2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of 'Home' at a National Day Parade.
Written by Dick Lee, performed by Kit Chan and produced by Sydney Tan, 'Home' is a beloved national song that most, if not all of us are familiar with. Ahead of Singapore's 53rd birthday, Lee, Chan and Tan told us all about the song that has become a national treasure and also a milestone in each of their musical careers.
Here are five things we learnt from them about the iconic National Day song:
‘Home’ was not originally written as a National Day song
“What I understand is that, also on the [Sing Singapore] committee was the chairman for 1998. So he liked it and he then included it as a last minute, sort of, entree. The song was selected in December and we recorded it.” - Dick Lee
There’s no competition for ‘Home’ when it comes to the most popular National Day song – ask any Singaporean, young or old, and they’d probably be able to hum the tune. While ‘Home’ has come to be so widely known as an NDP classic, it wasn’t actually written for the parade or to commemorate 9 August itself, but for the Sing Singapore festival which aimed to foster a sense of unity among citizens through a repertoire of folk songs in the four official state languages. ‘Home’ was eventually picked up for the 1998 NDP, an acknowledgement of the song’s soaring popularity.
Dick Lee wrote ‘Home’ in "less than an hour"
“I remember that it all tumbled out. It all came as almost one breath. So I wrote that song really quickly. I usually write a melody first, and sometimes I’ll sleep on the melody for a while before I set the lyric, maybe a few days, and quite often I rewrite, I tweak. But this one, I remember doing all at once also because the deadline was quite short and I was able to. It felt right. I wrote the words and I wrote the tune all within, like, less than an hour. The melody I remember, came at once in a flow.” - Dick Lee
With lyrics so heartfelt and beautiful, you’d think that ‘Home’ took some time to write. It is after all, the one NDP song we remember most fondly and sing with conviction. But the songwriting process for ‘Home’ was quicker than you think. Lee had in fact, written the entire song in "less than an hour" because it came so naturally while he was feeling wistful and homesick in Hong Kong where he lived for a time in the 90's.
Musically, ‘Home’ could have been very different
“The first version that was done was actually a version that was done on piano, an electric piano kind of thing. I think Dick wasn’t crazy about that - I can’t remember. If anything it was a bit formulaic in my mind. When I re-looked at it, I don’t know why I ended up with a guitar. I sat down and played the guitar part, and then it felt right. If I’m not mistaken, Kit sang her vocal to the original version, which was the piano version.” - Sydney Tan
'Home' is so ingrained in Singaporeans' brains that it can be hard to imagine it with a different sound (though plenty of Singaporeans love to put their spin on it for covers). But ‘Home’ was originally recorded with a piano instead of a guitar, and sounded more 'poppy' and felt different from the version we know today. Although Kit Chan recorded her vocals on the original electric piano version, it was never officially released.
‘Home’ was initially greeted by doubt and skepticism
“The content of ‘Home’ was not directed by the government in the way, say, ‘Stand Up For Singapore’ was. So the first reaction to ‘Home’ was: can it be a national song? Why does it sound so different from the songs that had come before? Because I produced it, I was asked, “Why doesn’t it have the timpanis and the big marching band and the big choirs? First of all, why is it a slow song? It’s nothing like ‘Stand up! For Singapore!’ with the gusto and the choir.” - Sydney Tan
‘Home’ is different from the national songs that came before it, like 'We Are Singapore' and 'Count On Me Singapore', in a number of obvious ways. For one, there is no choir, and instruments like timpanis and booming drums are nowhere to be found. For many, the appeal of 'Home' lies in its intimate sound and musical arrangement. Its quieter sound drew skepticism from the committee of Sing Singapore, but with the support of committee head Prof Bernard Tan and committee member Joe Peters, it was pushed through and took off soon after.
20 years on, Kit Chan isn’t sick of singing ‘Home’
“I don’t get sick of it, which is very weird. I do get sick of singing my own hit songs, to be honest. My own songs, right, they’re so small. It’s just me… but ‘Home’, because it always involves everybody, every time I sing it, as long as it’s a Singapore crowd, they are going to sing it. Cannot stop them… They’ll always give me something. So I’m never bored.” - Kit Chan
Two decades have gone by since she performed 'Home' at the 1998 National Day Parade, and the song continues to be a mainstay on the setlist at Chan's concerts, and sometimes she changes things up by getting her band to put a fresh spin on the song. Singaporeans, as you can imagine, hardly need any prompting to sing along to 'Home' – the song Kit has called her "musical legacy".
Click here to read to find out more about 'Home', its origin and journey through the years, via interviews with Dick Lee, Kit Chan and Sydney Tan.