RickRolling, where you trick someone into listening to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” is probably my favorite thing to happen in 2007. Without it, I might never have been introduced Rick Astley and his soulful deep voice.
“Never Gonna Give You Up” originally came out almost 30 years ago, in 1987. Insanely successful when it was released, the song helped Astley put 8 of his first 10 singles into the UK Top 10. But in 1993, Rick Astley retired from the spotlight.
In the early 2000s he released a few albums. His new material didn’t do too well, but a Greatest Hits album in 2002 and a cover album in 2005 helped renew public interest in Astley.
Except for RickRolling, it looked like we might not hear more from the singer. Then, in April 2016, Rick Astley released a new single. And much to the chagrin of those who had turned “Never Gonna Give You Up” into a joke, “Keep Singing” is an undeniably good song.
With his album set to come out sometime later this year, let’s look at what else Rick Astley has been doing to prepare for what might an amazing comeback.
Rick Astley’s Early Career
Rick Astley’s rise to fame was sudden, but the result of years spent working in the music scene. He was born in a small town in Lancashire County, England, in 1966. His parents divorced when he was young, and he was raised by his father. He started singing in church choirs when he was 10, where he taught himself how to drum. Through secondary school, Astley played drums for bunch of local bands. After high school, he worked for his father, and continued playing drums in small bars around northern England.
In 1985, Astley saw the band he was playing with restructure. His childhood friend David Morris, who he played with, left to focus on hairdressing. The vocalist left around the same time, so Rick Astley stepped up to fill the role. A few months later Pete Waterman invited him to come work in London at Waterman’s recording studio.
Waterman, along with Matt Aitken and Mike Stock, helped coax Rick Astley out of his shyness. The trio worked together as Stock Aitken Waterman. They taught him the recording process. Waterman also hired Morris to serve as a studio guitarist.
In 1986, Rick Astley released his first single. “When You Gonna,” a collaboration with Lisa Carter, was barely promoted, and while it secured some radio play, it seemed mostly to exist to bolster Astley’s confidence.
“Never Gonna Give You Up”
Then, in August 1987, Rick Astley released “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The song did a wonderful job highlighting Astley’s distinctive voice and put it to contemporary dance-pop. His first solo single met every need the radio market was looking for, and led to instant success. Before the end of the year it became the highest-selling single in the UK, and hit #1 on 24 different national charts. It was all over the radio in America, and most of Europe.
While “Never Gonna Give You Up” was rising in the charts, Astley was working hard to produce more songs. The late 80s was a time when radio was turning so many aspiring musicians into one-hit-wonders. Thanks to the guidance of Stock Aitken Waterman, Astley was able to avoid that fate. Two months later he released “Whenever You Need Somebody.” It was successful across Europe, rising to the #1 spot soon after “Never Gonna Give You Up” fell away.
In time for the 1987 holiday season, Rick Astley released Whenever You Need Somebody, his first album. It had four original tracks, including his first two singles. The album reached #1 in the UK and Australia. Rick Astley wasn’t known as well inn America, since his second single didn’t see a US release.
Whenever You Need Somebody would sell over 15 million copies through the Holidays, making him the best-selling English musician that year.
Right before Christmas, Astley released his cover of “When I Fall in Love,” the Nat King Cole song. EMI, a competitor of Astley’s label, re-released the original to sabotage his sales. This kept him out of the #1 spot in the UK through Christmas, so that EMI’s own Pet Shop Boys could snag it. However, Astley’s cover did make it to #2.
The next spring he released his fourth single, “Together Forever.” It went to #2 in the UK. In a first, the song actually did better in the US, where it reached the #1 spot and earned him his first Grammy nomination.
This prompted the release of “It Would Take a Strong Strong Man” as a single, his fifth from Whenever You Need Somebody. A slower, more soulful song, “Strong Strong Man” was intended for the US market. Not as wildly successful as his earlier US releases, the song only just cracked the Top Ten. However, it did very well in Canada, reaching the #1 spot and holding it for several weeks.
Rick Astley’s success is fairly remarkable, even by today’s standards. Between the release of his first single, “Never Gonna Give You Up,” and his fifth, he sold more records than any other artist in the world. He was also in the UK’s Top 40 for the first six months of his career, which I don’t think has been done before or since.
From Dance-Pop to Soul
In 1988, Rick Astley met Lene Bausager, a promoter for RCA Records, the label he would eventually end up on. They hit it off and began a romance that lasts to this day. However, the relationship has been kept quite private, with most of the publicity on Astley focused on his musical career.
