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Rick Astley - Playlist: The Very Best Of Rick Astley

This is not an objective CD review; it is my liner notes essay published in the July 2008 RCA/Legacy release Playlist: The Very Best Of Rick Astley. Available for view on this website for a limited time only. Buy the CD!

Playlist: The Very Best Of Rick Astley
By Mike Cimicata

Looks, oh how they can deceive. When an RCA Records executive first heard “Never Gonna Give You Up” in 1987, it sounded like a hit. It just seemed so unlikely that the track’s powerful vocals could have emanated from the lungs of a young, clean-cut English recording studio assistant named Rick Astley.

Similarly, when two decades later more than 18 million internet users clicked on an innocent-seeming YouTube link they received via emails, instant messages, and blog posts from friends and colleagues, most had no idea they had fallen victim to the playful internet hoax that created a new fervor surrounding that same song.

The prank known as Rickrolling—pretending to send a link to some particular video to a person you know, but actually sending the URL for “Never Gonna Give You Up” instead—reached a fever pitch in the spring of 2008. The respected polling organization Survey USA took a moment away from tracking voter trends in the U.S. presidential primaries and reported that at least six percent of Americans 18 and older said they had been Rickrolled. Factor in all the victims too young to respond to the survey, and it equals a genuine, if irreverent cultural movement.

It’s a rediscovery no one could have predicted for a slice of ‘80s pop that Stock/Aitken/Waterman, the songwriting/production team who discovered Rick and gave him the track, claimed to have created in about three and a half minutes—the exact running time of the track, incidentally. Whether that story of the song’s origins is accurate or not, what’s undeniable is that “Never Gonna Give You Up” ultimately went to #1 in 17 countries.

Astley’s debut album Whenever You Need Somebody yielded another transatlantic #1 smash, the energetic “Together Forever.” That single was followed in the U.S. by the Top 10 hit “It Would Take A Strong, Strong Man,” a slick slice of poppy soul. Rick also enjoyed a U.K. #2 single with his version of Nat King Cole’s “When I Fall In Love.”

Hold Me In Your Arms, Rick’s second album, found him in the Top 10 again, this time with a self-penned hit, the catchy, Billy Oceanic “She Wants To Dance With Me.” Rick parted company with the Stock/Aitken/Waterman machine on his 1991 album Free and still made a splash on the charts, most notably with the Top 10 hit “Cry For Help.” After another RCA album in 1993, Rick essentially left music behind, issuing only one more album in the ensuing 15 years.

The Rickroll phenomenon further cemented Rick Astley’s pop culture icon status, while introducing the artist to a new generation of potential fans. The constant presence of Rick Astley on YouTube spread to other media, exciting and bewildering not just fans but even Astley himself. “I don’t mean to belittle it, because I still think it’s a great pop song,” Astley told David Sarno in The Los Angeles Times. “But it’s a pop song, do you know what I mean?”