Rick Astley - Never Gonna Give You Up
Eight things Rick Astley would never do
Let you down
Make you cry
Tell a lie
Ok, it’s an old joke but one that is constantly shared and tweeted in today’s social media obsessed world. It just goes to show the endurance of a song that is 30 years old and how it has been taken to the hearts of the general public.
Here is the story of Never Gonna Give You Up
Richard Paul Astley was born on 6 February 1966 and grew up in Newton-Le-Willows, Lancashire. He sang in the church choir as a child and learned to play piano and drums. He formed his first group, Give Way, in 1981 but worked as a van driver when he left school. He then began singing and writing songs with local group FBI. Although they played rock, Rick preferred listening to American soul singers, such as Luther Vandross and Michael MacDonald. Pete Waterman went to see Rick when he was singing with FBI at a club in Warrington in 1985 on the recommendation of his then girlfriend Gaynor. He, like Gaynor was impressed, and invited Rick to come and work in the studio with a view to making a record - without the group. So Rick left FBI behind and came to London.
Legend has it that Rick started at PWL as a tea boy.
"That's part of the folklore,” says Mark McGuire, who engineered the record. "Rick was the nicest artist I worked with there. He was extremely down-to-earth, but also incredibly shy, and although Pete had seen him with FBI and wanted him to record, he feared that Rick would be too shy in the studio to get anything done. So he asked him to work there for a while, get to meet everyone, hang out with them and have a laugh, so that he wouldn't be intimidated when it was time for him to record. He was, therefore, employed there as an 'assistant', but not really to work as an assistant. It was merely a way of introducing him to the studio.”
Although impressed with what he saw in Rick, Mike and Matt at first were unsure.
"When Rick sang for me in the studio neither Matt or I were certain about his voice" says Mike. "There was something unusual about it. Sure, he had a BIG voice, but it was either on or off. It was always full volume and there was no subtlety. Matt wasn't convinced by it. Rick sang in tune, but we wondered whether it was really an attractive voice. We asked Gaynor why she thought his voice was so good and she said it made her go all funny, it made her wobbly. It made her wobbly! That was good enough to convince us".
In the case of Rick Astley, Stock, Aitken and Waterman initially worked on a couple of tracks that they thought would be well suited to his rich baritone voice: a cover of The Temptations' 1966 hit single 'Ain't Too Proud To Beg' — which would end up on Astley's second album, Hold Me In Your Arms — and the SAW original, 'Never Gonna Give You Up'. The latter was arguably one of their best songs, boasting a memorable, '70s-style disco hook and synthesized backing that would underpin Astley's smooth, soul-laced R&B vocal.
The title for "Never Gonna Give You Up" came from a conversation between Rick and Pete about Pete's girlfriend. Rick had said to Pete something like "You're never gonna give her up, are you?" and Pete thought it a great title for a song.
Mike then took it from there.
"I had to sort out the tune and the lyrics and tried to come up with something appropriate. Rick, who was only 19, told us he'd had a girlfriend since he was a kid in junior school - they'd grown up together. I thought the title made a nice story of life-long fidelity. I started work on the chorus but was stuck for a line to finish it. I knew I wanted it to rhyme with cry and goodbye and it was my engineer Mark McGuire who came up with Tell A Lie. So it became Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you. We then got Rick to sing it over a basic rhythm track but with nothing much else".
Mark McGuire continues,
"Mike and Matt would use the template that they thought would be ideal for a given artist, and the launchpad for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' consisted of Steve Arrington and Colonel Abrams”.
He's referring, respectively, to the former singer, songwriter and drummer for the funk band Slave and the house/urban-contemporary musician who enjoyed a number of late-'80s hits that helped make him one of the music industry's most sampled vocalists, as well as establishing his reputation as the Godfather of House.
"They thought their music would fit well with Rick, so someone brought in the records, one of which was Colonel Abrams' 'Trapped', and after we'd listened to them and analysed them we started to replicate the sounds, trying to adopt their ethos rather than sample or rip them off in any way. These were tracks that were being played in clubs at around that time, and, having been inspired by them, Mike and Matt wanted to capture their feel then, once they were confident they had that, they moved on”.
Rick's song was not a straight-forward track to work on though. Mike recalls,
"Matt and I spent weeks and weeks on the accompaniment to Never Gonna Give You Up - the longest we had spent on any track. We drove ourselves barmy working on that record. I would go to bed with a tape loop buzzing around my head after 12 hours in the studio. It was torturous! We tried out different grooves because it had to be danceable, accessible and radio friendly. We hunted for bass lines that would dictate the flavour of the track. In the end we hit upon the idea of adapting the bass line rhythm from a 1985 Colonel Abram song called Trapped. We took the basis of the rhythm, which was very syncopated, and it seemed to do the trick".
So with the record done it was set aside and pretty much forgotten about. Rick was signed in principle to RCA who kept on demanding to know when the first single would be ready. "Not quite yet" was the usual reply.
That was until one day in Spring 1987 while walking up the stairs Mike and Pete heard the record being played in one of the offices and asked "Who is that, it sounds great" Being told it was Rick the ball was literally set rolling immediately.
The record was initially put out as part of 'Upcoming Things From PWL' and sent to Capital Radio in a one-minute format, and when Capital started playing it to great reaction the guys were forced to release it quickly.
Released in July the single topped the UK charts for 5 weeks. It also topped the charts in 24 other countries and was the biggest selling single in the UK in 1987. It then went to number one in America in early 1988, where it stayed for 2 weeks. The song won Mike Stock the Ivor Novello Award for most performed work of 1987.
In May 2007, the songs video became the now widely publicised subject of 'Rickrolling', a bait and switch Internet prank, whereby clicking on a web link leads the user to the 'Never Gonna Give You Up' video, despite the fact that the link itself is supposed to relate to an altogether different topic. Within a year, the video had registered more than 13 million views on YouTube, and the man himself actually capitalised on this by making a surprise appearance at the 2008 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade to perform the song in front of a television audience of tens of millions.
In 2008, Rick Astley won the MTV Europe Music Award for Best Act Ever with the song, as a result of collective voting from thousands of people on the internet, due to the phenomenon of Rickrolling.
Ultimately "Never Gonna Give You Up" has almost become the audio version of "the nation's sweetheart" - a song that everyone can admit that they love, no one is ashamed to have it in their collection and a track that does not seem to have any intention of going away.
Not bad for a 30 year old huh?