Rewinding the charts: In 1988, Rick Astley rolled to No. 1 with 'Never Gonna Give You Up'

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"I loved 'Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now' by McFadden & Whitehead, and a lot of tunes with great strings. 'Never Gonna Give You Up' had that kind of vibe in the intro, so I was really excited about it."

British-born Rick Astley tells Billboard that he was smitten with "Never Gonna Give You Up" as soon as co-writer Mike Stock first sang it to him. "Yeah, that's pretty catchy," he remembers thinking.

The world would soon agree.

Enhanced by his rich, deep voice, Astley's debut hit, from his first album, Whenever You Need Somebody, topped the Official U.K. Singles chart in 1987. Says Astley, "The track went to No. 1 in the U.K. before we made the video, so people bought into the record because of what they heard, which I have always been proud - rather than it being a hit because I had nice hair."

"Give" repeated its chart-topping success in the United States, crowning the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks beginning March 12, 1988. "It was amazing to turn up in a country that I knew nothing about," Astley says of his American welcome. "I was No. 1 and everybody knew me."

Then 22, Astley followed his first Hot 100 leader with another, "Together Forever," also written (and produced) by Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman (the trio that additionally helmed dance-pop hits for Kylie Minogue, among others). Astley tallied three more Hot 100 top 10s, including two that he wrote (1989's "She Wants to Dance With Me" and 1991's "Cry for Help"), and charted four albums on the Billboard 200, before taking a hiatus from the music industry in the mid-'90s.

Still, his debut hit wouldn't, well, give up. In the late 2000s, the "Rickrolling" meme invaded the Internet, sending unsuspecting surfers to the "Give" video - and giving Astley a chuckle. "It was used ironically, so it's all good," he says. "I am still grateful every day for that song and the life it has given me. I never take it for granted. Looking back, I can see that it's part talent, part work, but also a lot of luck to have a hit as big as that."

Rick Astley through the years:

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Rick Astley through the years
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Rewinding the charts: In 1988, Rick Astley rolled to No. 1 with 'Never Gonna Give You Up'
British pop star Rick Astley performs with two backing singers at the BPI Awards, 1986. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Portrait of British singer Rick Astley in front of a brick wall, circa 1985. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - 1988: English singer songwriter Rick Astley in 1988 in New York City. (Photo by Peter Carrette Archive/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - 1988: English singer songwriter Rick Astley in 1988 in New York City. (Photo by Peter Carrette Archive/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - circa 1987: Photo of Rick ASTLEY performing live on stage circa 1987. (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns)
UNSPECIFIED - MARCH 01: FORMEL EINS Photo of Rick ASTLEY, performing on TV show (Photo by Bernd Muller/Redferns)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 15: Rick Astley performs on stage at Wembley Arena on December 15th, 1988 in London, England. (Photo by Peter Still/Redferns)
Rick Astley, Ex-Kaiserin von Persien Farah Diba Pahlavi, Zucchero (v.l.n.r.), 'Unesco'-Gala, Neuss, 'Swissotel Neuss', 'Kinder in Not', (Photo by Peter Bischoff/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, USA - 1st JANUARY: English singer Rick Astley posed in Los Angeles, USA in 1992. (Photo by Martina Raddatz/Redferns)
LONDON - JUNE 22: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK TABLOID NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 48 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Singer Rick Astley (far right) attends the afterparty following the UK Premiere of the classical novel by Jules Verne 'Around The World In 80 Days' on June 22, 2004 at Cirque Club in Leicester Square, London. (Photo by Dave Benett/Getty Images)
Rick Astley press shots for 2005 come back. Sony Music Studios. London 09/03/2005 (Photo by Chris Lopez/Sony Music Archive/Getty Images)
Rick Astley (Photo by Leslie McGhie/WireImage)
LONDON - OCTOBER 04: (L-R) Rick Astley, Mike Nocista, Paul Young, Keren Woodward, Sara Dallin, Martin Fry, Nick Van Ede, Calvin Hayes and (front) Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot pose for a photograph at the Here and Now Tour 2008 photocall at Studio Valbonne on October 4, 2007 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
LONDON - OCTOBER 04: Singer Rick Astley poses for a photograph at the Here and Now Tour 2008 at Studio Valbonne on October 4, 2007 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - AUGUST 03: Rick Astley performs on the second day of the Singfest music festival at Fort Canning Park on August 3, 2008 in Singapore. (Photo by Stefen Chow/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - AUGUST 03: Rick Astley lays on stage during his performance on the second day of the Singfest music festival at Fort Canning Park on August 3, 2008 in Singapore. (Photo by Stefen Chow/Getty Images)
DOUGLAS, ISLE OF MAN - JUNE 20: Rick Astley poses backstage at the Isle Of Man Bay Festival on June 20, 2010 in Douglas, Isle Of Man. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
PERTH, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 30: Rick Astley and Tony Hadley perform on stage at Rewind Festival - Day 2 at Scone Palace on July 30, 2011 in Perth, Scotland. (Photo by Marc Marnie/Redferns)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 10: Richard 'Rick' Astley attends the Swisse marquee on Stakes Day at Flemington Racecourse on November 10, 2012 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
PERTH, SCOTLAND - JULY 27: Rick Astley performs on stage on Day 2 of Rewind 80s Festival 2013 at Scone Palace on July 27, 2013 in Perth, Scotland. (Photo by Scott Campbell/Redferns via Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 12: Rick Astley performs at the Dreamball 2013 charity gala at Ritz Carlton on September 12, 2013 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Ben Brittain Cohen/WireImage)
PERTH, SCOTLAND - JULY 27: Rick Astley performs on stage on Day 2 of Rewind 80s Festival 2013 at Scone Palace on July 27, 2013 in Perth, Scotland. (Photo by Scott Campbell/Redferns via Getty Images)
British singer Rick Astley performs during at the 57th of the song festival in Vina del Mar, Chile, on February 25, 2016. / AFP / ATON CHILE / LUIS COLLAO (Photo credit should read LUIS COLLAO/AFP/Getty Images)
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Having celebrated his 50th birthday Feb. 6, Astley still tours and has finished his first album in more than a decade. "I wrote every song, played every instrument and produced it," he says. "It's not an ego thing; it was more a challenge to myself. I think it's been hard for me to find the feeling to make a record for a while because, [even though] I play gigs all over the world, that doesn't mean people want to hear something new. Now, it just feels right. I have tested the water with a new song live every now and then and I like the feeling and the reaction."

Meanwhile, Astley is proud of fellow U.K. singers who are continuing the tradition of exporting soulful pop to the top of charts worldwide. "Adele and Sam Smith deliver a song with such strength and belief," he muses. "A white kid from the middle of England can have as much soul as anyone.

"It's about feeling what you are singing."

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