Picture the scene: a salubrious hotel suite, sometime in I 989. littered with bodies. One of them has stopped breathing and turned blue. but none of the assorted musicians. politicians and expensive hookers seem to notice or care; an A erosmith CD belts out at punishing volume. but no one responds to that either; the television is gone. jerked out ofits fittin gs and off the balcony many hours. or days. ago; a half-inch master tape has been unwound and wrapped around the light fittings. like tinsel; mirrors have been tornfrom the walls and lie in a mess of crunched -up sil ver paper. Amid the debris. a naked. unshaven Rick Astley stares without comprehension at the doorway. his arm spasmodically ﬂailing a riding crop against the lithe Brazilian model beneath ltim. as if he has no clear idea any more of what he 's doing. or what he expected to get out of it in the first place.
As the Sun photographer'sﬂash bounces oﬂpupils the size of grapefruits. Rick blinks. and understanding begins to dawn in the dint recesses ofhis brain. Very slowly. a tear trickles down to lit/uer the white powder caked against his top lip. The game is up.
It‘s a horrible thought. and one you wouldn't wish on anyone. bar certain members of the Cabinet and the odd evangelist. (‘ertainly not the fresh-faced boy from Newton-le-Willows who recorded the biggest-selling British single of last year. and who appears to have escaped the wrath directed against assembly-line pop merchants Stock. Aitken & Waterman (who can count among their other million-sellers Kylie Minogue. Samantha Fox and the current edition of Bananarama) by virtue of his boy-next-door looks. unassuming presence and staggering voice.
It was Mark Sinker. reviewing the new Stock. Aitken & Waterman Hit Factory 2 in Melody Maker the other week. that forced the awful. undeniable truth under my nose: ‘Everyone hates SAW. or says they do (they said the same about Abba once. ofcourse. the poor dishonest dears).‘
It‘s quite true. ofcourse. which means that one day Rick Astley will claim his rightful place in the firmament. Listening to his first LP again. only a year after spurning it like a rotting washed-up seal. I can‘t deny that the opening salvo of ‘Never Gonna Give You Up'. ‘Whenever You Need Somebody" and ‘Together Forever‘ back-to-back is a show-stopping triple-header of late Eighties pop. Stock. Aitken & Waterman may have been responsible for some of the tawdriest and nastiest records of the last few years. but those three singles are superb pop. of a kind that will be remembered for years to come.
In the meantime. Rick must put up with the sneering of the art- and style-conscious rock weeklies. which disregard SAW. the most adored and formidable pop machine around. in favour of Eastern European noise sculptors and outlaw
How does an innocuous. fresh-faced youth once described as ‘too ordinary to be a pop star‘ manage to acquire fame to the degree that Rick Astley has? Alastair Mabbott profiles — as far as possible —the singer. and examines what he. as a phenomenon. reveals about the music business.
rappers. This shouldn’t bother the Lad too much — Abba got the same treatment when the ‘inkies‘ could look no further than (iong and Steve Ilillage — but by all accounts his treatment at the Smash Hits Award Winners Party in the Albert Hall last month upset him badly.
Having been asked along to do a turn. and knowing his popularity with the teens. Rick expected to be named Best Male Singer. Instead he discovered that he was the Worst Dressed Person in pop. and was not. as the tabloids reported. amused. The insidiously grinning ringmaster. Philip Schofield of Children‘s BBC.
dared not even face Astley as he put the boot into his erstwhile co-habitee of the Smash Hits front cover. The award was presented via (iary (ilitter — who would turn his own funeral into a sparkling showbiz triumph — who then burned the offending garments in effigy. The papers had Rick weeping. but he needn't have worried. After all. who can remember who actually did win the Best Male Singer trophy that day?
'I'hat‘s easy to say. but the poor guy must be a candidate for creeping paranoia. Being refused entrance to the Top ofthe Pops studio for
looking too ordinary to be a pop star is not a good omen. by anyone‘s standards.
He could be seen to have been snubbed at this year’s BI’I Awards as well. when. just as Rick was announced best singer of the year the Powers That Be decided there was no time for him to stand up and collect it. The man who would be (Nat) King ((‘ole)could only stop in his tracks and crush the acceptance speech back into his pocket as the signal was given for The Who to crank up one of their golden oldies on the other stage. The Lad stormed out as the former future of rock'n'roll sleepwalked their way through their memories.
liven the bitter comments from his former band. FBI. that he had sold out on them by wall/mg off in the land of expense accounts with Pete Waterman. were little more than the bitching that goes on in every music scene in the world. Anyway. Rick now says. a certain newspaper had paid them to bitch -- and what could come more naturally to pop groups. except maybe playing music‘.’
The singing Steve Davis or ll1(’_llll’l'_\' dice on pop 's dash/ward." There‘s little for the media to get a good toothy grip on as far as Rick Astley's concerned —— well. nothing really. In the year he worked as a teaboy at the Stock Aitken & Waterman hit factory before ‘.\’ever (ionna (iive You ITp‘ was released. he rubbed shoulders with a lot of people. famous and otherwise. hardly any of whom remember him at all. It‘s entirely possible that the newspaper had to remind the remaining members of I’Bl that they had once made use of a slightly chubby red-haired singer.
I Iis sexlessness is on a par with Donny Osmond. all puppy love and puppy fat. The mums like him for his choirboy looks. Ever aware of his responsibilities towards his teenage fans. Rick has spurned the inevitable offers of sponsorship from breweries. and plumped for tour support from that great institution. Vimto.
The same thing rears its head every time Rick Astley is mentioned. either sympathetically or dismissively; that he's no more than a puppet. with Pete Waterman pulling the strings. Rick naturally dislikes this kind of talk about his benefactor. Not only would Rick still be unknown without Waterman and his partners. but SAW have been more than fair to him. and given him the benefit of their combined experience. It's just a fact oflife that when Rick tried his hand at writing a single. the result was less shining than the sure hand ofSAW. IIis fortunes. for better or worse. are linked with theirs. 'I‘he singing Steve Davis or the furry dice on pop's dashboard? Rick Astley may be fed up with being called a puppet. but he knows there’s worse places than where he is now.
Rick x’lstley sings at Edinburgh 's Playhouse Theatre on Thursday 8. His new L P ‘l 1 old Me In Your A rms' is available on RCA Records.
12 The List 25 Nov - 8 Dec 1988