20 Timeless Hits To Mark Alka Yagnik’s Birthday
The choicest picks from the melodious singer’s vast oeuvre
There are no ifs, ands or buts about it; Alka Yagnik is one of the finest and most versatile female playback singers of all time. In a career that spans over four decades, the artist has managed to stay relevant, sound fresh and create such an incredible archive of hit songs across countless languages and styles. Next to the late great Lata Mangeshkar, and Asha Bhosle, there is no one else that matches this level of accomplishment.
On March 20, the singer celebrates her birthday and we are highlighting Alkaji’s incredible career with 20 timeless essential hits from her Hindi film catalog.
1981 – “Mere Angane Mein” (Laawaris)
Most are unware that Alkaji’s legacy actually starts here and not with the next song. While Amitabh Bachchan’s version and performance was more highly celebrated (and understandably so, given his brilliant performance of the song in the film), it is Yagnik’s version that is the base composition. The singer was just 15 years old when the song released and it serves a perfect prelude to the many peppy, saucy numbers she’d go on to elevate to legendary status in the 1990s.
1988 – “Ek Do Teen” (Tezaab)
Laxmikant Pyarelal’s Tezaab was a blockbuster, and “Ek Do Teen” proved to be Alka Yagnik’s first true blockbuster song. While she had been recording songs for countless films throughout the 1980s, the song and the actress on screen, a young Madhuri Dixit, proved to be a game changer. The track had every kid across the country counting along, and it established Alkaji as the next generation’s upbeat queen – something squarely anointed to Asha Bhosle until then.
1988 –“Aye Mere Humsafar” (Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak)
Incidentally the same year as her big dance number breakout, Alkaji also became the voice of newcomer Juhi Chawla for the super hit film Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. While “Papa Kehte Hain” was the biggest track of the movie, the three duets between Udit Narayan and Alkaji were also massively popular. “Aye Mere Humsafar” showcased Alkaji’s softer, romantic side, in many ways cementing her as not only the next generation’s Asha Bhosle but also Lata Mangeshkar.
1989 – “Gali Gali Mein” (Tridev)
Alka Yagnik quickly became the go-to gal for upbeat dance tracks in films. There seemed to be a universal truth to all those songs – they centered around an incredibly catchy melody. That was certainly the case with “Gali Gali Mein.” While the Tridev soundtrack was literally one hit song after another; this was Alkaji’s shining moment and the song has continued to be popular even today. In fact, so far, every song listed has been recently remade or remixed, yet more proof how popular these songs were.
1992 – “Aisi Deewangi” (Deewana)
Nadeem Shravan and Alka Yagnik created magic throughout the 1990s. In fact, the Alka Yagnik-Kumar Sanu/Udit Narayan duet set the romantic ballad template for the era. While 1990’s “Saajan” was their first big outing, the hits continued and “Aisi Deewangi” from Deewana became a rage. Those opening notes where Alkaji sings acapella is both haunting and beautiful, and the midtempo number that follows only cements the fact that Yagnik had found a way to perfectly exude the right sentiment in any song.
1993 – “Choli Ke Peeche” (Khalnayak)
Of course, this was one for the history books. In 1993, the release of the highly controversial (for the time) song from Subash Ghai’s Khalnayak, “Choli Ke Peeche” was quite possibly Laxmikant- Pyarelal’s best composition in decades. Alkaji, alongside Ila Arun, created absolute havoc with this hyper-sensual (some would argue hyper-sexual) song, which once again paired the singer with Madhuri Dixit. The song would become so massive that even Billboard Magazine would write about the track. All the acclaim Alkaji received for this track is well deserved. She changed the game of what was vocally possible, and despite all the backlash that surrounded the track, not one person raised an issue with her performance. Fun fact : “RingaRinga” from Slumdog Millionaire was basically a Part 2 of the song, and of course a key part of the Oscar-winning soundtrack for A.R. Rahman.
