Every week, I trawl through garbage to find the best new singles. Most of the time, hidden among the dire dance knock-offs and the indie wannabes, is a real gem. A few, normally. But this week, we are facing a bit of a drought. Picking through Spotify’s new music playlist and scouring YouTube for some fresh talent, all we find are irritating tropical house cash-ins and an average Coldplay tune. There’s not even anything awful enough to lay into – it’s all just relentlessly mediocre and dull.
So with that in mind, let’s cast our minds back to before EDM and tropical house were even a thing, back to the glory days of the late 90s when 10/10 pop tunes were just run of the mill. Ladies and gents, I present to you one of the best pop songs of all time, ‘One For Sorrow’ by Steps.
And where to start with this absolute classic? The all-white getup? The corny shots of the group romping in a field? The fact that this is essentially a Claire Richards solo song?
Yes, let’s start there. Because while Steps were always shamelessly unbalanced in sharing out their verses, this was never truer than in the group’s third single, with Claire taking lead vocal throughout. It emerged later that this was the cause of more than a little aggro, the other members not too happy about playing the role of backing dancers and Claire unwilling to throw them any scraps. But this is undoubtedly a Claire song. Her full, soprano voice was made for this track, harking back to the sad-pop of ABBA.
‘One For Sorrow’ established Steps as ABBA-revivalists, drawing comparisons to ‘The Winner Takes It All’ – thought let’s face it, ‘One For Sorrow’ is infinitely better. In 2001, the track got a dance makeover, shedding much of its ABBA flavour for something more on-trend aimed at the American market. The new mix was made while Steps were supporting Britney Spears on her US tour, and if you look very closely at the 1:43 mark, you’ll see someone who bears an uncanny resemblance to Ms Spears herself…
The video got a designer remake too, the cheesy original unlikely to play well with an American audience. The dramatic tower and toothy bike rides were replaced by a nightclub, the barely choreographed dance routine made snappier and neater by the shiny production. Even Claire’s hair got a makeover – her neat Princess Di crop now tousled and spiky. But despite the track being a hit in many countries – and featuring in a Melissa Joan Hart film for God’s sake – it only managed to reach number 38 on the Billboard dance chart.
At home, ‘One For Sorrow’ proved to be one of Steps’ most enduring singles. Not only was it their first track to crack the UK top 5 (the first of 13), but it managed to re-reach it’s original peak of number 2 almost three years after its original release when the group disbanded. It has remained a fan favourite ever since, having undergone many remixes and reworkings, with Claire even debuting a solo version in 2015. Still, all the slowed down rendition proves is how essential the upbeat, pop arrangement really was.
‘One For Sorrow’ is a rare example of a pop song that transcends trends and time, remaining an infectious and affecting track that epitomises what makes Steps so special. Their brand of lovelorn dance pop is neatly summed up in this sparkly, bittersweet nostalgia-anthem, the group proving that they have much to offer more than silly line-dancing novelty tracks. ‘One For Sorrow’ is truly a song for the ages and, in 2017, remains one of the best pop singles of all time.