S Club 7 – Reach

Released: 22nd May 2000

Writers: Andrew Todd / Cathy Dennis

Peak position: #2

Chart run: 2-2-2-4-9-13-18-21-23-23-26-27-29-37-38-51-71

With their debut album, S Club 7 had achieved a lot. But one thing eluded them, and that was a definitive signature hit – a track that would be a fixture in every DJ’s repertoire. All of that changed with Reach, which for better or worse was destined to become a song that would haunt TV talent shows, hen parties and family discos for years to come.

Although Reach was the lead single from S Club 7’s second album, it was initially recorded for their debut, and we were first introduced to the song during 1999’s Boyfriends & Birthdays TV special, broadcast following the conclusion of Miami 7.  That doesn’t reflect particularly well on its credentials as a lead single, but the track was significantly beefed up for its eventual release. Fast forward six months, and we were re-introduced to Reach as the theme tune to LA 7. Like Miami 7 before it, the (very) loosely weekly autobiographical television show would follow S Club 7’s endeavours to find fame in America while introducing the audience to songs from their new album. It seems unthinkable now, but in the days before tracks were immediately available on digital platforms, the only way we could listen to Reach was by rewinding our VHS recording and watching the title sequence over and over again until the full song had debuted.

Reach was very much cut from the same cloth as Bring It All Back thematically; it’s a pop anthem of empowerment and self-belief, encouraging pop fans to follow their dreams. However, Reach connected far more successfully with a broader audience for several likely reasons. The first is the sound; in the same way that You’re My Number One plumped for a pastiche ‘60s vibe, so too did Reach. Constructing a song around a recognisable sound from the echelons of music history immediately gives it a somewhat timeless appeal – there is very little about the song that sounds identifiably mid-2000. Indeed, the only thing attaching it to that era of pop music is S Club 7 themselves. It’s, therefore, a convenient song to slip into any party playlist. Although the track certainly reached a point of overplayed saturation at one time, it hasn’t ever really aged as such.

The other notable aspect of Reach is that as a “call to arms” on the dancefloor, it’s incredibly well defined. If you’re anything like us, the mere mention: “I’ve got you and you’ve got me so…” immediately brings up memories of drunken arms flailing across the dancefloor as people haphazardly gesticulate towards one another singing the lyrics aloud. The track couldn’t be any clearer as to how it intends the audience to react when they hear the words – and you need only an ounce of sobriety (i.e. enough to keep you conscious) to follow the simple commands. Such qualities within a song may not feel applaudable – particular as the epitome of hen-party hell. But all the same, Reach deserves credit for boiling down its elements to their purest form that require only a fraction of brain activity to acknowledge and respond. The chorus itself is little more than a series of commands that create their own dance routine – not that we want to diminish Tina’s pivotal role in choreographing this number. That sentiment extends to most of the song; the second verse in particular, with its: “Fly away, swim the ocean blue, drive that open road” almost makes a packed dancefloor look like it’s playing pop music charades.

Don’t believe in all that you’ve been told
The sky’s the limit you can reach your goal
No-one knows just what the future holds
There ain’t nothing you can’t be
There’s a whole world at your feet

If, at this point, you’re thinking that Reach is beyond the point of redemption – well, we understand. Until the last few years, it’s not necessarily a song we would have gone out of our way to listen to. But our view of this single has softened, and on reflection, there are moments within it that are still incredibly enjoyable. Indeed, listen to Reach on your own terms, and you may start to remember what made it so brilliant in the first place.

The production itself is hopelessly uplifting and effervescent; even by bubblegum pop standards, it’s remarkably bouncy – an energy that it maintains from start to finish. The second verse is dreamily theatrical with Jo’s ad-libs and Jon’s harmonies. We also feel compelled to mention that the LA 7-era was peak Paul hotness and thus it’s only right that he gets the whole middle-eight to himself. Ultimately though, the absolute highlight of Reach is the key-change. For a song that is already high in energy, it’s a moment that induces sheer pop delirium. Caught up in the throes of excitement, the track loses any sense of order that it had in the build-up to the climax and collapses into relative madness. From the high-pitched: “Oooooooooh!” to Paul’s slurred scat-esque breakdown through to the joyous “Shining! Shining! Shining! SHINING!” chants towards the fade. It’s chaotic, bonkers, but packed with personality and fun. It’s hard to imagine any other pop act of the time delivering something with quite so much calculated disarray.

The accompanying video for Reach is a bit of an odd one. Concept-wise it makes perfect sense – in pop terms at least: S Club 7 drive through a humdrum town on a colourful vehicle that looks like a really bad hybrid of boat, bus and carnival float. As they pass through the town, the vehicle spews out gumball candy and pink exhaust fumes (pollution was clearly not high on the pop agenda at this time), transforming its surroundings into a more vibrant, exciting guise. Well, we think that’s what’s supposed to be happening, but it’s never really clear because, towards the end of the video, there are just shots of townsfolk frantically chasing the bus to nowhere in particular. S Club 7 are thus positioned more in a Pied Piper or Child Catcher role, which probably wasn’t the intention. It’s a music video that has enough recognisable narrative construct to work if you don’t pay much attention to it, but if you watch it closely, it doesn’t follow through on any of the ideas around which it’s based. Of course, the video was likely squeezed into the filming schedule of LA 7, which might account for the fact that it comes across as a bit of a rush job. It’s certainly nowhere near as slick as the visuals of their immediate pop peers – although like many aspects of S Club 7, being a little rough-around-the-edges was all part of the charm.

Reach was a massive success upon its release, spending three weeks at #2 nestled behind Sonique’s It Feels So Good. Indeed, to date, it remains among S Club 7’s biggest selling singles. The track almost immediately became a signature hit for the group and coincided with their first and only #1 album. The downside of the single’s broad appeal was that it rapidly reached saturation point, particularly when it was later used as an audition song for ITV’s Popstars. For a long time, we genuinely wouldn’t have minded if we’d never heard Reach again. But with a bit of time and space, we’ve come to re-evaluate it as the effervescent bubblegum pop masterpiece it truly is. Everything about the 7 campaign at this point felt like a significant step up on what had come before, and Reach was imperative in kickstarting S Club 7’s imperial era.

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