A fire in Astley’s recording studio in late 1988 delayed the release of his next album. Hold Me in Your Arms, his sophomore effort, was released in January 1989. The album wasn’t as successful as the first, in part because critics portrayed Astley as lacking personality. Specifically, they focused on how heavily he was controlled by Stock Aitken Waterman.
However, the reputation was somewhat undeserved. Astley had written just over half the songs on Hold Me in Your Arms, and been heavily involved in the production. The negative portrayal from critics hurt album sales, though.
Single releases weren’t so bogged down by the publicity. “She Wants To Dance With Me,” the first to be released off the album, reached #6 in the US and UK. The next two singles, not released in North America, hit #8 and #10 in the UK.
In December 1989, two years after the start of his solo career, Astley started his first major tour. He played across Europe and in Australia, Japan, and the US. However, negative publicity from the UK press followed him on tour, and by the end, Rick Astley was ready to restructure his career.
He left Stock Aitken Waterman and sold out to RCA Records. He stopped producing dance-pop, and focused on soul, his self-proclaimed passion. His public demeanor changed to match; the boy-next-door innocence fell to the wayside and he began marketing himself almost like a crooner.
The 90s and 2000s
In 1991 Rick Astley released his third album, Free. The album did well, though not as well as his earlier, more pop-centric efforts. “Cry for Help” was the most successful single to come from the album, peaking at #7 in the US and UK. Unfortunately, it would be the last time he broke into the Top Ten in either the US or UK.
In 1992, Rick Astley and Lene Bausager had a daughter, Emilie. The couple had been dating for about four years at that point. After Emilie’s birth, Bausager left RCA Records to focus on their family.
Two years after the release of Free, Astley released Body and Soul, which was marketed as Adult Contemporary. It was mostly made up of recorded scraps, and was barely promoted. In fact, before it was even released, Astley had decided to essentially retire.
Within its genre, the album did fairly well, considering the lack of promotion. “Hopelessly,” the second single, hit #4 on the US Adult Contemporary charts, and #28 on the Billboard 100. The song was also inducted into BMI’s “Million-Air” club, a recognition for being played more than a million times on the radio. (If you played “Hopelessly” one million times in a row, it would take over 9 years!)
Rick Astley was only 27 when he retired. He’d sold about 40 million records worldwide, which is why it’s strange that these days he’s remembered as a one-hit wonder.
After Astley’s retirement, Bausager returned to working, focusing on expanding her reputation as a film producer. Meanwhile, Astley took on raising their daughter, and faded rapidly from the spotlight.
Eight years after retirement, when his daughter was 9, Rick Astley returned to music. He released Keep It Turned On under Polydor records. The album was only released in continental Europe, but the single, “Sleeping,” saw some US publicity after Todd Terry remixed it.
The next year Astley released a Greatest Hits album. Two yers later, he had his first tour in 14 years, and signed with Sony BMG. Under them, he released Portrait, an album of soulful covers. Despite both Astley and Sony BMG feeling dissatisfied with the album, it still broke into the UK charts.
In 2007, Rick Astley’s first single, “Never Gonna Give You Up,” became a viral video thanks to “rickrolling.” A simple prank, rickrolling meant getting someone to click a link that led to Rick Astley’s music video for the song, under false pretenses. This led to “Never Gonna Give You Up” being one of the most-watched YouTube videos in 2007. The prank become so widespread that on April Fool’s Day in 2008, YouTube switched every featured video to link to Astley’s song.
However, because Astley is only the performer, not writer, of the song, he received almost no royalties from the phenomenon. In 2010, he revealed that he’d only made about $12 from the video’s popularity.
What’s Rick Astley Doing Now in 2018- Recent Updates
Rick Astley continued to stay lightly involved with the music industry throughout the rest of the 2000s and early 2010s. He worked briefly as a DJ for London’s Magic FM station, before moving to BBC Radio 2.
In 2013, he married his long-time partner Lene Bausager, after 25 years together. Then, earlier this year, Rick Astley released a single to promote his upcoming album, 50.
“Keep Singing” was released on April 6, and was instantly noticed and covered by a huge array of music journalists. While many went into their reviews with a tone of snark, because of rickrolling, most left admitting they were impressed. The single did the best in Belgium, where it peaked at #25. The music video, released originally through YouTube, has more than 2.5 million views as of writing.
50, the album that carries “Keep Singing,” came out in June. It debuted at #1 in the UK, making it his second #1 album. (The first being Whenever You Need Somebody, his very first album.) Within a month the album was certified silver, and began to rack up positive reviews.
With the release of 50, it looks like Rick Astley may be able to pick up his music career above where he left it in 1993. And with greater creative control over himself, he likely will be happier for it.