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Apr 10

RICK ASTLEY – “Never Gonna Give You Up”

Popular67 comments • 6,587 views

#597, 29th August 1987, video

It’s rare for a song’s meaning to change so utterly so long after its release – usually it takes an artist’s death to shift the public’s relationship to a record. But Rick Astley is still thankfully alive, and has reacted to his song’s glorious second life with a jovial – if bemused – good humour. Rickrolling – the practise of hiding links to the “Never Gonna Give You Up” video under apparently innocuous clickthroughs – has transformed his most famous song, turned it into an icon of surprise and the only genuine comedy record on this list. But more than that – rickrolling marked pop’s absorption into internet culture. For music, it’s the equivalent of TIME’s 2006 “Person Of The Year: You” award – except behind that shiny mirror is the benevolent face of a young man with a big voice who’s no stranger to lovin’.

Assuming you trusted that “more” link long enough to reach it, let me offer this explanation. The promise of the social Internet is a democratic promise – not only can anyone create content, but anyone can remix, curate or alter content too. The rickrolling phenomenon applied this principle to the fabric of the web itself – suddenly links, the architecture of interne use, became zones of subversion. Suddenly you didn’t have to be able to remix, you could create an experience simply by the sly deployment of Astley.

The use of the song – the terrible suddenness of Rick – made us ask hard questions about trust, content, the complacency of our expectations. If your illegal download of a leaked and stolen new album turns out to be full of Astley, do you really have the right to be outraged? And when the web group anonymous used “Never Gonna Give You Up” to troll Scientology members rickrolling took on a political dimension. It became a distributed version of punk, and more entryist than New Pop could ever dream of being.

I haven’t talked about the original song or its context in this review because they’ve been thoroughly erased. Whatever the merits of Astley’s recording, its resurrection as a popular everysong is what should concern us now. After all, at the birth of rock’n’roll what made “Rock Around The Clock” so important wasn’t the music but the riots – kids ripping up seats and partying in the aisles, using the music the way they wanted to. The reclamation of “Never Gonna Give You Up” is a moment of equal cultural weight. “Never Gonna Give You Up” is the Campbell’s Soup Can of the web 2.0 era, made remarkable through repetition. Hail hail Rick’n’Roll! 10

UPDATE:

Obviously, as soon as I realised that this record was next up and that today was April 1st, the above review wrote itself (the clickthrough video will remain as a tribute – you really don’t need to see Rick again.). Do I mean it? Some of it, certainly – maybe not the “Rick Around The Clock” stuff but rickrolling has transformed the song; internet pranks and lulz culture are interesting; I did enjoy writing the phrase “the terrible suddenness of Rick”.

As Tracer says in the comments (#30), there’s a problematic side to Rickrolling when done lazily, a boring and normative fear of naffness. But set against this is the song’s marvellous elasticity as a tool for pranking: the shrieks of entitled horror from Animal Collective fans when a leak of that band’s album turned out to be 11 Rickrolls, the smugness of a presenter on Christ TV announcing they’d rumbled an attempted roll and people shouldn’t bother sending any more in, minutes before reading out a viewer’s prayer about how God would never run around and desert you. The original gotcha! purpose of the Rickroll is long exhausted but there’s occasional life in it yet.

Also I needed to write something about rickrolls to get out from under them and hear the song again. Is it a ten? No, sorry, and I can’t in all honesty give it more than Mel and Kim either. But it’s a good, doughty piece of pop. Astley’s rich, mannered singing doesn’t quite fit with the pumping background, which gives it a slight incongruity to start with and lets his voice stand out even more. Also, for all his natural talent there’s a galumphing earnestness about his delivery which keeps it likeable – you never for a second think he’s spinning his girl a line; this is one of the nice guys. As a record, it’s had immortality thrust upon it, but for all their bone-deep cynicism, the perpetrators of its second fame couldn’t have picked a warmer song.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    Spectre5299 on 2 Apr 2010 #