1994 – “Tip Tip Barsa Paani” (Mohra)
The sensuality game continued with this classic rain song. While the song is in everyone’s consciousness again due to the recent remake in the film “Sooryavanshi,” it’s interesting to note that “Tip Tip Barsa Paani” was not the massive hit from “Mohra” at the time. It was the grower that became popular after the release of the film, and after the overexposure/retirement of “Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast” from countdown shows.
1996 – “Aaye Ho Meri Zindagi” (Raja Hindustani)
1996 was the year of Nadeem-Shravan’s Raja Hindustani. While every song proved to be a blockbuster hit, it was the emotional “Aaye Ho Meri Zindagi,” and in particular Alkaji’s version that proved to leave a lasting impact. The incredibly melodious track felt like the perfect culmination of hundreds of songs we had heard by the music director and the singer, but somehow the lyrics and Alkaji’s vocal depth gave it a presence well beyond the film. It would also become yet another template for a performance style then frequently requested of the singer including “Sabki Baaratein Aayi” from 1999’s Janam Samjha Karo.
1998 – “Chamma Chamma” (China Gate)
1998 was an incredible year for Alka Yagnik as she dominated the airwaves with so many hits; it was as if there were no other recording artists around. While she and Kavita Krishnamurthy were basically the only A-list vocalists remaining, Alkaji had the upper hand because her versatility was simply unmatched. With the emergence of the item song again, her demand once again started to rise for that “hit song.” And boy did she deliver! “Chamma Chamma” was yet another hit she delivered for film director Raj Kumar Santoshi after “Koi Jaye To Le Aaye” from 1996’s Ghatak. Of course, with Urmila Matondkar sizzling up the screen, the song was bound to be a rage, and yes, yet again, we’ve heard a remake of the song in recent years, once again paling in comparison to the original.
1998 –“Tum Paas Aaye” (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai)
Jatin-Lalit’s “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” was a mixed bag musically but the shining star of the show was Alka Yagnik. From “Ladki Badi Anjani Hai” to “Raghupati Raghav,” her voice was showcased across generations, actors and ages. It is of course though the iconic title song of the film for which Alkaji was most celebrated and honored. And in a prelude to Shreya Ghoshal’s sad version trumping the original “Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai” from “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi,” many believe it is Alkaji’s sad version of “Tum PaasAaye” that’s actually the vocal performance of the film. We tend to agree.
1998 – “Gali Mein Chand” (Zakhm)
The final track of 1998 happens to be one of my personal favorites of Alkaji. While Zakhm was an underrated gem of a film, and I’m glad the film’s soundtrack has seemingly found an audience over the years. “Gali Mein Chand,” in particular – the album’s heart – has become a truly timeless classic. After her private album with Javed Akthar “Sare Sapne” proved a resounding success, it was M.M. Kreem who was able to bring out another side of Alkaji in her vocals here. The pain, joy, happiness and sadness that come together so beautifully in this melodious track is unmatched. Truly one of Alkaji’s finest songs ever.
1999 – “Dilbar Dilbar” (Sirf Tum)
When “Dilbar” was recently remade, they did one thing right – they actually included the original vocals of Alka Yagnik in the song. While “Dilbar Dilbar” from Sirf Tum was a smash hit out of the gates back in 1999, it was also a key moment as younger singers like Sunidhi Chauhan and Hema Sardesai were making their mark in the industry. Alkaji had established herself as the go-to for seductive singles, and “Dilbar” once again reminded the next generation that she still had miles to go!
1999 – “Taal Se Taal Mila” (Taal)
After what seemed like eternity, Alka Yagnik and A.R. Rahman finally came together for a Hindi soundtrack. What they created with “Taal” was nothing short of magical, and the title track and Alkaji’s playful yet youthful vocals perfectly matched up to the rising superstar Aishwarya Rai who needed a voice that would match her beauty. Kudos to the music director for showcasing such versatility in the artist as he also used Alkaji for the seductive “Ramta Jogi” and the classical-tinged “Kariye Na.” Interestingly enough, Alkaji was the only female singer Rahman used for more than one song on the album – further proof of her status.
