RD Burman has been credited with revolutionizing the Bollywood music. He incorporated a wide range of influences from several genres in his scores. Burman's career coincided with the rise of Rajesh Khanna-starrer youth love stories. He made electronic rock popular in these popular love stories. He often mixed disco and rock elements with Bengali folk music. He also used jazz elements, which had been introduced to him by the studio pianist Kersi Lord.
According to Douglas Wolk, RD Burman "wrapped sugary string swoops around as many ideas as he could squeeze in at once". Biswarup Sen describes his popular music as one featuring multicultural influences, and characterized by "frenetic pacing, youthful exuberance and upbeat rhythms".
RD Burman was influenced by Western, Latin and Arabic music, and incorporated elements from these in his own music. He also experimented with different musical sounds produced from methods such as rubbing sand paper and knocking bamboo sticks together. He blew into beer bottles to produce the opening beats of Mehbooba, Mehbooba. Similarly, he used cups and saucers to create the tinkling sound for the song Churaliya Hai from the film Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973). For Satte Pe Satta (1982), he made the singer Annette Pinto gargle to produce a background sound.
On multiple occasions, RD Burman experimented with recording the same song with different singers. For Kudrat (1981), he recorded the light version of the song Hume tumse pyar kitna in the voice of Kishore Kumar, while the classical version was recorded in the voice of Parveen Sultana. In Pyar Ka Mausam (1969), he recorded the song Tum bin jaun kahan in the voices of Kishore Kumar and Mohammed Rafi separately.
RD Burman sometimes used the Western dance music as a source of inspiration for his compositions. As was common in Bollywood, some of his songs featured the tunes of popular foreign songs. Often, the filmmakers forced him to copy these tunes for the soundtracks, resulting in allegations of plagiarism. For example, Ramesh Sippy insisted that the tune of the traditional Cyprus song Say You Love Me (arranged and sung by Demis Roussos) be used for Mehbooba Mehbooba (Sholay, 1975), and Nasir Hussain wanted to use ABBA's Mamma Mia for Mil gaya hum ko sathi. Other examples of RD Burman songs inspired by foreign numbers include Aao twist karein from Bhoot Bangla (Chubby Checker's "Let's Twist"), Tumse milke (Leo Sayer's When I Need You), and Zindagi milke bitaayenge (Paul Anka's The Longest Day) and Jahan teri yeh nazar hai (Persian artist Zia Atabi's Heleh maali) and Dilbar mere (Alexandra's Zigeunerjunge).
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