English soul singer Rick Astley remembers the exact moment he wanted to be a pop star.
“I was on a school trip to a big house in the country, where we would do projects and blah, blah, blah,” Astley says via telephone from England. “On Thursday, we watched ‘Top of the Pops,’ and Depeche Mode was on it. All the girls just reacted to it in a certain way.
“I said, ‘Yep. That’s what I want to do.’”
Astley had that effect on women since the ’80s, when he scored hits with “Never Gonna Give You Up,” “Together Forever” and “It Would Take a Strong, Strong Man.” He’s once again become hip, thanks to the rave reviews he’s received for his eighth album “50,” his first U.S. release since 1993’s “Body & Soul.” In the United Kingdom, it hit No. 1.
“Hitting No. 1 was freaky to be honest,” he says with a laugh. “It was a bit weird. I’m especially proud, though, because I played all the instruments, I wrote all the songs, I produced it.
“I feel a bit more invested in the songs because I literally made that record behind my kitchen in a studio I have there. I’m at a place in my life where I’m not relying on it becoming a hit. It won’t kill me if it doesn’t become a hit, either. It’s just new music that I really enjoyed making.”
His live shows—some of which include him covering AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” with him on drums—have garnered just has positive reviews. Astley admits he’s surprised at how fans have embraced him once again. The time to really strike, he says, would have been 10 years ago, when he was the subject of a viral internet meme called “rickrolling.” In this prank, web users were tricked into seeing the video for “Never Gonna Give You Up” when they follow a link teasing to something different.
“It hasn’t done me any harm,” he says with a laugh. “In a bizarre way, it put me in people’s consciousness in a very small way. All of that helps.
“But it comes down to me wanting to make a record under my own terms, for the fun of it. People would tell me, ‘It’s time to get off your ass and make a new record.’ That eventually made me feel confident enough to make one. It’s not about feeling brave enough to do it. You have to be willing to fail. I think that goes for a lot of things in life. If you can expect that, then when you get over that point, you can do something you really want to do—like make a new record.”
Astley last came to Arizona to attend a friend’s wedding in Sedona, but will return on Sunday, January 22, for a seated show at the Marquee Theatre.
“I’ll be doing all the old hits,” he says. “I’m afraid they’d take me out and lynch me if I didn’t. I retired for a very long time and didn’t sing those songs. I only started doing them again 10 years ago. I’ve got good memories of those times.
“Music does that for everybody, without making us feel like old people. It’s nice to be transported back to moments in our life with music, or a movie or by seeing an old friend. I get that. When I see bands from when I was growing up, I’m desperate for them to sing those songs that mean something.”
So what brings Astley back?
“I’m a big fan of Crowded House,” he says. “That’s probably the band that I’ve seen the most live. ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over,’ that’s my and my wife’s song. I have the lyrics written into the engagement ring.
“When I hear certain records of theirs, it takes me back. It’s not how we met, but they were the records we were listening to a lot when we got together.”
Rick Astley, The Marquee Theatre, 730 N. Mill Avenue, Tempe, 480.829.0607, luckymanonline.com, 6:30 p.m. Sunday, January 22, $35-$50.