    I would just like to start this post off by extending a friendly hello to all the Popular regulars. I have been a regular reader of Popular since ’81, but I have chose to remain a lurker until now. I love the intelligent and thoughtful pop music critiques that are offered on Popular, and look forward to contributing to many posts from here on out. I am still a year and a half away from my stork-delivery to the pop chart canon. I am from the States mind you, so I do enjoy hearing many of the songs featured that made no dent on the U.S. charts whatsoever. I credit Popular with introducing me to the sheer genius of such songs as “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” and “Uptown Top Ranking”. I guess ol’ Rick is as good a place to start as any. I have always been quite fond of the song (though I love most of the SAW production team’s work) even before the rick-roll phenomena took off. I offer no insight onto why this particular song was chosen for the meme, but merely why this song evokes a positive reaction in me. I love the immediateness of it. It announces itself straight from the beginning and never really lets up. I find Astley’s soulful bellow a nice accompaniment to that trademark SAW sound. By the time the female backing singers come in, I feel completely overwhelmed (in a good way) by the whole thing, and this earworm has firmly settled into my conscience. Rick Astley also scored with “Together Forever” a US #1 but not bunny-bait, as it stalled out at #2 in the UK Singles chart. I find Together another fine dance song. Not as good (or iconic) as this particular song, but a good song none the same. I don’t see it as any personal pop milestone for me however, and more pop triumphs are on the horizon. So this one gets an 8.

  2. 52
    Izzy on 2 Apr 2010 #

    Hi Spectre, lovely to have you on board.

    You touch on Rick’s subsequent success. I looked him up and was surprised to find so much of it. I remember ‘Cry For Help’ being pushed as a cathartic return from aeons in the desert – this about four years after his début hit! At the time this seemed like amusing, but admirable, stickability from a born one-hit-wonder. At twenty years’ remove, however, it looks more like a culmination to The Astley Years.

  3. 53
    Izzy on 2 Apr 2010 #

    Is Rick rich?

  4. 54
    Conrad on 2 Apr 2010 #

    #49, listening to records produced by SAW kind of gives the game away – and thanks for the explanation at #28

    #51, how wonderful to be discovering records like “Hit Me…” and “Uptown Top Ranking”, I’m jealous!

  5. 55
    H. on 2 Apr 2010 #

    @53: According to WIkipedia he’s sold 40 million records worldwide, so I imagine the answer is “Yes”.

  6. 56
    Billy Smart on 2 Apr 2010 #

    TOTPWatch: Rick Astley performed ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ on four occasions. The Christmas show we’ll come to in the fullness of time;

    13 August 1987. Also in the studio that week were; Def Leppard, Wet Wet Wet and Psuedo Echo. Simon Bates & Peter Powell were the hosts.

    27 August 1987. Also in the studio that week were; Then Jericho, Wet Wet Wet, Black and T’Pau. Gary Davies was the host.

    17 September 1987. Also in the studio that week were; Def Leppard, House Master Boyz & The Rude Boy Of House, Cliff Richard, The Communards and Karel Fialka. Mike Smith and Gary Davies were the hosts.

  7. 57
    Jimmy the Swede on 2 Apr 2010 #

    This snippet from last year’s Wimbledon coverage is pretty disturbing really:

    LONDON — Tennis star Andy Roddick admitted he had warmed up for his first outing at Wimbledon with a hangover and on Thursday he was left red-faced again when his wife revealed his dubious taste in music.

    While the American’s supposed night of drinking was nothing more than a night out in London to see the film “The Hangover,” he could not escape the embarrassment of being exposed as a fan of British 1980s pop star Rick Astley.

    Roddick had written on his Twitter feed that he was going to ban his swimsuit model wife, Brooklyn, from bringing her iPod into the kitchen.

    “Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, I feel like it’s a 24-hour loop of the Disney Channel,” he wrote.

    She retaliated by saying: “One of his favorites is Rick Astley (enough said). He knows a few ‘N Sync dances, and he LOVES Kelly Clarkson. I promise he is far worse.”

    Quizzed on his taste in music, Roddick told reporters: “What do you want me to say? I said I wasn’t proud, but I’m not going to lie to anybody. I busted my wife on some of her … music. She brought up Rick Astley. I can’t deny it. It’s in my iPod. I bet it’s in your iPod, too, so shut up.”

    Not in the Swede’s fucking ipod, Tinker Bell!!

  8. 58
    Erithian on 2 Apr 2010 #

    Thinking back 19 Popular-years to Tom’s approval of “Sugar Sugar” for cramming in so many hooks, you also have to acknowledge that this record is a superb exercise in marketing a sound and a song to its target audience. The idea of front-loading the chorus melody during the introduction to establish an earworm, we’ve discussed before and will revisit sundry times in the future; but it’s the lyric that forms part of a continuum running from 50s teen idols through Donny Osmond to Justin Bieber (do I get the prize for being the first to mention him on Popular?!)

