The Search for Rolling Stone India’s 25 Greatest Indian Rock Songs of the last 25 Years
Indian bands have been producing original music since the 1960s, though the pace has picked up only in the last decade. Unfortunately, due to the fragmented nature of the local rock scene, much of the earlier compositions have been either lost because they haven’t been recorded or preserved, or are in the hands of individuals who are not interested in making them more widely available. The status of the original music produced in the last two decades has not been much better either, particularly those from the 1990s. Lack of airplay on radio and TV has meant that the awareness about this music has remained restricted to close fans of the bands and the few thousands who have been to their concerts. It is only in the last few years that bands and music labels have made a concerted effort to make their songs more accessible to audiences beyond their live gigs, through channels like iTunes, Youtube and Facebook. Radio play and television air time, though, continue to be a constraint.
It is against this background that Rolling Stone India has launched the search for the 25 Greatest Indian Rock Songs of the last 25 years. Using the crowd sourcing route, we have embarked upon the task of compiling the first definitive list of 25 best songs that Indian bands have created since the 1990s, and then rank them based on popular appeal. We have kept the time span at 25 years, because the early 1990s represent a watershed for Indian rock. It was the time when a new generation of Indian bands including the likes of Indian Ocean, Parikrama, Pentagram and Indus Creed (then known as Rock Machine) began making their presence felt. It was also the time of economic liberalization that changed our lives, including the world of music. And most importantly, the list had to include the decade that heralded the online media (and social media, subsequently) which, of course, changed everything.
Listed below are our compilation of the 25 Greatest Indian Rock Songs of the Last 25 Years. We would like you to select your choice of the 10 best songs from these by ticking the box alongside the name of the songs. The songs have been described in greater details along with the videos (wherever available) below the polling box. If you feel our list is inadequate and want to add more songs to add to the list you can do that as well, in the specified box. Happy polling.
Watch/Hear The Songs Here.
Train Of Thought (Attention Please, 2013) – Spud In The Box
You don’t have to be loud just because you’re young. The proof is in Mumbai alt rock band Spud In The Box’s classic prog-leaning song “Train of Thought,” off their 2013 EP Attention Please.
Mofunk (The Silent Sea, 2012) – Advaita
Delhi fusion group Advaita take a Carnatic devotional poem by South Indian poet Muthuswami Diksithar and turn it into a psychedelic trip, among several others on their second album, The Silent Sea, which took home the Best Album award at the JD Rock Awards in 2013.
Punk Bhajan (STD, 2012) – Sridhar/Thayil
From guitarist Jeet Thayil’s funky riffs over vocalist Suman Sridhar’s Hindustani classical vocals, “Punk Bhajan,” off their 2012 album STD, is a grimy fusion of harmonicas, trumpets and yes, some punk.
Ee Bhoomi (Swarathma, 2009) – Swarathma
The Bengaluru folk rockers took social commentary to a new place with their debut self-titled album in 2009, bursting with optimism [and a groovy bass line courtesy bassist Jishnu Dasgupta] about making the Earth [“bhoomi”] a greener place.
Boitha Maro Re (The Story So Far, 2012) – Papon
The Assamese folk singer reworks the traditional boat song with a heady dose of rock and a hypnotic rhythm section, off his 2012 album with the East India Company, The Story So Far
My Roots (Mantis, 2010) – Shaa’ir and Func
The Mumbai electro pop group took street sounds to an all-new level on this track. Guitarist and producer Randolph Correia does full justice to his Mumbai roots as he plays around with a traditional Maharashtrian refrain heard during Ganpati festivals, and supersized dhol drumbeats.
Hey Bhagwan (Antaragni – The Fire Within, 2010) – The Raghu Dixit Project
The song is a buoyant plea for a second life. With soaring violin solos, fiery percussions and a booming frontman in Raghu Dixit, “Hey Bhagwan” did herald a rebirth for the Indian folk music scene, emboldening other groups to wear their regional music influences like a badge.
We Are, We Are (Maby Baking, 2009) – The Supersonics
The Kolkata rockers had a touch of magic from producer Miti Adhikari, who had come down from the UK to record their 2009 album, Maby Baking. One of the best songs off the album, “We Are We Are,” was alt rock at its tighest, finest compositional level.
Set Me Free (Moving On, 2009) – Soulmate
Off their 2009 album, Moving On, the Shillong blues rockers hit upon the perfect mellow, moody blues songs with “Set Me Free,” vocalist Tipriti Kharbangar soothing and soaring with her words on freedom.
