Rick Astley was just 21 when his debut single, “Never Gonna Give You Up,” topped the charts around the world. Then, at 27, he walked away, retiring with his wife and baby daughter to the English countryside to live large off his royalties. “I went from being totally unknown and not having a clue to being totally known and still not having a clue,” he says.
Thanks in part to the “rickrolling” phenomenon (which lured millions of unsuspecting clickers into watching a clip of Astley’s debut hit), the now 50-year-old British singer is back with 50, his first U.S. release in 23 years (Oct. 7, BMG). Astley talked to Billboard about some of his life’s most meaningful musical moments.
FIRST ALBUM I BOUGHT WITH MY OWN MONEY: “I know what the first single was — Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.” I was 10 years old, and it just sounded like a space record to me, like someone had made that music on another planet.”
FIRST ALBUM I KNEW ALL THE WORDS TO: “It would be something like Genesis’ Selling England by the Pound. ‘Me, I’m just a lawnmower — you can tell me by the way I walk.’ A bit weird, but that’s what happens when you have older siblings. You listen to and get influenced by a lot of music, even if you don’t want to. So I knew this one note for note, whether I wanted to or not.”
FIRST CONCERT: “Camel at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester [England]. They were a progressive rock band — we’re talking flute solos here! Pretty heavy going for a 10 or 11-year-old. They had an album called The Snow Goose, and there was a huge screen behind them that showed projections of snow geese and pyramids. It blew my mind.”
FIRST SONG I EVER SANG: “As far as popular music, it was probably “So Lonely” by The Police. When I was around 15 I was in a cover band, and even though I was the drummer I sang a few of the songs. This one was a bit of a bitch, to be honest, because playing drums while singing is not the easiest thing in the world to do. And then playing what Stewart Copeland plays while singing is another matter altogether.”
FIRST HIT: “The thing about “Never Gonna Give You Up” is it was No. 1 pretty much everywhere, and that’s a weird thing to deal with. Because if your first song is your biggest, there’s nowhere to go! It would have been nice to have a No. 18, then a No. 3 and then, bang, a No. 1! It didn’t happen that way. It has been a big deal in my life, but for most people it’s just one of those tunes that comes on and you either sing along to it or you go, ‘Oh, my God, turn that shit off!’ It’s a song. It doesn’t mean anything.”
FIRST ON MY PLAYLIST: “I really like Adele. I know, everybody else does too, but she’s got a lot to like. I saw her first in front of 400 people, and the next time was in front of 20,000. And she was the exact same person. I respect that.”
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 15 issue of Billboard Magazine.