Steps – Better Best Forgotten

Released: 8th March 1999

Writers: Andrew Frampton / Pete Waterman

Peak position: #2

Chart run: 2-6-11-17-18-20-32-35-44-45-47-47-62-70-75-X-57-49

Having kicked off 1999 by scoring not just their first #1 single, but also one of the biggest sellers of all-time, what would Steps do next? Well, they had two options with the remainder of Step One; there were a few tracks – namely, This Heart Will Love Again – that presented a (slightly) more serious, credible route to capitalise on their newfound fame, or…

Better Best Forgotten was, in truth, always the obvious candidate for a fifth single. It was the song most strikingly consistent with the “ABBA-on-speed” vision that Pete Waterman strove to achieve with Steps and their earlier hits like Last Thing On My Mind and One For Sorrow. But it also allowed the group to continue carving out their own identity. Conveniently – and somewhat inevitably – as the fifth single from an album that had sold incredibly well, a radio edit was commissioned to ensure Better Best Forgotten didn’t succumb to the law of diminishing returns. The remix buffs up the production in all the right places and gives the track a lick of polish befitting of the follow-up to a million-seller. It also adds a little more Lisa Scott-Lee, which is never a bad thing; and boy, does she make the most of her additional: “Better best forgotten” ad-lib, which gives the second post-chorus a punch.

The most significant change occurs right at the end, though. And here we must take a moment to acknowledge the album version because what gets lost in the remix is the proper ending of the track. Better Best Forgotten originally closed with just the snare percussion while the group delivered a final chorus that lingered teasingly on the line: “It’s time to let go, ‘cause baby you know, some things are…” and some ominous synths. To swap it for a fade-out was the right decision; the follow-up to Tragedy needed to affirm Steps’ persona as purveyors of relentless, dancefloor-filling pop music, and the album version didn’t quite fit that mantra. Perhaps more significantly, that original ending was the point at which Better Best Forgotten was most ABBA-esque in its delivery. To abandon it was a symbolic gesture that Steps were ready to stand firmly on their own ten feet. Well, after the forthcoming release of Thank ABBA For The Music, at least.

Thus, the track is a little more indulgent from a production perspective. That is most evident from the infamously generous(!) distortion of the vocals during the: “Woah-WOAH-oh-oh…” sections, which leaves the group sounding like chipmunks. It was obvious – but not glaringly so – at the time, but never much of an issue because Steps weren’t performing the song live. Times have changed, though, and listening to the group perform Better Best Forgotten now, it’s clear how far the studio vocals sit from their natural range.

Whether intentional or not, the juxtaposition between that high-pitched hook and the deep, brooding verses is one of the track’s many successes. There’s a fragile forlornness as Faye picks over a failed relationship during the first verse: “But the story has just begun, and darling what’s done is done, it’s time to change and leave the past behind”. That moment, in particular, is neatly revived for the already-iconic Lisa Scott-Lee middle-eight. Claire takes over for the second verse and showcases a depth to her voice that is as striking as it is unexpected. Frantic stabbing synths and a bubbling electro production join her while she ruminates: “And maybe at last we’ll find, that love should be true not blind, you can’t deceive a heart that’s open W-I-I-I-DE”. Faye, Lisa and Claire all bring such drama to Better Best Forgotten; they sing as though their life depends on it, and that – among many other things – is what worked so well about Steps. Even if this was to become one of their more disposable hits, they handle it with complete sincerity and fully commit to it in every respect.

But what of H and Lee? Well, as was fairly commonplace in Steps’ early material, they don’t have much – if anything at all – to do, vocally. But there are no passengers here and instead, the duo takes a starring role in the visuals. Perish any thought that selling over a million copies of their previous single would earn Steps a bigger budget for the music video. No, Better Best Forgotten was cheap and cheerful carefully conservative and opted for a modest concept. It’s a music video within a music video, with Faye, Claire and Lisa duly performing their parts, while H and Lee play the runners on-set and generally piss about. This was the shoot where a glass wall famously tumbled down onto poor Faye, which is just about the most interesting thing to say about the end-product. It’s not a bad video, by any means, but it’s hard to see it as little more than a functional tick-box exercise (garish outfits, goofy facial expressions, an easy-to-follow dance routine) designed to tide Steps over while they were hurried back into the studio to record their next album.

Nonetheless, it did the job. After being delayed several weeks due to the fact that Heartbeat / Tragedy wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry – indeed, it was still in the top 20 when this single charted – Better Best Forgotten peaked at #2. That the track would be a success was almost beyond doubt; Steps weren’t going anywhere having gradually asserted themselves as a pop act capable of shifting both singles and albums in impressive quantities. But it performed remarkably well considering it was the fifth release from Step One and wound up the group’s fourth-biggest selling single overall. Despite that, Better Best Forgotten has never felt important within Steps’ oeuvre.

And arguably it wasn’t. Every previous release had – in its own way – been a vital part in establishing a new benchmark of popularity for the group. Better Best Forgotten, on the other hand, was the product of an impressive new status quo for Steps, and it was one they would maintain for far longer than anyone would have expected 12 months earlier.

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