Hey! Remember when music wasn’t free? When you couldn’t log into Spotify and hear any song your delicate earholes desired, at the exact moment that they desired it? Sounds terrible TBH. Like, “just saw off my ears now because I really won’t be needing them any more” kind of terrible. But that, as they say, was the ‘90s.
Come on, then. Gather round, children, as we hop in the time machine all the way back to 1997, a distant and strange time; the year that Oasis hoovered up enough cocaine to make Tony Montana look like a man who went to bed early every night with a cup of tea and a biscuit; the year that Tony Blair led the Labour party from the wilderness and straight into Number 10 Downing Street; the year that a much younger me diligently worked his way through 20 cans of Pepsi in return for a Spice Girls B-side in which Geri raps in a Welsh accent.
Perhaps the final example there wasn’t quite as era-defining as the others, but it was pretty exciting nonetheless. The Spice Girls were at the height of their fame and pop power in July 1997: between their first album, ‘Spice’, and its follow-up ‘Spiceworld‘. The band famously signed a massively lucrative sponsorship deal with Pepsi, starring in a TV advert and wearing weird clothes emblazoned with loads of Pepsi logos, always in tow with a big bag of cans for the lads.
‘Step To Me’, their most retro record release ever, released on this day – July 28 – in 1997, was part of that deal. Adverts in the papers and on Channel 5 (which the Spice Girls, as you may remember, launched with an opening song that optimistically and perhaps misleadingly promised the channel would be “the new sensation”) emphasised that you could only hear the song by collecting 20 Pepsi ring pulls. You posted them out to the fizzy drinks company, who responded in kind with a CD. I remember the day that mine arrived; it was weeks after I’d collected the ring pulls, so my sugar high was just about dissipating.
The CD sleeve, a blue, swirling psychedelic pattern, carried a warm message from Geri, Emma, Victoria and both Mels B and C. It read:
“We feel really delighted and proud to be able to give something back to you, the real fans who have supported us so much, so please accept our CD dedicated especially to you, it’s absolutely free and exclusive to this release in the summer of 1997.
“(We think you deserve it!!!)
“Love and respect,
“Spice Girls xxxxx”
How much was a can of Pepsi in 1997? Like, 60p? So that CD cost me around £12, which in retrospect seems kinda steep for one song and three remixes. But hey, it was the ‘90s, they were crazy times. Heady, sugary times.
‘Step To Me’, which actually wound up being included on the Japanese release of ‘Spiceworld’, is a slightly weird quasi G-Funk number. Mel B sasses with masses of raunch, “I can’t believe what I heard yesterday/About your boasting and lying”, before Mel C invites the bad bastard in her life to “smell the coffee ‘cause it’s time to wake errrrppp”. Strangest of all is Geri’s rap, as her laconic delivery makes her sound a bit Welsh. So that’s where Goldie Lookin’ Chain got the idea from.
In 2017, of course, the song is on YouTube, a medium that you don’t need to drink 20 cans of Pepsi to access. Looking back, it seems pretty sweet that it was considered a coup to have one song for “free” as a reward for being a fan. Join me, then, in wishing ‘Step To Me’ a very happy 20th birthday. You could even raise a can.