The Story Behind Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”
When he entered the music studio at the shy age of 19, Rick Astley had no idea he would become a monolith of meme culture decades later. A short documentary by Vice dives into the origins of the singer’s hit “Never Gonna Give You Up” with interviews from the team that created it. It also provides information on how the song and iconic music video was dropped and re– jettisoned – into pop culture prominence.
In the small town of Newton-le-Willows, Astley’s band was a local hit in the mid-1980s. After performing in a Battle of the Bands competition, one of the judges, famed producer Pete Waterman, contacted Astley to sign a solo recording contract. Astley was worried at first; he didn’t want to leave his group behind. Eventually, however, Astley accepted the deal and moved to London to work for famed trio of producers Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman. Astley says he was then “pushed to the back of the line” and ended up working as a gopher at the studio. Aitken and Stock hadn’t even heard him sing. Astley began to wonder why he signed.
Looking back, Astley now admits he wasn’t confident enough at that time to start making music. Waterman says he wanted the budding young singer to have time to work with the equipment and learn how to produce, which would put him at ease. Finally, after about a year in the studio, Astley found himself in front of a microphone and, unsurprisingly, his unique, deep tone blew the producers away. They got to work writing him a song.
One fateful morning, Astley assumed that Waterman had had a fight with his girlfriend; Waterman was on the phone screaming, abruptly hung up and dumped him. Astley innocently said, “Yeah, but you’re never gonna give it up, are you?” Inspired, Waterman raced to the studio to release what we now know was the hit single, “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The team worked tirelessly to produce it and everyone felt like they were creating a big hit. Once they pressed the master, however, the trio of producers failed to see its potential and pushed it aside. Stock says, “We weren’t sure what we had. How stupid can you get? »
After a while, the team sent snippets of the track to DJ MixMag magazine for distribution to readers. One day, while driving, Waterman heard a familiar voice on Capital Radio, London’s biggest independent radio station. Astley’s song became a hit and quickly found itself on mainstream radio, playing over and over. “Never Gonna Give You Up” was number one on all genre charts. People started asking, who is Rick Asley?
Music videos were still in their infancy at this time and the team had no idea how to approach creating one. Astley recounts feeling vulnerable and unprepared, saying they basically put the singer in front of a camera and let him roll. When asked where the famous awkward dance came from, Astley admits: “Afraid.” He adds: “They had professional dancers for God’s sake. I just hung around a bit. And while the music video was charming and amateurish, the video only added to Astley’s growing popularity.
While stardom was fun for a while, Astley admits being catapulted into overnight stardom was too much for him. He then quit music at age 27 to focus on his family and leave fame behind. But while on vacation in Italy in 2007, Astley received an email from his friend with a link.
Once Astley clicked on the link, a Youtube video of her “Never Gonna Give You Up” music video appeared. Astley swiped his friend, and his friend replied with another link. Falling for it again, Astley clicked to see his ego writhing nervously and hearing those unforgettable synth chords. The singer asked what was going on and his friend explained that he had just been rickrolled.
Inspired by the Duckroll meme and having been enveloped in internet culture, young military aviator Sean Cotter knew he wanted to make his mark on the internet. One day, he was casually looking for a list of songs that were popular in the year he was born, 1987, and found Astley’s hit single. After watching the music video, Cotter knew he wanted to make a meme out of it. He started posting bait and switch links, all with fake titles and descriptions, all leading back to “Never Gonna Give You Up”. The trend has grown exponentially online. Once again, Astley found himself in the limelight.
As the English singer left music behind to leave fame behind, Astley took the resurgence of his debut single as a bright spot. “I embraced the rickroll thing and joined in,” he says. “I’m not ashamed to admit it, I got paid to do stuff with it, did I?” Aitken observes, “It became a song and a joke too, I guess, at the same time.” Waterman then concludes, “Well, what a wonderful joke to be part of…Whoever it is, thank you very much.”
The music video recently surpassed the monumental view count of a billion and the song has over 600 million plays on Spotify alone. Cotter claims the 15-year-old rickrolling meme has even seen a resurgence in recent years, and the popularity of Astley’s recent AAA publicity video seems to prove it. “All that’s really happened is that I think the song just found its place in the universe, and the universe is the internet now,” Astley says.
Watch the short documentary below and catch up on Rick Astley’s latest music on his website here.
A short documentary by Vice delves into the origins of Rick Astley’s hit “Never Gonna Give You Up.” It provides information on how the song and the iconic music video were dropped and re– jettisoned – into pop culture prominence.
Rick Astley: Instagram | Twitter | ICT Tac
h/t: [Open Culture]
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