Birthdays are always accompanied by songs – what more the birthday of a country. As we are on the cusp of National Day season, the Hear65 team plugged into the repository of songs that celebrate Singapore and picked 10 of our favourites, as well their reimagined incarnations, and appraised them anew.
This was not an easy list to put together. Even though National Day songs all communicate a central message, each one of us is particularly more attached to some more than others. It's this differential that makes writing a list like this an interesting and illuminating one.
As you sing 'Our Singapore' when 9 August rolls around, know that it comes from an incredibly storied and poignant tradition.
In that spirit, check out the list below.
Hugh Harrison – ‘Stand Up For Singapore’ (1984 & 1985)
When Canadian jazz pianist Hugh Harrison conceived ‘Stand Up for Singapore’ 35 years ago, he brought into the world a rallying cry that resounded as a national imperative. Stand up for Singapore, do the best you can – its first line is a succinct summation of the emotional essence of every National Day song, a gold standard that called for the individuals and society at large to do and be better in the name of and for the good of the country.
With a striding rhythm section and, more potently, swelling horns, the song ably summons national fervour. Likewise, the visual, composed of footage from NDPs past, harnesses poignance from national memory to serve the future to come.
Hugh Harrison – ‘We Are Singapore’ (1987 & 1988)
One of the most iconic and recognisable National Day theme songs around, ‘We Are Singapore’ has the innate ability of pulling at your heartstrings and taking you on a trip down memory lane.
An anthem in its own right, ‘We Are Singapore’ hits the nail on the head so well, it was brought reused in 1998, just a year after its debut. But it’s not just the track that works so well. The accompanying music video is likewise effective. The video for the original version offers a look back at the past decades of Singapore’s history, and the changes that have been made since. More importantly, it shows the unity of its people. Combine the visuals with the track’s strength, and you’ve got a winning formula.
Elaine Chan – ‘Reach Out For The Skies’ (2005)
This inspiring song commissioned for the 2005 NDP has been a staple in schools since its inception – who remembers stretching out their arms in the air when the song played in school and everyone was taught the choreography to the chorus?
Performed by Rui En and Taufik Batisah, two of Singaporean icons, the star power of this song was undeniable. Having the Chinese actress and the Malay idol perform the song is also an apt visual representation of Singapore as a multi-racial and multi-cultural nation.
Jimmy Ye – ‘There’s No Place I’d Rather Be’ (2007)
“There's no place I'd rather be / You’ll always be a part of me / And even though I've roamed the world / It’s still my home I long to see”
The chorus of ‘There’s No Place I’d Rather Be’ always seems to draw such tugging emotions, especially when one has spent an extended period of time abroad. This song captures the meaning of being Singaporean in a globalised society, where travelling and staying abroad has become increasingly popular.
The song poses the question, "What does it mean to be a Singaporean?", while drawing contrast with visits to other countries such as the USA, UK, France, China and Egypt.
Goh Kheng Long – ‘In A Heartbeat’ (2011)
To talk about ‘In A Heartbeat’, one also has to mention the touching music video that came with this enchanting ballad. The plot of the music video follows the stages of Singaporean life that the protagonist experienced – from the Kampung-to-HDB relocation in the ‘60s and ‘70s to her grandson’s marathon in the present day.
The music video and song go hand-in-hand to document the development and urbanisation of Singapore into the metropolitan city that it is today. Lyrics such as “I have a dream of starting a life / I have a hope, a flame alight” from the start of the song progress into, “The flame is alive / This is our life” from the bridge convey the passage of time and the evolution of a dream into a life.
Charlie Lim and Hugh Harrison – ‘We Are Singapore’ (2018)
They say the classics can’t be touched, but every once in awhile, you come across a select group of people who can successfully breathe new life into an oldie, while maintaining its original vibe. Charlie Lim, Evanturetime and friends are those people. Charlie and Evan reworked the 1987 classic, writing a new opening verse that would suit our current climate, before bringing everything back to the good old days, with the help of their friends, such as Vanessa Fernandez and more. The end result is a song that strikes the perfect balance between old and new, bridging different generations. If there’s a prime example of how to rework a classic, this is it.
