Rick Astley burst onto the pop scene 1987 seemingly out of nowhere when his debut single, the feel-good, earnest dance anthem “Never Gonna Give You Up,” grabbed the No. 1 spot in 25 countries, including the US and UK. In just a matter of weeks, Astley — then only 21 — traded his small town outside of Manchester, England for center stage on a global scale. And he never gave it up, either, even when he broke the pop and dance expectations thrust upon him a few years later and turned to soul.
As fate would have it, “Never Gonna Give You Up” never gave up either. Two decades after its release, the song “Rickrolled” its way back into our hearts and the cultural conversation when it became a mid-2000s internet sensation. Fast forward to today, and the song’s video is creeping close to an astounding 1.2 billion views on YouTube. Perhaps even more impressive, at age 50 in 2016, Astley again topped the UK charts with his aptly titled album 50. While continuing to record new material, he’s now sold over 40 million albums worldwide. Safe to say, Astley is no one-hit-wonder: He is a full-fledged artistic and cultural icon.
In this 11th episode of The Story Behind the Song podcast, Astley joins host Peter Csathy to talk about “Never Gonna Give You Up,” a song that his production team wrote in studio in real time and went on to become a global phenomenon. Astley also discusses a personal choice from his catalog: “Cry for Help.” Penned by Astley for his 1991 album, Free, this soul track reflects the artist’s vulnerability and generous heart, an openness that helped it reach the top 10 on both the US and UK pop charts.
Speaking as he prepared for his upcoming “MixTape 2022 Tour” alongside New Kids on the Block, Salt-N-Pepa, and En Vogue (tickets for which can be found here), Astley discussed his journey from breakout pop star to meme to respected soul artist. He also touched on his work putting on free concerts to benefit the UK’s National Health System.
Listen to Rick Astley reveal the story behind “Never Gonna Give You Up” above, or watch the full interview below. Don’t forget to like and subscribe to The Story Behind the Song wherever you get your podcasts, and follow the Consequence Podcast Network for updates on all our series. You can also keep up with host Peter Csathy on Twitter @pcsathy and check out his company Creative Media.