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How Rick rolled back to the top

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Before we begin, let’s make one thing clear: You did not leave Rick Astley. Rick Astley left you.

He is not just another Johnny Hates Jazz-When In Rome-Kajagoogoo-style 1980s flash-in-the-skillet who fell out of favor like a faded pair of Zubazs or an empty bottle of Bartles & Jaymes.


The truth is that even though Astley, who performs at the House of Blues Saturday, pledged that he was “Never Gonna Give You Up,” in 1987, he essentially gave you up.

The earnestly ginger crooner took over the world at the age of 21 with that hit. A healthy string of many others followed. In the late 1980s his buoyant pop, engineered by the powerhouse production team of Stock Aikten Waterman, steamrolled the charts, particularly in his native England.

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But by 1993 he had enough. He hung up his blazer and mock turtleneck and called it a day. In the most sensible rock star decision ever made, Astley retired at 27.

“I don’t mean to be crass about it, but I made a lot of money,” he said on the phone from Los Angeles last month. “So I thought, ‘I don’t have to worry about paying a bill ever again. I’ve got a beautiful young daughter, I’ve got a fantastic wife. I can do almost anything.’ ”

What Astley wanted to do most of all was to be a stay-at-home dad. After his retirement he focused his energy on raising his daughter, Emilie. He doesn’t sound at all rueful that he stepped away from the stage.


“If you look at pop, not many people have 25-year careers,” he said. “You get a few years, and that’s kind of it. I’m not sure I could, or really wanted to, sustain that.”

Before retirement Astley abandoned bubblegum pop and the producers who had crafted his early hits. That same production team was famous for its work with Dead or Alive (“You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)”), Bananarama (“Venus”), and Kylie Minogue (“I Should Be So Lucky”). Astley, to his credit, left the teenagers aside and grew into adulthood with more soulful ballads such as “Cry for Help,” which reached the US Top 10 in 1991.

But in true pragmatic Rick Astley style, even a change in musical direction was not enough of an incentive to keep him in the business.

“I’ve never been in love with the fame thing,” he said. “It’s fantastic, and it’s great if you can use it to your advantage but, on an everyday level, it’s no good when you want to go to Starbucks.”

But a funny thing happened to Astley in 2007. It’s called Rickrolling. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? The phenomenon involved pranksters creating links that, instead of delivering you to a promised website, brought you to the 1987 video of Astley shimmying to “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Tens of millions of people have reported falling victim to Rickrolling.

Ten years later, and 30 years after the song hit the charts, Rickrolling and the song is still stubbornly wedged in pop culture. First lady Melania Trump (accidently?) quoted from the song during her speech at the Republican National Convention. Last month Boston Mayor Marty J. Walsh Rickrolled conservative media personality Howie Carr.

It would be easy for Astley to be offended by it all, but instead he offers a verbal shoulder shrug.

“To be honest, I’m all right with it,” he said. “I’m almost embarrassed because I thought surely Rickrolling must be finished by now. For me it’s the song that keeps giving. There’s probably a lot of managers and record labels dreaming of an artist to get Rickrolling going.”

As his daughter entered her teens — she was 1 when he quit the business — Astley slowly emerged from retirement. For the record, he didn’t begin performing again to capitalize on Rickrolling. First he played a few live shows in Japan, and then began venturing around Europe. It was the first time his daughter had seen her father perform. This led him into his home studio to record the album “50,” his first in more than two decades.

The album was released last year in the UK, and after swearing off music, Astley found himself at the top of the charts again. The album hit No. 1. He promises, however, that “50” — the title signifies his age when he recorded it — is not his musical midlife crisis.

“Some guys get second wives or Harley Davidsons,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, by the way. But this was a project I gave myself for a birthday present.”

He had pledged he wouldn’t tour the United States until he had new material to sing, and now that he’s here, he sounds surprised and pleased at the reception he’s received.

“There’s a bit of empathy,” he said. “People are saying ‘Yeah, there’s life in the old boy yet.’ I think warmth is probably the right word, and I don’t think I ever expected I would feel it like this again.”


At the House of Blues, Bostron, Saturday at 7 p.m. Tickets: $40-$93.

Christopher Muther can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther

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