There was a time when we recognised voices. Voices for what they could do with their style of speech or in a song. Many people didn’t know how a Mohammed Rafi or a Lata Mangeshkar looked, even after having been avid fans of their songs for many years. Lest, they saw a small, grainy picture in a newspaper or a magazine. Sonu Nigam is probably the last from that generation, who were magical in the studio and could set the stage on fire with their voice alone.

Sonu Nigam was a singer’s singer for the first few years of his career, before choosing to appear in front of the world in his music videos. Here we’re looking at his 20 best songs where he stands out as the absolute king of melody for our generation:

1. Sandese Aate Hai (Border)

The song that catapulted him to fame all over the country, was when he sang alongside Roopkumar Rathod in Anu Malik’s rendition to a soldier’s wait for a letter from their loved ones.

2. Deewana Tera (Deewana)

One of Sonu’s first superhit albums, was this song where he experimented with falsettos. Even after all these years, an absolute joy listening to it.

3. Yeh Dil Deewana (Pardes)

In Subhash Ghai’s film as Shah Rukh Khan raced through the golden desert of Las Vegas, Sonu Nigam channeled his inner-Michael Jackson and sang this song for Nadeem-Shravan and won his first Filmfare for it.

4. Satrangi Re (Dil Se)

One of his most iconic songs would come when he when he worked with arguably India’s greatest music director AR Rahman. Singing for the Mani Ratnam movie, Sonu would reach new heights with this song as a composer.

5. Tanhaayee (Dil Chahta Hai)

Accompanied by Ehsaan Noorani’s bass riff, Sonu Nigam would nail this song about loneliness with a brooding Aamir Khan in the forefront. In an album full of excellent songs, this one stood out for Sonu’s stellar vocals.

6. Suraj Hua Maddham (Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham)

Lavishly mounted love songs got a whole new meaning in Karan Johar’s movie as both Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol romanced around the pyramids. But if not for Sonu Nigam’s effervescent vocals, this would be a lesser song.

7. Kal Ho Naa Ho (Kal Ho Naa Ho)

Singing for Karan Johar again, Sonu channelled all his inner wisdom into this one song, which asked everyone to make the most of the present and stop worrying about the future.

8. Saathiya (Saathiya)

Filling in the massive shoes of Hariharan when Sonu Nigam sang the Hindi version of Rahman’s title song from Alaipayuthey, he might have done the impossible of singing it as well as the original. He might have even slightly overtaken the original, but that is just my bias.

9. Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna (The Legend of Bhagat Singh)

In my opinion the high point of the partnership between Sonu Nigam-AR Rahman when he recorded this gem for Rajkumar Santoshi’s film. As the crescendo builds up and the music swells, it’s hard for the eyes to not well up.

10. Kyon Hawa (Veer Zaara)

Criminally underrated song from the album, even as Shah Rukh Khan walked around in shirts matching his surroundings, it was Sonu Nigam’s fluid vocals which made that fantastic opening sequence for the film.

11. Tumse Milke (Main Hoon Na)

Anu Malik’s song in Farah Khan’s movie was basically a qawwali song in the form of a Bollywood dance track, and to Sonu Nigam’s credit he sang fluently in both octaves making it sound effortless.

12. Kismat Se Tum Humko Mile Ho (Pukar)

The peak of his career according to Nigam himself came near the millennium, when he sang this song for Rahman in Rajkumar Santoshi’s film.

13. Kitni Narmi Se (Dil Jo Bhi Kahey)

One of his most underrated songs came in this barely known film, when Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy squeezed out all the love out of Sonu Nigam’s voice and made this wonderful song.

14. Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein (RHTDM)

Harris Jayaraj’s superhit album was held together with Sonu Nigam’s Kaise main kahoon tujh se, but the melody king really got to work his pipes and show off in the title song of the album.

15. Dheere Jalna (Paheli)

Singing for Shah Rukh Khan once again, Nigam nailed this complex composition by MM Kreem and he hit some very high notes in the songs and made it sound as easy as popping a chicken nugget.

16. Main Agar Kahoon (Om Shanti Om)

The quintessential song where the man serenades the love of his life, Nigam turned back the years the classic RD Burman era with the help of composers Vishal-Shekhar. Nigam brought back that old-world charm of Mohammed Rafi songs, who he happens to be a massive fan of.

17. In Lamhon Ke Daaman Mein (Jodha Akbar)

Singing for the maestro from Madras once again in Ashutosh Gowariker’s epic Mughal romance, Nigam oozed romance from his voice like only he can.

18. Jaane Nahi Denge Tujhe (3 Idiots)

If there was ever doubt about how well Sonu Nigam understood films, characters and situation – he put all of it to rest by singing this song from Raju Hirani’s film by infusing it with quiet mourning and an angst which lifts up a mediocre composition to the heights that it does.

19. Abhi Mujh Mein Kahi (Agneepath)

A rebirth of sorts for the singer, when he came back in a way with Ajay-Atul’s composition and established how no one understands emotion and melody better than him.

20. Maana Ke Hum Yaar Nahi (Meri Pyaari Bindu)

Singing alongside the amateur Parineeti Chopra, the singer sang on a scale higher than usual to accommodate his partner and sounded just as effortless. Nigam infused the Sachin-Jigar composition with so much romance, like only he can.

You can thank us later.