Tanya Chua – ‘Where I Belong’ (2001)
Nostalgia is an important element of the National Day season. No matter how old you are, or where you may be in the world, you’re transported back to your favourite memories in the Lion City upon hearing Tanya Chua’s National Day theme song for 2001, ‘Where I Belong’. It dials up the on the nostalgia factor, with Tanya’s emotive performance guiding us back to simpler times. It’s not just Tanya’s performance, or her lyrics, that make this such a great theme; it’s the song’s strong composition. The music video also reiterates the fact that no matter where life takes us, Singapore is, and always will be, home. And there’s nowhere quite like home.
Dick Lee – ‘Our Singapore’ (2015)
Dick Lee has contributed a lot to Singapore’s arts and music scene, but an unforgettable part of his legacy will be the role he’s played in the music of multiple National Day celebrations. In 2015, Lee returned to compose an original track with local Mandopop icon, JJ Lin. ‘Our Singapore’ fits in with the nostalgic classics in this list, even though it may be relatively new.
Together, they created a piece that has, and will continue to, stand the test of time. The accompanying music video captures the very essence of Singapore, with gorgeous scenery, and its beautiful people. If you ever need a reminder of why Singapore’s often named among the most beautiful countries in the world, this music video will do you well.
Dick Lee – ‘Our Singapore’ (2019)
This year’s National Day theme song is a rework of not one, but two, past anthems, 2015’s ‘Our Singapore’ and 2014’s ‘We Will Get There’. Combining two major songs can only mean one thing: An epic ensemble.
This year’s theme features the biggest collection of local musicians yet, with 50 artists contributing to the anthem. While most of the heavy lifting is still done by JJ Lin and Stefanie Sun, much like the originals, many familiar faces jump in to put their spin on the track, making it one of the greatest NDP themes in our nation’s history. The music video is equally as epic, with every generation of Singaporean musicians present, together, in one room. It’s a sight to behold, from the likes of Ramli Sarip, to Jacintha Abisheganaden, to Kit Chan, to JJ Lin, The Sam Willows, and the youth of today. It features the talent that Singapore has had to offer over its history, as well as what’s to come.
Hugh Harrison – ‘Count On Me, Singapore’ (1986)
Once again, Harrison was called upon to helm an ode to Singapore. This time, his approach was more meditative and earnest. Though his lyrics once again contextualise Singaporeans within a collective mesh, pledging to do their best for Singapore, he writes now from the perspective of a Singaporean working towards the national goal: “to build a better life for you and me”.
Correspondingly, the accompanying visual relies heavily on the elemental image of fire to signify kinship, happiness, passion and progress.
Hugh Harrison – ‘Count On Me, Singapore’ (1996)
10 years later, arranger and musician Shah Tahir would reimagine the song, bestowing upon it jangly effervescence with acoustic guitar and a deeper air of monumentality, by recruiting esteemed Singaporeans from various sectors including Dick Lee, public figure Gerard Ee, businesswoman Jennie Chua and then-Member of Parliament R. Sinnakaruppan, all of whom were cast in the moving visual, directed by Eric Khoo.
Jeremy Monteiro – ‘One people, One nation, One Singapore’ (1996)
Singaporean jazz legend Jeremy Monteiro helmed this joyous anthem. Emphasising unity, Monteiro’s arrangement mined the expressive power of wind and string instruments as well as percussion for widescreen bombast. Just as lyricist Jim Aitchison’s words affirmed the power and nuances of ONE in building a nation, Monteiro’s musical direction builds to an uplifting climax that leaves an indelible impression on the listener.
Fittingly, the video is anchored by shots of families of different races coming together in celebration of Singapore’s birthday. The signifying power of such scenes cannot be overstated: They make the “regardless of race, language or religion” mandate that much more relatable and precious.
Dick Lee – ‘Home’ (1998)
In this exclusive oral history of ‘Home’, Dick Lee, its producer Dr. Sydney Tan and its angel-voiced mouthpiece Kit Chan, revealed that it took some convincing for the powers that be to accept it into the canon of National Day songs. Such is the power of the song, that, it has since come to occupy a rarefied place in the Singaporean imagination. “Home” is such a powerfully rich signifier and by framing it as a centring force, as the repository of our individual and collective past, present and future, the trinity of Lee, Tan and Chan have turned in an uncontested masterwork.
Hewing close to the lyrics and by positing Chan as the everyman Singaporean, the visual does great justice to the song. It paints a picture of a home we know we belong in and will never forget – no matter where we are.
In 2004, the song would once again emerge as the herald soundtracking National Day, with JJ Lin as its voice. Though refashioned via a busy, arena-rock filter, the essence of the song endured.