Wonderful You – Rick Astley

rick

Pay attention.

Listen carefully.

I don’t want to have to repeat any of this.

Everybody settled?

Good.

Here we go then.

My first true love…obsession…in the world of pop music was Richard Paul Astley.

Everybody get that?

He wasn’t a crush like I had on Anna Wallace…or Zoe…or Emma…or, well you get the idea.

This was the love that dare not speak its name.

When a young man sees in another, older, man the person that he wishes he could be.

Idolatry.

Hero worship.

Like every other fourteen year old with no real friends, no ability to play sport, no real academic prowess, acne ridden and awkward I had turned to books and music as a means of escaping whatever it was that I was doing that wasn’t living.

I had some of my dad’s old records.

I was particularly fond of a Kool and the Gang compilation and a Beach Boys compilation.

Oh, I also used to listen to “I’m a Boy” by The Who on heavy rotation because it sounded so dangerous and weird and all sorts of other stuff I didn’t really understand.

I had some records of my own too like Erasure’s The Circus…which I maintain to this day is one of the greatest albums ever recorded by anyone at any point…ever.

There might have been a Now That’s What I Call Music… floating around in my collection too.

I’ve just checked.

There was.

It was “Now…6”.

I have very vivid memories of singing along in front of the mirror to “A Good Heart” by Feargal Sharkey long before I had ever heard of The Undertones.  I can also see myself doing some sort of interpretive dance to “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush…flinging my arms around wildly and spinning around in circles.  And trying really hard to sing like Jimmy Somerville on “You are my World” by The Communards.

Cool kid.

None of this stuff felt like it really belonged to me though.

Even the modern stuff felt like it had landed in my lap…which it had because the records had all been gifts and not gifts that I had requested, just records that people thought a fourteen year old boy might enjoy.

Then I saw Rick Astley on Top of the Pops.

He was wearing a double breasted suit or blazer with chinos…black.

A black roll neck top.

A quiff.

He looked, to these teenage eyes of mine, like the coolest person in the world.

Thirty years later he still looks cool…

I immediately requested a copy of his album “Whenever You Need Somebody”.

At the same time I also requested a double breasted blazer like Ricks and some chinos.

My parents were very loving and, thankful that I had left my bedroom, acquiesced to my simple demands.

I listened to that album, while dressed in my Rick Astley uniform (fine, costume) over and over again.

I loved it.

My maternal grandparents lived in a small town in West Lothian called Whitburn.  It had been where I had lived up to the age of ten.  Once or twice a month we would drive from our new home in Fife to visit them after Church on a Sunday.  They lived on Union Road in home that even now, three decades after I last set foot inside it, I can still walk through in my mind…three steps up to the front door, the bathroom directly in front of you, right up the hall past a guest bedroom with a single bed on the left, the kitchen on the right, my grandparents bedroom at the end of the hall on the left and the sitting room at the very end of the hall in front of you with a coal fire and the smell of Capstan Full Strength hanging heavy in the air.

On one of these visits, and after I had finished a jam sandwich on Mother’s Pride bread, I regaled my grandfather, John, with tales of how great Rick Astley was and how one of the songs on his album was one I thought he would like.  That song was “When I Fall in Love”.  My granddad told me that this wasn’t a Rick Astley song and that it had, in fact, been made famous by a singer called Nat King Cole.  He dug out his Nat King Cole album and played it for me.  I listened to the rich, pure, warm and hypnotic tones of one of the greatest singers of all time and decided that it was…alright, but Rick’s version was better.

I know I should apologise but I’m not going to.

I was young.

I’m old(er)now…I still think Rick did it better.

I’m still not for apologising.

Astley had a run of eight top ten singles in a row, three top ten albums (then another one with “50” in 2016) and then…the tides began to turn and by the time he released his fourth album, “Body and Soul”, in 1993 grunge had arrived, the New Wave of New Wave was an almost thing, Suede were very definitely a thing and Blur had released “Modern Life is Rubbish” too.

Astley was a man out of time.

Of course he had never been “cool”.

The Wonderstuff held him up as an example of everything that was wrong with pop music in the eighties with their rather unpleasant and downright nasty “Astley in the Noose”.  It seemed a bit rich for the Stuffies to be taking pot shots at Rick for being a bit “lightweight” and not having a use when their biggest hit had been a novelty record with comedian Vic Reeves.

Can you tell I’m still cross about it?

I love the Wonderstuff.

But I can’t ever give myself to them completely until they apologise for this incident.

Let’s move on.

There were another couple of albums in the first half of the noughties and their was the whole Rickrolling thing in 2007 but by 2010 it seemed like we had heard the last we were ever going to hear from Rick.

I know you were not shedding any tears but I felt like I was losing something important in my life.

But then in 2016 he was back…back…back, bigger, bolder and, arguably, better than ever.  “50” was a triumph.  Soulful, bluesy, gospel tinged and, utterly, modern.  It was the best album of his career.  The voice richer, deeper, purer and cleaner than every before…which is saying something because it has always been a thing of wonder.  This was not so much a reinvention as a resurrection.

A wonderful full stop on a magnificent career.

The end.

Old fans kept happy.

Critics finally forced to accept his gift and give praise.

But then came the whispers…he wasn’t done.

There was, to quote Jimmy Cricket, more.

Summer of 2018 brought “Beautiful Life”…seventies disco beats, Ibiza anthems, funky, soulful still and that’s just on the title track.  What follows are another eleven songs that show that Astley was never just a Stock Aitken and Waterman pop puppet, he was always a singer, a songwriter and a soul boy from the North of England who only ever wanted to be on a stage, in a studio and making music.

Whenever I need somebody…Rick is there.

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