Claire Richards, voice
When I auditioned for Steps, we had to dance to a 5,6,7,8 demo. I remember thinking, “Thank goodness it’s a line dance.” I was not a trained dancer and learning a proper routine would probably have ruined my chances. But, after the management told me that it was done, they said, “That will be the first single.” I was like, “Oh no!” Dancing online was something your mother did. I was 19 years old and wanted to go dancing.
Then we auditioned for Pete Waterman and the Jive label. They signed us on the basis of a mock performance – we just put that demo of 5, 6, 7, 8 on and we didn’t even pretend to have microphones. But Pete saw something in us. I remember him saying, “Hold on tight, this rocket is about to take off.”
When we recorded the final version, we all went in to sing our voices separately. In those days, we were still on tape, so you had to wait for this huge machine to rewind. All the girls’ voices have many layers, so there is no distinct voice in the song. Lee did the rap section, because H [Ian Watkins] raps with a Welsh accent.
Musically, 5,6,7,8 is quite confusing. I think the techno element was an attempt to make line dancing cool, and the lyrics seem to me like two British writers trying to write about all the moves of a barn dance: “Foot-kickin ‘, finger-clickin’ ‘, leather-slappin’ … “Other than Pete, the producers didn’t want to be there. They thought 5,6,7,8 was going to die on his back.
Britpop still existed and it always said, “Oh, you’re made, you’re not real.” Everyone thought it was a novelty single and we were a novel act. We played three clubs a night. There were some difficult moments: dancing on a stage the size of a box, giving everything you have while trying not to fall. Imagine: people are partying, then we show up and do 5,6,7,8. We always get abused by someone. But, in the end, we often had them.
Our statistics speak for themselves. Although 5,6,7,8 never made the Top 10, it was the best-selling single of 1997. It now has 35 million views. Nobody imagined that this song would be the basis of a 24-year career. Last Thing on My Mind was our next single, which completely changed the formula, turning us into a band that could have chart hits that were real songs.
We spent years trying not to perform 5,6,7,8. We even had giant models made of our heads like tfi fridayand got the dancers to do it like us. But, for the 20th anniversary, we threw it all away. Swing doors to the living room, cowboy hats, shorts, it was brilliant. We have made peace with the song.
Pete Waterman, co-producer
When I got to audition for Steps, I didn’t know that all the other record companies had turned them down. I was the last chance salon, like, “If you’re not very good, we’ll show you Pete Waterman.” I wasn’t impressed by the song, but they looked fantastic. H was the biggest character, like Butlin’s red coat, and that’s not derogatory. Lee looked great, but it was these three surprisingly different girls who made the group.
I put the 5,6,7,8 demo on to my co-producers, who hated it. They thought I had lost my marbles. His reaction was: “My God, we want a success, but not at this price.” It was so bad that everyone said, “We’re not going to put our name on it.” So if you look at the song’s credits, there’s only one name listed as a producer, and that’s mine.
That original version was too close to Kylie Minogue’s I Should Be So Lucky. So what happened, and this made the song, is that we improved the track and turned it into a techno record, not a cowboy record. When I heard the final version, I simply said, “It’s brilliant. It’s Abba in speed. “
I remember getting a call from Tony Wilson from Granada Television, asking us to be on his show, The other side of midnight. When I entered, he pushed me aside and said: “You have outraged the country and western groups, they are all looking for your blood! This techno line-dance record, they’re going crazy for it! It is heresy! “
We wanted to do something upbeat, and 5,6,7,8 is a cheeky pop record. It goes for the jugular. I still don’t think people realize how big the Steps were. Some people called 5,6,7,8 a novelty single, but if a novelty single sells 500,000 records, I’ll take one every day of the week.
• The latest Steps album, What the future holds, It is now available. The band will tour the UK from 2 November.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism