Ali Noor's Pagal

Western style pop and rock music has a few main structural elements. The main two are a verse and a chorus. It’s easy to illustrate this using one of Pakistani music’s most well known anthems, Dil Dil Pakistan. The song starts with a verse (“ایسی زمیں”) and there is a clearly identifiable chorus (“دل دل پاکستان”). In this song there is also another type of verse that has a different melody (“دل دل سے ملتے ہیں تو”),

In some songs a different melody is also identified as a bridge, which has a more transitory nature. It is often used to move between sections of a song, or to add some variety. Bilal Khan has written some really good bridges. This one, on To Kia Hua (“ہارا نہیں ہوں میں”), is great.

The verse and chorus perform two different roles on songs. The verse tells a story of sorts, it sets up the basis upon which any emotional connection with the song can be based. The chorus is a release of that emotion, often presented in repetitive form so as to allow audiences to remember and repeat the melody themselves. It is in a way, the thesis statement of the song.

In anthem rock, which is a term used to identify a genre of music that may be played in large stadiums with lots of crowds engagement, the chorus is the critical point through which an audience becomes part of the performance. I classify Noori’s music most clearly as anthem rock, and Ali Noor’s solo work seems to fit that description as well.

This particular recording is almost entirely chorus. There is a short verse section (“دور بلائیں”), that almost immediately gives way to a second verse that to me is kind of like a bridge (“مجھے جانے دے”). The lyric of that second verse is in direct contrast to the famous Noori song Mujhay Roko. (While there is an official recording of Mujhay Roko released on Noori’s third album, I declare that this acoustic recording off a TV show which I have linked to, should be considered canonical. There is also another recording of this acoustic version that is quite good and may also be considered canonical, but the larger point is that this acoustic version should be in the canon.) There is also a more electronic, heavy-beat recording which I don’t think is as good. You can hear it on this tribute video to the Pakistan cricket team.) Back to Pagal, the second verse gives way to the chorus which forms the bulk of the song. In fact I would argue that there is a second chorus to the song (“تو یاروں کہو”), which is largely wordless.

Most pop and rock recordings use one combination of verse and chorus as a section that is then repeated three times in the song. The second and third repetitions are separated by a different section. This sometimes referred to as an AABA song structure, i.e. three repetitions of section A, and one of section B. Most rock songs will use a guitar solo as section B. Other songs may add a bridge. In this recording section B is a drum solo that ends with more wordless vocal callouts.

The amount of this song that is dedicated to the chorus, and also the nature of the drum solo, indicate how important live performance is to Ali Noor’s style of music, and perhaps also to his persona as an artist. This album, if I have understood correctly, has been recorded at least in part with the band playing together instead of each person playing their parts separately. The goal is to capture some energy that is induced into the playing when playing the song together as a band.

Ali Noor has posted a video of this song played in a roof-top concert in old Lahore last year. The audience sings along dutifully, participating in the performance, despite the songs not being well known. This is understandable because the design of the song – through its structure and the lyrics and melody of the chorus – lends itself to being understood quickly and repeated.

This song descends directly from Noori recordings on their first albums. Most of those songs used a similar design to catapult Noori into the live kings they were. The new pieces in Ali Noor’s solo album are the personnel, and with them the electronic elements that have been added to the band’s sound. In terms of structure and lyrical pattern, this is very Noori. For some fans, this is exactly what they like. For other early Noori fans, like me, the verse is now the most interesting part. Perhaps my own feelings are influenced by not having seen Ali Noor live in a while. After serious illness, and a long quarantine, Ali Noor’s push to connect to an audience with a catchy chorus is however, understandable.

As always this writeup is late, and Ali Noor has two new songs out: Nasha and Teray Saath.