Released: 1st January 2001
Writers: Jörgen Elofsson
Peak position: #2
Chart run: 72-2-4-5-13-19-24-33-43-56-64
After sailing through the ‘difficult second album’ phase of their career, Steps were now in largely uncharted territory with their third album Buzz, having extended their predicted shelf-life by, well, three albums. Now in their mid-20s (so positively ancient by ‘90s pop standards), Steps’ sound needed to evolve, and there was only one place to go: Cheiron Studios. The group had dabbled in emulating the Swedish-pop sound before (Say You’ll Be Mine), but this time they went for the real deal.
Of course, you can’t just turn up at Cheiron and wait in line to be handed the next …Baby One More Time or I Want It That Way. The studio was masterful at creating songs to fit the artist singing them, which was a subtlety often lost on labels, who impatiently steered their acts away from an established sound in favour of copycat Cheiron products that had begun to infiltrate the market. Steps were big, but they weren’t as big as many of the acts the studio was working with at the time. Nonetheless, singing a counterfeit Britney Spears song would not work, and so it is perhaps the biggest compliment to them that Jörgen Elofsson crafted a track simultaneously sounding unreservedly like Steps, but also quite unlike anything they’d released before.
The crisp instrumental hook, which opens the song and continues throughout has, with the benefit of time, revealed itself to be a distinctive calling card for Steps and is every bit as recognisable (albeit on a smaller scale) as some of the more famous production hooks that Cheiron delivered. And while it later transpired that behind-the-scenes, the group were regularly involved in a tug-of-war over the lead vocals, It’s The Way You Make Me Feel utilises the strengths of the whole group by giving them all something to do, with none feeling shoehorned in to keep the peace. H and Lee are largely relegated to backing vocals, but their interludes (“I’m irresistible”) are pivotal in maintaining the established dynamic of Steps. It’s knowingly cheeky and silly, but moreover, shows that Jörgen Elofsson fundamentally understood what made the group tick.
Although the 2011 reunion painted a picture of Claire dominating the vocals, on It’s The Way You Make Me Feel she actually has very little to do at all. It’s almost a minute and a half into the song before her only solo couplet, which indisputably elevates the beat of the second chorus. But otherwise, this is very much a showcase for Faye and Lisa show, serving as a highlight for both (particularly Faye’s “I’m gonna make you MINE” in the second verse, delivered as though she’s been momentarily possessed by Britney Spears). The track obtains a heightened sense of drama that was rarely present in Steps’ material; although lyrically consistent with the general theme of their songs, the stakes had never sounded higher. A sentiment typified by Lisa Scott-Lee occupying her usual spot in the middle-eight, but here sounding like she’s desperately singing for her life.
The music video was a grander affair than usual, and one that lay the foundation for the eventual success of Downton Abbey (probably). Based on the movie Dangerous Liaisons – a reference point probably lost on most of Steps’ fanbase – gone was the notion of a dance routine so simple it could be printed on the inlay of the single artwork. Instead, the group swirl in pairs around the ballroom, giving lustful looks towards the assorted extras. The fact that Faye didn’t recreate it on Strictly Come Dancing will forever go down as one of television’s greatest crimes.
Back in 2001, there was a minor controversy when It’s The Way You Make Me Feel was stocked prematurely in shops due to a release date that coincided with the new year. The early sales – around 1,400 copies – resulted a debut entry of #72. The following week when the song was officially released, it jumped to a peak of #2, behind Rui da Silva’s Touch Me. However, there was some consternation that the early sales deprived It’s The Way You Make Me Feel of reaching #1. It’s not true, though. Those 53,400 combined sales would still be far less than the 67,000 Touch Me sold, which is probably a better outcome because for Steps to have been in a position where they genuinely missed out on topping the chart due to a retail error would have been incredibly frustrating.
Taking all of this into consideration, it’s little wonder that It’s The Way You Make Me Feel deservedly found prominence within Steps’ back catalogue. Indeed, when the group reformed in 2011, this was the first song they performed together on This Morning. It’s widely considered to be one of their best tracks, and moreover, has endured remarkably well. With a start like that for 2001, what on earth could go wrong in the next 12 months?