Every year, Shihad’s 1997 single ‘Home Again’ helps countless New Zealanders remember how Daylight Saving works. But as Calum Henderson discovers, its famous opening line was almost something completely different.
This story was first published in January 2017.
Jon Toogood was 24 years old when he wrote one of the great New Zealand song lyrics.
“Put your clock back for the winter” is the opening line of ‘Home Again’, the first track on Shihad’s 1996 self-titled album. In just seven words – eight syllables – it evokes an acute, crushing sense of ennui which instantly sets the tone for the song’s themes of distance and separation. It is a huge part of what makes the song one of our most enduring homesickness anthems.
It is also the most helpful rock song ever written in this country – a fail-safe mnemonic for remembering how daylight saving works. For years, many New Zealanders and even some Australians have used what is known as the ‘Shihad Method’ when resetting their clocks and watches. One subscriber to the method described it to The Spinoff as “bloody useful”.
Shockingly, this famous line almost didn’t make it onto the record.
Toogood’s old notebook, on display at Auckland Museum as part of 2017’s ‘Volume: Making Music in Aotearoa’ exhibition, shows the first draft of the song’s lyrics had a different opening line – one almost identical to a line from the Beatles’ ‘Here Comes the Sun’ – which was later crossed out and replaced: “It’s one long, cold, lonely winter.”
“We’d been living in LA for ages, writing and touring living apart from friends and family and more specifically my partner at that time,” Toogood told The Spinoff. “I think that opening line came from the million and one phone calls between her and myself – it just stuck out to me that I was living in a completely different world where everything was opposite to where she was including something as fundamental as the seasons. I just thought that line helped illustrate that idea, more for myself than anyone else really.”
While the song’s genesis is in Los Angeles, lyrics to ‘Home Again’ were written at Auckland’s York Street Studios in June 1996. The whole song took just 20 minutes to write. “I had thoughts about what I wanted to sing about, but I didn’t articulate them until I was forced to,” Toogood told Rip It Up in 2010. “I left it until the last minute, which is what I do with every important moment in my life.”
It remains unknown exactly how last-minute the inclusion of “Put your clock back for the winter” was, but it was undoubtedly an important moment. “He basically crossed out a shit opening line and replaced it with a great one,” explains rock critic Russell Brown.
Songwriting expert Mike Chunn agrees. “It’s crucial to have the listener wanting to know more, to have their curiosity piqued,” he says of the importance of the opening line. “‘Home Again’ does just that – we want to know more, and as the song evolves we are riveted and stay with it. That’s very hard to do well… Jon does it.”
Although it only reached number 42 on the singles chart when released in 1997, ‘Home Again’ went on to become one of Shihad’s best-known songs – a beloved, and very helpful, entry in the canon of New Zealand popular music.
Daylight Saving ends on the first Sunday in April. Put your clock back for the winter this year before going to bed on April 2 (Shihad Day).