls too. The harsh desert life is transformed. And it all happens in September.
It started with the desert
Started with the desert,
Started with the desert,
Came from the desert
It started with the desert,
Started with the desert,
Started with the desert,
Came from the desert,
Came in September,
Came in September,
Came in September!
It is remarkable the way the band manages to express the multifaceted composition in the most pop-friendly mode and communicate the astute and heavily conceptual lyrics in an uncluttered manner.
American music journalist and the founder of the influential Rolling Stone magazine, Jann Wenner, described the lyrics as being "very Dylansque". Wenner was largely impressed by the vivid imagery that the words reflect:
Life was the difficult,
Nothing in the desert,
Suddenly with the help of god,
Life became much better.
Raveling, oh besting
By wisdom of the founder …
Easy to remember,
Desert life was harder,
Saud, Faisal, Khalid and Fahad,
Together, stronger, they are the maker
Make weight in desert,
Make weight in desert,
Him ripe in the desert,
Demolishing the desert
It started in September,
Started in September,
Started in September,
Started in September!
The Royals were nominated for the Saudi Lux Style Awards in the Best Video and Best Lyrics categories. It is, however, unfortunate that the band still couldn’t find much fame in their own country, Pakistan.
In 1995, the group disbanded and one of its (four) lead singers, Tufail Akram, told The Saudi Gazette: "Pakistan people never understood our complex kind of music. They like simple, romantic songs. But thanks to Saudi pop fans, we were able to find fame and fortune in harsh desert life after we came in September, came in September, came in September!"
No 4: I am Sweetie: Naheed Akhtar
Naheed Akhtar’s fame quickly rose in the 1970s as a film playback-singer. In the midst of her rise, she also branched out towards pop music. However, her stay here was brief, but highly potent.
In 1975, she recorded a few original English pop songs one of which, I am Sweetie, became an international hit.
Penned by historical novelist, Nasim Hijazi (who at the time was also briefly exploring pop territory), I am Sweetie was composed by a lesser-known Pakistani jazz musician, Anwar Sarwar.
Naheed Akhtar, who at the time was extremely agitated by the growing Women’s Lib movement in the West and especially the way it had started to impact the lives of young women in Pakistan, approached Hijazi to pen an anti-feminist anthem.
She asked the song to be in English because she wanted to reach Western women as well and expose their follies.
Hijazi penned the lyrics which were then set to music by Sarwar who used a plethora of contemporary Western instruments such as keyboards, guitars, bass, bongos, drums and a blistering saxophone interlude which Sarwar played himself, busting a lung.
To expand her vocal range and sturdily express the powerful words, Naheed listened to songs by British heavy-rock band, Led Zeppelin, and tried to match the range of Zeppelin’s lead singer, Robert Plant.
The song’s lyrics potently address the concerns of women who want to become wives and not ‘sweeties.’ The song became an immediate hit and went a long way in halting the spread of feminism in Pakistan.
Though Naheed unfortunately did not record any more English pop songs (because Robert Plant sued her), she still considers I am Sweetie as one of her finest moments as a vocalist. She said that this was because this song became very popular with men and "move society as per their love and directive."
No 3: World Cup Has Come: Tahir Jabbar
Originally written and recorded as the official song of the 2015 cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Pakistan all-rounder Shahid Afridi loved it so much that he asked his sponsors, Boom Boom Bubble Gum, to buy it from Tahir Jabbar. Jabbar gladly obliged.
The Pakistani team were greatly inspired by the music and words of the song and it managed to lift the team’s spirit. Afridi told reporters: "It smells like team spirit."
Though sung and composed by the rising Pakistani pop star, Tahir Jabbar, it is believed that the words were actually penned by former England cricketer and TV commentator, Geoffrey Boycott.
Unfortunately, this funky, inspirational ditty was largely forgotten after Pakistan were knocked out of the tournament. However, recently, former Pakistani batsman and TV commentator, Rameez Raja, was heard singing it in the shower. Jabbar has sued him for royalties.
No 2: Goodbye: Danish Ghafaar
Danish Ghafaar was born to Pakistani parents in Reykjavik, Iceland. Being a fan of the Pakistani band The Royals (see entry), Ghafaar was heartbroken to learn that The Royals were largely ignored in their home country and had to move to Riyadh for success.
When Ghafaar turned 16 in 2013, he penned an angry/emotional song Goodbye. It was targeted at Pakistanis who did not appreciate real talent. He then recorded the song in his bedroom cupboard because he felt the overt emotions of the music and the lyrics might melt the glaciers of Iceland.
