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Born in 1966 in Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire, England, Astley first began singing in his local church choir. By his teens, he was also playing drums in several bands, including Give Way and FBI, playing a mix of classic '60s rock and northern soul. In 1985, he took over as the singer in FBI, a move that caught the attention of producer Pete Waterman. After that, Waterman's production team -- Stock, Aitken & Waterman -- took Astley under their wing, writing and producing such impeccably crafted pop singles as "Never Gonna Give You Up" and "Together Forever," the former of which spent five weeks on top of the U.K. singles chart and topped the charts in 25 countries, including the United States. Both songs heralded the release of the singer's debut album, 1987's Whenever You Need Somebody, which proved equally as popular, hitting number one in England, Germany, and Spain and reaching number 10 on the Billboard 200.
Hoping to build upon his breakthrough success, Astley returned quickly with 1988's Hold Me In Your Arms. The album found him splitting the production between songs written and produced by Stock, Aitken & Waterman and others that he penned himself and produced with Phil Harding, Ian Curnow and Daize Washbourn. Buoyed by more hit singles, including "She Wants to Dance with Me" and "Take Me to Your Heart," the album proved almost as popular, hitting number eight in the U.K. and 19 on the Billboard 200.
Despite his success, Astley grew tired of being so closely associated with the Stock, Aitken & Waterman sound and eventually severed his connections with the team. He resurfaced in 1991 with the soul-injected Free. Produced by Astley and Gary Stevenson, it reached the U.K. Top Ten and U.S. Top 40, anchored by the Top Ten hit "Cry for Help." Nonetheless, the album didn't fare as well as its two predecessors and the follow-up effort, Body & Soul, didn't chart.
Astley retired from music for a time, only to return in the 2000s with several new releases, including 2005's covers album Portrait. He also became the subject of "Rickrolling," an Internet meme involving the video for "Never Gonna Give You Up" and a series of bait and switch tactics. Rather than deriding the meme, the singer embraced the phenomenon with a sense of irony and humor, a move that only endeared him to the public. Buoyed by an online support campaign, Astley won the Best Act Ever award at the 2008 MTV Europe Music Awards.
During the 2010s, the singer remained in the public eye via touring and with a stint as a DJ for London's Magic FM, but didn't release any new music until 2016's 50, which was named after and inspired by the singer's milestone birthday. The album, which hit number one in England, was well-received among fans and with it, Astley found himself in the middle of a new creative streak which led to him spending more time in his home studio.
He spent most of 2017 writing new material and eventually found himself with a new album on his hands. The record, Beautiful Life, arrived in the summer of 2018 and peaked at number six on the U.K. Albums Chart. The following year, Astley looked back at his career with the handpicked collection The Best of Me. Included was a pianoforte reimagining of the song that kickstarted his career back in 1987, "Never Gonna Give You Up."
In September 2021, Astley joined the band Blossoms for two concerts in which they covered songs by the Smiths. They again reprised the covers project performing together at the 2023 Glastonbury Festival. Also in 2023, Astley delivered Are We There Yet?, his ninth studio album and third produced on his own at his London home studio. Anchored by the gospel-tinged singles "Dippin' My Feet" and "Never Gonna Stop," it found him drawing upon his deep soul and Americana influences. ~ Matt Collar & Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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