2000 –“Aisa Lagta Hai” (Refugee)
In 2000, Anu Malik took his years of creating memorable hits with Alka Yagnik to the next level with Refugee. The semi-classical tunes with a folk sensibility had worked well for the two previously, particularly in Tamanna and Hameshaa in 1997. “Aisa Lagta Hai” was the best example of Bollywood meets class as the song musically, lyrically and vocally created the perfect romantic ambience that the film required. A truly timeless composition and performance.
2002 – “Kitni Bechain Hoke” (Kasoor)
By 2002, it seemed the timeless melodies of 1990s were becoming a bit dull and boring. While films like Raaz became massive hits, much in part thanks to the evergreen compositions, there was a bit of sameness to all the tunes. Thankfully, the Nadeem-Shravan due had one more trick up their sleeve and it was the sensual “Kitni Bechain Hoke” from Kasoor. While so many tracks felt like mediocre copycats of previous hits, here Alkaji got to showcase a bit more energy, a lot more fun and a playful side we had been missing from her romantic numbers for years. In many ways, the song set the stage for the next few years as Alkaji became more selective (or music director opted for other singers), and that standout track was the one that would then be sent to her.
2005 – “Laga Prem Rog” (Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya)
The mid ’00s is not really remembered for its amazing soundtracks but definitely there were hit songs and Alka Yagnik was surely still a part of the hit making formula. Himesh Reshammiya 1.0, the music director before singer and actor, seemed to heavily rely on Alkaji for his hit tunes. From 2004’s Humraaz to Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya here, his fondness for her resulted in some great songs. “Laga Prem Rog” was a perfect track that captured everything we’ve always loved about the singer but with updated production.
2006 – “Salaam” (Umrao Jaan)
While the ill-fated remake of Rekha’s classic Umrao Jaan with Aishwarya Rai left many in the red, the one artist that seemed to get the most appreciation was Alka Yagnik. In particular, her performance of “Salaam” felt like the tribute we hadn’t asked for of Asha Bhosle but one we still got. For perhaps the first time in her career, we could hear the maturity in Alkaji’s voice which made the song feel even more intimate.While the film is hardly remembered, this track continues to be celebrated by music fans thanks to Alkaji’s vocals.
2007 – “Tumhi Dekho Naa” (Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna)
There was a changing tide by 2007, and in many ways, the poor box office of Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna seemed to have less to do with its adulterous theme and more to do with the fact that people’s sensibilities were changing. Despite this, Shankar-Ehsan-Loy found a melody for the ages and Alkaji another hit with “Tumhi Dekho Na.” The song managed to capture the colours of love as literally depicted in the film, and full credit to Alkaji for making adultery sound so romantic!
2009 – “Pyaari Pyaari” (What’s Your Rashee?)
By the end of the oughts, we weren’t getting to hear Alkaji as much so it was a lovely surprise to hear her on the highly underrated What’s Your Rashee? soundtrack. “Pyaari Pyaari” was a standout not just because the song features Alkaji but also because the storyline of the particular Priyanka Chopra character in the film so perfectly matched it. Not the most popular track from the album but definitely one of the most melodious. Plus, how do you add maturity to a character? Just get Alkaji on board. It’s something else that the woman who for so long exuded youth and bubbliness was now the voice of reason.
2015 – “Agar Tum Saath Ho” (Tamasha)
The voice of reason – that’s probably the best way to explain Alkaji’s presence in perhaps her most well-known song of the last 20 years. While Tamasha had many popular songs, none resonated as strongly as “Agar Tum Saath Ho” and that is nearly 100 percent because of the voice behind it. Alkaji owns the A.R. Rahman composition from the start; letting her nearly 35 years of recording voice put forward the depth required to narrate the sadness and the reality the lyrics. We may not hear from her as often anymore but we need more music directors like Rahman to find the right way to continue to showcase her most gifted instrument.
Alka Yagnik is a living legend, no doubt about that. This list of 20 doesn’t even begin to cover the depth, range or popularity her music has offered us over the last 40-plus years. As we wish her a wonderful birthday, here’s hoping there are many more compositions to come and many more songs we can all add to our own personal life libraries with Alkaji leading our way.