On the face of it Rick Astley’s 1987 chart debut – Never Gonna Give You Up – had One Hit Wonder stamped all over it.
Unbelievably catchy, incredibly formulaic, sung in rich and deep tones by a bloke who looked so much like the son of the next door neighbours you had to pay them a visit just to make sure he wasn’t.
Hands up then anyone (male or female) who hasn’t at some stage grabbed a hairbrush and mimed with little success to this tribute to the words gotta, gonna, wanna and guy.
Simple and repetitive (and delightfully optimistic) though the lyrics are, it’s not always easy to remember them in the right order which, for the record is:
“Never gonna give you up
Never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry
Never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.”
Even though Never Gonna Give You Up topped the charts in 25 countries, Astley was far from being a one hit wonder (or particularly prone to using the words gotta, gonna, wanna and guy unless out to make a hit record) – selling some 40 million records worldwide before his first “retirement” in 1993 and still riding the crest of various comebacks through to today.
That alone probably makes him the most famous person ever to catch the bus out of his birthplace of Newton-le-Willows in Lancashire (these days though he lives in the London suburb of Richmond).
Born on 6 February 1966 (much fuss was made and an album was released to mark his 50th birthday), the fourth child of his family, he started his musical career aged 10 singing in the local church choir.
During his schooldays he played the drums in a number of local bands and after leaving school at 16 he worked as a driver in his father’s market-gardening business by day and played drums on the Northern club circuit by night.
In 1985, Astley was performing as a drummer with the quite well known soul band FBI. When its vocalist and guitarist left he reluctantly stepped up to be frontman and was noticed by the record producer Pete Waterman who persuaded him to move to London.
It was difficult to say no because just as New York had its production line of writing partnerships in the Brill building and Detroit had its Motown Hitsville team of Holland Dozier Holland, the UK had the unfortunately less cred home grown “hit factory” of Peter Waterman, Matt Aitken and Mike Stock (aka Stock, Aitken and Waterman or SAW).
Having cut their teeth capitalising on the underground club music scene that was booming in Britain, SAW set about capturing the energy of club culture (and the sound of Hi-NRG music) and introducing it to a mainstream audience.
Sounds like Motown? Yes indeed. They had their own “sound” and it could be delivered by an easily changed roster of performers using an “artist development deal” just as Berry Gordy had two decades earlier.
Under such arrangements, all facets of a young artist’s career could be controlled and dictated by the record company which would fill the role of manager on the artist’s behalf.
In his case Astley was taught about the recording process and groomed for his future career, supposedly starting off as the recording studio “tea boy” to build his confidence.
Just like Kylie Minogue, another SAW success story, was so lucky to have her singing career launched with the right song, so the groomed Lancashire lad was never gonna give up the chance of stardom once in the hands of the UK pop svengalis.
WRITERS: Stock Aitken Waterman
PRODUCER: Stock Aitken Waterman
GENRE: Blue-eyed Soul
ARTIST: Rick Astley
LABEL RCA
RELEASED 27TH July 1987
UK CHART 1
COVERS