Hilltop (Sound Pad, 2009) – Sky Rabbit
Although originally performed during their last days as Medusa, the Mumbai electro post punk band’s song was produced by UK’s John Leckie in 2009 and later found on their 2012 self-titled debut album. “No skill, no kill” drawls vocalist Raxit Tewari over a robotic reverb-heavy drumbeat which rises to a trippy synth outro
Zephyretta (Love.Hate.Heroes, 2009) – Them Clones
The Delhi rockers had a lot of rage in them – both in terms of themes [“Bomb Song”] and influences such as funk metallers Rage Against the Machine – but their softest, most emotional track, the one that closes their 2009 album Love.Hate.Heroes remains their best.
Bilqis (Avengi Ja Nahin, 2008) – Rabbi Shergill
Much before trial-by-media and nightly TV talk show hosts got enraged, singer Rabbi made a cause his own with “Bilqis,” pointedly asking “Jinhe naaz hai hind par vo kahan the? (Where are those who are proud of India?)” about protecting Bilqis Yakub Rasool, a gang-rape victim during the Gujarat riots in 2002.
Maktub (Maktub, 2008) – Motherjane
From a brilliant album, which featured Kochi band Motherjane’s distinct folk-tinged prog rock, the title track captures Motherjane at its peak – from vocalist Suraj Mani’s flawless vocals to drummer John Thomas’s on-point stickwork backing guitarist Baiju Dharmajan’s Carnatic-style fret-play.
Nada Nada (Avial, 2008) – Avial
If anyone was responsible for taking Malayalam rock from the backwaters to the national stage, it was Kerala rock band Avial, fusing the best parts of funk, metal and rock with a bit of electronica sampling thrown in.
Anuva’s Sky (Nights in Shining Karma, 2007) – Blackstratblues
Guitarist Warren Mendonsa’s entire debut album, Nights in Shining Karma, was a self-described attempt at “good, honest music,” and we’ve never heard a better genre. Mendonsa lets his guitar do all the talking on the instrumental rock “Anuva’s Sky.”
Holy Ghost Machine Gun (Counting Perfume, 2012) – Split
Although the single was released in 2007, Split’s famous heavy takedown of godmen and preachers found its way onto their 2012 album Counting Perfume, albeit in a reworked manner.
Kandisa (Kandisa, 2000) – Indian Ocean
From the seminal album by the same name, which released in 2000, Indian Ocean found strength in the near-spiritual listening experience that is the Armaic-language prayer jam called “Kandisa.” It remains one of the best Indian rock albums in the last 25 years.
Ma Rewa (Kandisa, 2000) – Indian Ocean
Before “Bilqis” and “Ee Bhoomi,” Indian Ocean delivered an emotional eulogy to the Narmada river. Bassist-vocalist Rahul Ram, who was a longtime supporter of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, turns a traditional song into an Indian Ocean anthem like no other.
Paper Puli (Plan B, 2005) – Thermal and A Quarter
It’s never easy to pick just one Thermal and a Quarter song off their 2005 album Plan B, since the Bengaluru rock band’s second album included one infectious hook after another. “Paper Puli,” regular on the band’s setlist even today, took on their favorite foe – music journalists.
PSP (Hook, 2002) – Zero
For all the times this song has been performed over and over by Mumbai rock band Zero, never has modern alternative rock been summed up better in India – from the catchy famously-misheard refrain of “standing by” and guitarist Warren Mendonsa’s screecher of a solo.
Candywalk (Candywalk, 2002) – Orange Street
One of the sweeter choruses in Indian rock came from Delhi band Orange Street, who made the words “We don’t need your better ways/ We don’t need your heritage/ We would shine on, anyway/ Walk on I say, walk on” instantly hummable. Two versions of the track – acoustic and electric, found its way on to their 2002 album Candywalk.
Drive (Up, 2002) – Pentagram
Anyone’s perfect weekend getaway plan should start with Pentagram’s “Drive,” off their 2002 album Up. Featuring a shift towards electronic music more than just guitar riffs, “Drive” is simply about getting up and moving, a similar urge for anyone who’s heard the band perform the song live in the last decade.
But It Rained (Single, 1996) – Parikrama
National TV airplay for this video made Parikrama one of the earliest known rock bands in Nineties, touching hearts and minds not just with their starry guitar and violin solos, but with a message about missing persons in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Pretty Child (The Second Coming, 1990) – Rock Machine
Still a set favorite for Mumbai rockers Indus Creed, who were previously known as Rock Machine, “Pretty Child” was the band’s second big push after “Top of the Rock” released in 1988. A slower song than their earlier hit, “Pretty Child” also showcased vocalist Uday Benegal’s best lyrics about escaping into fantasies and the snap back to reality.
Top Of The Rock (Rock N Roll Renegade, 1988) – Rock Machine
The number of people who were inspired to pick up a mic, a guitar or a drumstick after hearing “Top of the Rock” continues to amaze us. Not just a great rock song, the Mumbai band Rock Machine’s music video found TVs nation-wide, which makes them one of the most influential rock bands of our time.