Rick Astley revisits his song that made a career with “gratitude”

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Mark Kennedy

NEW YORK (AP) — How does Rick Astley handle one of his songs being part of the biggest Internet meme of all time? He rolls with it, of course.

“Look, let’s face it, Never Gonna Give You Up kind of became something else,” he said.

“The video and song drifted off into the ether and became something else, and I’m so grateful for that.”

This song turns 35 this year and is still very much alive, carried by a second chapter like a sweet joke in which someone lures you in with a tantalizing online link, which instead points to the video for this dance-pop hit from 1987. It’s called Rickrolling.

Thirty-five years later, Astley sings it this summer on tour with New Kids on the Block, Salt-N-Pepa and En Vogue for the 57-date The Mixtape Tour 2022. A remastered version of his 1987 debut album has also been released with, of course, Never Gonna Give You Up.

“I will never have a song as important as that, and I kind of knew that while it was happening. I kind of thought, ‘We’re never going to beat this.’ But I also thought, ‘Well, how bad is that?’ “

There’s always been a lot more to Astley than just this song. After blowing up in the late 1980s, he quit show business in frustration and only recently resurfaced with the strong albums 50 in 2016 and Beautiful Life in 2018.

British singer-songwriter Rick Astley
This album cover released by BMG shows “Whenever You Need Somebody” by Rick Astley. PHOTOS: AP

“Often the second act can be more enjoyable because you have more control and savor every minute,” said BMG United Kingdom (UK) director of repertoire and marketing Alistair Norbury, who signed Astley.

The passage of time – and the fact that Astley is such a nice guy – has softened any sharpness. He said he understood how different the past can be with rose-colored glasses. Rock stars recently told him they love his voice. “And I’m like, ‘Really? I thought you would hang me in the village square,” he said, laughing. “They probably would have at the time, but I think over time I think it just changes your perspective.”

Astley, 56, is the youngest of the four who grew up near Manchester, England. His sister played a lot of progressive rock and loved David Bowie. Her brother was a huge Queen fan, and he remembers Queen’s Night at the Opera being played on repeat. Astley has absorbed everything from Stevie Wonder to the Smiths.

He was in a band at school – they once performed The Police’s So Lonely with Astley on drums and vocals – that wiped the floor with rivals in a battle of the bands. He went to concerts and dreamed of being a music star.

Astley was only in his twenties when he recorded his debut album, Whenever You Need Somebody, with the songwriting and record-producing trio known as Stock Aitken Waterman, who had created songs for Bananarama and Dead or Alive. “I sold a lot of records. I had a lot of hits, then it got to a point where it was like a touch and go – how’s it going now because you have to make another record?

Exhausted and frustrated, he left at 27. “I think I just didn’t have that in me. I did not do it. I didn’t want to do it,” he said.

He admires pop stars like Madonna or Kylie Minogue for their longevity. “Actually, I don’t know how they did it,” he said. Being a pop star bothers you and Astley said it happened to her too. “I think my days were numbered anyway, but I think I made it out before they kicked me out, you know?” He didn’t play for 15 years.

Astley emerged from exile in 2016 with 50, named, with a hat to Adele, for his age at the time, a strong album that veers from gospel to electro-funky. Norbury remembers hearing the first demos of the album and being impressed. He asked the Astley manager who wrote them. The answer was “Rick Astley”. He asked who was the co-author? The answer was “Nobody”. Who produced? “Millstone”. So who played all the instruments? “He played all the instruments”.

Rickrolling started in 2007 – at the very beginning of YouTube – and it confused Astley at first. His song and video for Never Gonna Give You Up was used as part of an internet bait and switch, but what did that mean?

“I was thinking about it too much and worrying about it and wondering what it was. And our daughter said to me – she was about 15 at the time – she just said, ‘Do you realize that? nothing to do with you?” She also predicted, “There will be something else next week or tomorrow.”

“She was slightly off because it’s still moving here and there,” Astley said.

“But the feeling of what she was saying was, I think, really, really valuable. I embrace my past, but I don’t have to embrace the Rickrolling thing the same way because I accept the fact that it has nothing to do with me to some extent.

The song has racked up 1.2 billion streams on YouTube and 559 million Spotify plays. Time Out magazine has always been a little intrigued by Rickrolling, asking why no one would want to hear the dynamic megajam, saying it’s “three and a half minutes of the most effervescent in 80s canon”.

Astley, of course, sees Never Gonna Give You Up differently than people who use it to try to play with friends. He acknowledges that the video is “incredibly cheesy from the late 80s”, but “it’s a good memory. It’s like a good memory.”

For Astley, it was the song that brought him to Copenhagen, where he met his wife, Lene Bausager.

Without this song, he would not have had his daughter nor traveled the world. “I’ve been to some of the most amazing places in the world that most people have on their to-do list.”

He thinks back to when he was a new artist looking for established acts. Now he’s a seasoned pro with an arsenal of songs, including instant crowd pleaser.

“At the time, I was green with envy and felt totally insecure. Now when I get on stage and sing these songs, I’m like, ‘Yeah, am I lucky? isn’t that great?”

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