The song first became a huge hit in Greenland and then topped the Vatican pop charts. It turned Ghafaar into a pop sensation. But he refused to tour Pakistan, his home country, despite the fact that he was invited to perform the song on the country’s popular pop show, Coke Studio.
Talking to the BBC, Ghafaar said that the song is about an ingenious and highly talented Pakistani band (such as The Royals) who are addressing their lovers and haters in Pakistan, telling them goodbye, they are leaving and never coming back.
He further told the BBC: "Many of my fans think this song is about me having a breakup with my cat. Indeed, I did have one when I was writing this song, but it’s about The Royals. It’s about how genuine creative talent is ignored and shunned in Pakistan. And how this talent moves out, saying goodbye. The Royals moved to Riyadh and I got born in Iceland, so you see the pattern?"
He however added that his next song is about the cat and should not be mistaken for anything else. "Or else I will have to say goodbye to Iceland," he said.
No 1: Eye to Eye: Tahir Shah
The Pakistani pop scene seemed dead and buried when this song not only revived it but put it on the world pop map. Just about everything clicked on this song: the music, the vocals, the video and the lyrics – especially the lyrics.
The composition is inspired by the soft-pop of crooners such as Berry Manilow and the rich elevator-jazz of Kenny G, but Tahir Shah insisted that the tune actually came to him in a dream.
Talking to Al-Jazeera in June 2013 when the video had already received millions of views, Shah said: "I never heard of Berry Mellow and only ever so often unfrequently hear tapes of Kenny Jee. Tune of this tune came in my sleep, maybe third eye was open when two eyes closed from sound of snoring."
As mentioned earlier, though the melody of the song is extremely rich and manages to immediately enter and settle in the listener’s head, the lyrics of the song generated the biggest debates on social media forums all over the world.
Some fans in India suggested that the words ‘eye to eye’ meant ISI (the Pakistani intelligence agency). These fans believed that it was a subliminal recruiting song funded by the ISI. When a ZEE News anchor mentioned this to Shah he smiled and replied: "You watch too many James Bond films. You must use eye to watch true fiction of cosmic peace, not earthly pumpkin."
Shah has always remained enigmatic about the lyrics, but he somewhat tried to explain them when he was invited by famous TV host, Larry King, on his show on CNN.
King quoted the lyrics of the song and tried to extract the meaning from Shah. He first asked him about the following verse: Keep your love in the soul/make love with eye to eye/your face and glorious eyes/I can see with my spectrum eyes …
To this Shah told King that this verse is about tight jeans. In these words Shah is suggesting that one should avoid wearing tight jeans and should exercise abstinence and celibacy and instead use their energies by moving their eyes.
He said that the words your face and glorious eyes, I can see with my spectrum eyes, came after years of practice and research gave him the ability to see through the glorious but dangerous eye of the Illuminati on five-dollar bills.
He told King: "This lyric is deep-sea-like so anyone can fish meaning …dolphin, shark, whale, pomfret, crab, polar bear, panda, whatever … but I use spectrum eye that I got after staring at wall for 24/7 until they turn blue from Charlie Brown …"
King then quoted these lyrics: It’s a genuine classic love/serious feelings, romantic love/my pride, eye to eye/glowing with your sparkling eyes.
He told King: "It’s about Pakola ice cream soda."
King didn’t get it and decided to move to the spoken words section of the song: Eye to eye makes epic era love life time once in a life/Substantial love is heaven for precise eyes/spectacular eyes, our eyes, my eyes and your eyes, eye to eye, eye to eye …
Shah told King that this was his favourite bit of the song: "I talk here about 24/7 hours non-stopping pleasure gained from one eye ball to other eye ball when two eyes of same person meet people think he cock-eyed but he just enjoying act of eye to eye lovemaking eye ball of left eye bouncing with eye ball of right eye on and on defining epic era of epileptic love. Very simple."
This is when King asked Shah whether he was on drugs.
Shah told him he took two Panadols, "but only because of headache from carrying big locks of spectacular hair."
King told Shah that he was greatly impressed by the lyrics and especially found the following verse rather beautiful: Your love is faithful forever and ever/ without you I am like a butterfly/without flower….
Shah thanked King and told him these words came to him when one day he forgot to put a rose in the front pocket of his favourite white suit and felt like a butterfly without a flower. "It was very stressing event," he told King. "I wept 24/7."
After the interview, King and Shah were seen sharing a Panadol.
Disclaimer: This article is categorised as satire.