    A good-looking bloke with a smooth crooner’s voice singing to you about giving you a full commitment, never gonna desert you etc – it’s as smooth and teen-friendly as you could wish. And I seem to remember a barely-spoken feeling that in a decade where promiscuous sex had been shown to be deadly, a song as chaste as this was a guarenteed winner with parents as well.

  9. 59
    swanstep on 2 Apr 2010 #

    @58, erithian. I hadn’t thought about NGGYU as having a kind of counter-programming, chaste appeal for the times, but maybe you are right. As it happens, a very vivid memory for me from this exact time is of the incredibly over the top, terrifying, AIDS-related PSAs that ran on Aussie tv and also screened out before movies, e.g. this. These ads were very controversial (were widely thought to be counter-productive), so they only lasted a couple of months IIRC, but they definitely had an impact (even as people laughed about them) and captured part of the temper of the times (at least if you were in a major, hedonistic metro-area like Sydney).

  10. 60
    Jimmy the Swede on 2 Apr 2010 #

    I take Erithian’s point about the good intentions this otherwise risible train-wreck of a record engenders. Rick is sho’ nuff a sweet looking boy and perhaps could take his pick of the nubies. Commitment from this lad would have impressed girlie and parents of girlie alike. Perhaps Waterman should stayed in the real world and gifted this thing to The Proclaimers instead.

  11. 61
    Billy Smart on 3 Apr 2010 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Some of Rick Astley’s UK TV appearances;

    THE BRITISH RECORD INDUSTRY AWARDS: with The Who, The Bee Gees, T’Pau, Terence Trent D’Arby, Bananarama, Rick Astley, Chris Rea (1988)

    THE LAST RESORT WITH JONATHAN ROSS: with Steve Nieve & The Playboys, Rowland Rivron, Tama Janowitz, Jon Cryer, Rick Astley (1988)

    LIVE FROM THE PALLADIUM: with Dionne Warwick, Ronnie Corbett, Rick Astley, Erasure, Dave Lee (1988)

    THE O ZONE: with Capella, Wet Wet Wet, Rick Astley (1993)

    THE ROYAL VARIETY PERFORMANCE: with Ronnie Corbett, Russ Abbot, Bruce Forsyth, A-Ha, Rick Astley, Bananarama, Jean Boht, Gilly Coman, Nick Conway, Hilary Crowson (1988)

    THE SMASH HITS POLL WINNERS PARTY: with Phillip Schofield, Yazz, Wet Wet Wet, Climie Fisher, Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Rick Astley, Jane Wiedlin, Brother Beyond, Bananarama, Bros (1988)

    WOGAN: with Rick Astley, Michael Crawford, Jonathan King, Claire Moore, Tony Rust, Jacqueline Stephenton, Diane Walker (1987)

    WOGAN: with Rick Astley, Victor Spinetti, Sheila Steafel (1989)

    WOGAN: with Simon & Lucy Weston, Rick Astley, John Bird, Alfred Molina (1991)

  12. 62
    MikeMCSG on 5 Apr 2010 #

    #61 Billy, was that BRITS appearance the one where he won an award towards the end of the programme and was making his way to the stage when some BPI exec ran on to take his trophy and introduce The Who leaving poor Rick stranded ?

  13. 63
    wichitalineman on 9 Apr 2010 #

    Erithian at 58, I take your point but this had been going on for a while, most obviously with Jermaine Stewart’s We Don’t Have To… (Take Our Clothes Off To Have A Good Time), a no.2 from 1986 when people were SO SCARED of sex that they had to amend the title to something stumpy and silly.

    I always thought Rick was a bit of a Plain Jane, a teddy bear at best, which bears your sex-free family favourite theory out.

    Together Forever was the ring-a-ding smash for me, but possibly just because this got so over-exposed. The fact that everyone thought Rick had such a Barry White-like voice at the time (me included) is just weird – the illusion didn’t extend beyond this single, he just sounded like ‘Ruddy Big Pig’ Astley from the sequel onwards.

  14. 64
    Brooksie on 17 Apr 2010 #

    Always thought this was one of SAW’s best. The fact that it lifted from ‘Trapped’ helped, but for me it’s the strings that sell it. Liked it then and like it now. I don’t mind being Rickrolled at all.

  15. 65
    swanstep on 3 Oct 2012 #

    Mad Men “doing” this song.

  16. 66
    punctum on 9 Jan 2015 #

    TPL on the album. No rolls included.

  17. 67
    hectorthebat on 10 Feb 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 29

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