Retro Review: Rick Astley, “Never Gonna Give You Up”

This post is what happens when you can’t think of an April Fool’s Day joke for your blog.

Astley, now 51, is a British musician whose peak ran from 1987 to 1991, during which he scored eight Top Tens on the UK Singles Chart. “Never Gonna Give You Up” was Astley’s first charting single, and it was a monster hit back in the day, reaching No.1 in twenty-five different countries and becoming the top-selling single of 1987 in the UK. Starting sometime in 2007, however, the song become the focal point of the “rickrolling” prank, where users where tricked into clicking a link to the song’s video under the impression that they were going to see something else. Given the song’s unofficial title as the “Song of the Internet,” and the fact that the Metropolitan trend was leading country music to sound more like 80s pop anyway, I decided to rickroll myself for March 32nd and take an in-depth look at Astley’s signature song.

The song’s production is pretty standard for an 80s dance-pop song. The foundation is provided by an uptempo drum machine and a punchy bass guitar, both of which feature much more complex runs than their counterparts on country tracks. The melody is handled mostly by an electrified string section and punctuated by horn stabs, and while these instruments mostly cede the floor to the beat and some background guitar tones during the verses, their bright tones provide a happy, positive vibe for the song that complements the energy coming from the bass and percussion. If the goal of this song is to raise your spirits and get you on the dance floor, the music is certainly doing its part. My only complaint here is the lack of a proper instrumental, as the music just keeps on pounding out the same old beat even when the vocals pause.

File this one under “comparisons I never thought I’d make:” Astley’s voice bears a passing resemblance to Luke Bryan, minus the latter’s twang. The song keeps Astley in his mid to upper range, but he has a good delivery and even shows off some impressive flow on the “nevergonnagive, nevergonnagive” parts. Most importantly, he demonstrates a ton of vocal charisma, and manages to sound sincere and earnest while also appearing to have a blast singing he song.

Lyrically, there’s nothing groundbreaking here: The narrator is proclaiming his devotion to his special someone, and that he will never hurt or abandon them. (Actually, it might have made a decent country song if it was slower and had some fiddle and steel.) The key for generic love songs like this is sincerity: Is the singer believable enough to make an emotional connection with the listener? The answer here is a definitive yes, as shown by the song’s worldwide impact. While it may come off as a bit cheesy in 2017, the combination of song, singer, and production was a potent one in its heyday, and proved that when Astley said he would never give them up, listeners believed it.

Overall, “Never Gonna Give You Up” is a prime example of just how good 80s music could be, and it deserves better than its current role as the biggest joke on the Internet. I think it’s high time we found a new song to troll people with, and while I cited Keith Urban’s “The Fighter” as a possible candidate earlier, I think I’ve found something better:

Rating: 8/10. Don’t wait until you get rickrolled. Check this song out today!

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