Released: 20th April 1998
Writers: Mike Stock / Pete Waterman / Sara Dallin / Keren Woodward
Peak position: #6
Chart run: 6-7-9-7-6-9-13-17-25-34-47-49-60-68
Having taken everyone (including themselves) by surprise with the success of 5, 6, 7, 8 in late 1997, Steps had earned themselves a follow-up single. But how do you turn line-dancing novelty into long-term success?
There are so many ways that a second single could have gone wrong and it would have been incredibly easy to release a follow-up that was “the same but different”. Steps were in luck though; if there was a man who knew about extending shelf-lives then it was Pete Waterman. He had at his fingertips a vault of previous singles to draw upon, many of the less successful ones not objectively bad songs but merely casualties of acts and audiences outgrowing their style. Last Thing On My Mind was thus the perfect choice; a flop for Bananarama five years earlier but for all intents and purposes as close to a new song as you could get without actually spending time and money on creating one.
And credit where it’s due, Steps’ version of the song was markedly different. Ditching the sensual airiness of the original, from a production standpoint Last Thing On My Mind was now much more defined and deliberate – and for good measure, it chucked in a Safri Duo-esque drum beat that remains a distinctive calling card of the song to this day. This single also began laying the foundation for the group that Steps would become – the lead vocals are split between Faye and Claire, whilst Lisa adopts her natural position in the middle-eight. Meanwhile the boys…well, they don’t really do much at all; H makes some goofy faces in the video and Lee looks great in his swimming trunks (more on that later). Until midway through the second album that was very much the blueprint for Steps.
Where the song differentiates from many others in Steps’ oeuvre is that it is much more an out-and-out party song. The glum drawl that inhabited many of their subsequent singles is completely absent here. Even whilst there are elements of disco heartbreak in the lyrics: “But now you’re suddenly like a stranger, and you’re leaving our love behind” – the way the group cheerily deliver them doesn’t suggest any real buy-in. If that sounds negative then conversely, it actually turns into Last Thing On My Mind’s biggest strength because this is probably the most fun you ever heard the group having over the course of their first three albums. The track absolutely radiates joy – every second captures the excitement of a group being given a shot at the big time. There was certainly more room to manoeuvre here than on the rote 5, 6, 7, 8 and Steps grabbed the opportunity, bringing with them an authentic effervescence that gets harder and harder to recreate as the novelty of pop stardom wears off.
That enthusiasm is also evident in the music video, which pitches Last Thing On My Mind as an early summer holiday bop. It was idealistic and aspirational; if you weren’t old enough to go away with your mates for a week in the sun (or maybe just a weekend at Butlins) then this is totally what you’d imagine it was going to be like. Visually, the video is bright – garishly so, in fact – Faye’s orange swimsuit is a look that few could pull off! Moreover, though, it is pop music’s squeaky-clean version of Club 18-30: a group of mates driving around in a convertible, engaging in carefully choreographed dancing by the pool and generally having a laugh. There are no hordes of screaming toddlers around the pool, no overpriced alcoholic beverages and no hangovers that make you sternly question your life choices. The video fleshes out Steps a little more as well; Faye is immediately framed as the petite, long-legged radiance (some of the shots during her first verse are stunning), Claire as the effortless powerhouse – even if this is a markedly restrained performance by her standards – and Lisa as competent but primarily there to have a good time. This was also where the group came through with the “ABBA on speed” comparison, directly referencing the head/profile shots in the Mamma Mia music video.
There was something in your voice
That was telling me don’t be too sure
Arousing my suspicions
I have never felt before
Elsewhere, without anything to do vocally during Last Thing On My Mind, H and Lee find themselves involved in something of a gender tussle, culminating with Lee being pushed into the pool by Lisa. As a set-piece within the context of the video it certainly answers the question “Is it ever ok to wear Speedo’s” with a resounding “OH SWEET LORD, YES!” – but it did risk turning Lee into the one who was only really there to look good. It was a dynamic that felt somewhat rebalanced in later singles – not vocally, but certainly in terms of how Steps functioned as a unit.
For chart geeks Last Thing On My Mind was an absolute dream – and undoubtedly the moment that cemented Steps as an act with real potential outside of the novelty market. Had the single entered the chart at #6 and steadily dropped – as of course was normal of the late ‘90s – it would probably have earned Steps a third single in the same vein as this one. Whilst Last Thing On My Mind was less novelty than 5, 6, 7, 8 for sure, the production and visuals didn’t decisively distance the group from that market. However, it soon became evident that Steps were not as disposable as had first appeared. For six weeks the track hovered between #6 and #9; having one single that bucked the downward trend of the chart was a rarity for pop acts in the late ‘90s but Steps did it twice with consecutive releases. That wasn’t a fluke and suddenly people started to take notice – you’d certainly imagine that behind-the-scenes there was a lot more consideration given to Steps’ next move than there had previously.
Last Thing On My Mind arguably lay the first stone for Steps to become a serious pop act. Well, as serious as they were ever going to get.