Full name, Richard Paul Astley; born c. 1966, in Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire, England; father sold plants. Addresses: Record company --RCA, c/o 1133 Ave. of the Americas, New York, NY 10036.
When pop singer Rick Astley burst upon the music scene in 1987, his album, Whenever You Need Somebody, debuted in the number one spot on the British charts. He quickly conquered more of the world, his first single--"Never Gonna Give You Up"--rising to the tops of charts in Belgium, Germany, Finland, Denmark, Australia, and the United States. Critics attribute Astley's success to what Edwin Miller in Seventeen labeled his "confident romantic baritone"; David DeNicolo in Glamour called Astley "the little white kid with the big black voice," and concluded that "Never Gonna Give You Up" is "the ultimate in happy pop."
Astley was born in or near 1966, in the small town of Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire, England. He suffered briefly through piano lessons, but was not particularly entranced by the instrument and soon quit. As he told Miller, he "was dragged into the choir, like anybody else who could half sing, and into school plays." But as an adolescent Astley reserved his true musical enthusiasm for the drums, and he formed a band called Give Way with friends when he was about fifteen years old. "We never did play many gigs," he confessed to Miller. "We were too young, and none of us could drive."
After Astley had learned to drive, he played drums for a group named FBI. When FBI found itself playing in small local clubs, Astley found himself writing songs. His fellow band members urged him to fight his shyness and sing them; they liked the results so much that they hired another drummer so Astley could devote himself to vocals. Late in 1985 the production team of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, and Pete Waterman--who also handle artists such as Bananarama and Samantha Fox--were part of one of Astley's audiences. Waterman recounted his reaction in People magazine: "He had a phenomenal voice. It was like hearing a 40-year-old black man while seeing this 19-year-old white pimply kid." Waterman and his partners signed Astley to a contract almost immediately, but they put him through an intensive grooming process before they began working on an album. Astley recalled for Miller: "I'd play one of my songs to them, and they'd say, 'That's good, but don't you think....'"
At last he was ready, and Whenever You Need Somebody was recorded and released. In addition to the aforementioned smash "Never Gonna Give You Up," Astley scored hits with "Together Forever," "It Would Take a Strong, Strong Man," and the title track. Critics had praise for his striking voice, but many complained that the songs lacked substance. Astley, however, is untroubled by their opinion; he explained his own philosophy about his work to Miller: "Popular music should be popular music--lighthearted. Something that you look back on in your thirties and say, 'That was fun.' I don't think politics and pop music mix. I don't think it's right to make people aware of your own views." Similarly, he told People: "I'm not particularly trying to put any messages across. I'm not Peter Gabriel. We can't all be."
Astley released his second album, Hold Me in Your Arms, in 1989; it received a similar critical response. David Hiltbrand of People carped at Stock, Aitken, and Waterman's method of employing "a beat so solid you could balance a herd of elephants on it," but conceded that "Astley's voice is still an intriguing instrument." Nevertheless, the young singer's danceable tunes continue to make him popular with Top Forty music fans. Hits from Hold Me in Your Arms include "She Wants to Dance With Me," and a remake of the Temptations' smash, "Ain't Too Proud to Beg."
by Elizabeth Wenning
Rick Astley's Career
While a teenager played drums in groups, including Give Way and FBI; drove a plant truck; recording artist and concert performer, 1987--.
Rick Astley's Awards
Received Grammy nomination for best new artist.
- Whenever You Need Somebody (includes "Whenever You Need Somebody," "Never Gonna Give You Up," "Together Forever," "It Would Take a Strong, Strong Man," and "When I Fall in Love"), RCA, 1987.
- Hold Me in Your Arms (includes "Hold Me in Your Arms," "She Wants to Dance With Me," "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," "Till Then," "I Don't Want to Be Your Lover," "Dial My Number," "I Don't Wanna Lose Her," "Take Me to Your Heart," and "Giving Up on Love"), RCA, 1989.
- Free RCA, 1991.
- Glamour, August 1988.
- People, February 8, 1988; June 27, 1988; February 20, 1989.
- Rolling Stone, March 23, 1989.
- Seventeen, July 1988.
- Stereo Review, July 1988; May 1989.