It is not very uncommon in the annals of music history to think of artists who had tragic relationships with their music labels that drastically harmed their career–names like Badfinger  and Michelle Branch and Mr. Mister come readily to mind. Likewise, artists whose careers have been greatly helped by the meme potential of their songs are also not very uncommon–all the way up to the success of Lil Nas X and others in the contemporary age. The career of Rick Astley, though, forces us to confront quite a few issues when it comes to examining the legacy of an artist. To what extent can we judge an artist fairly given their conflict with the production team that initially brought that artist fame? Stock Aitken Waterman was a noted production team in the 1980’s but they were not known for providing a high degree of lasting career success for their musicians, many of which were flashes in the pan. After two successful albums, Astley broke with their production and forged a career that was more in line with his own soulful approach to music, and ended up having some commercial and a great deal of artistic success to justify his decision to seek his own path as a musician and not be anyone’s puppet. When you add to that artistic integrity the societal impact of rickrolling from his first and most successful song, “Never Gonna Give You Up,” one has the makings of a career that is well worth remembering and celebrating today.
The Influence Of Rick Astley
Rick Astley’s influence on other artists is subtle and complicated. It is likely that few artists would say outright that they view him as an inspiration for their own careers. That said, at least a few artists (Lil Nas X comes to mind here, as does Drake) have clearly seen the meme potential that hit music can have and sought to position their songs to gain popularity as memes to help drive the influence and success of the music that they create. In addition to that, Astley demonstrates the considerable popularity of blue-eyed soul as a way of providing a way for white artists to pay homage to the soulful music of the past. If it is not very common to find popular blue-eyed soul artists in our own times, artists like Michael Bolton , Go West, Rod Stewart, Steve Winwood, and many others have made their career in that lane, and it happens to be a sort of music that is very appealing to many people, myself included. The incongruity of such a soulful voice springing from such a boyish and somewhat plain white young Englishman is demonstrative of the way that soulfulness cannot be viewed as being a skin-deep matter. And sadly, that is a lesson that is all too necessary in our own times. If appreciating the music of Rick Astley can help us to be more broad-minded in our appreciation of the soulful approach to music, that is influence enough.
Why Rick Astley Belongs In The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Having already addressed Astley’s cultural influence through rickrolling and the art of the meme as well as his soulful approach to music, it is worthwhile to consider his career legacy and the music he has performed since his debut in the mid 1980’s. His first two albums were the most successful, reaching multi-platinum and gold status, respectively, and spawning four top ten hits on the Billboard Hot 100 and two #1 hits that are still remembered fondly to this day, “Never Gonna Give You Up” and “Together Forever,” even if “It Would Take A Strong, Strong Man” and “She Wants To Dance With Me” are a bit more obscure. In addition to those hits, his third album featured another top ten hit in the stellar and heartbreaking “Cry For Help,” which demonstrated his ability to succeed apart from his hit producer. In addition to this hit, his late career renaissance featured minor hits like “Hopelessly” and “Move Right Out.” Whether looking at his early success, his late career soulful music, or his covers of classic songs like “When I Fall In Love” and “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” Astley proved himself to be an artist with considerable talent as a singer and songwriter.
Why Rick Astley Isn’t In The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
There are at least a few reasons why Rick Astley hasn’t been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. By and large, blue-eyed soul has not been a genre that the RRHOF greatly appreciates. Many people think of him, mistakenly, as a one-hit wonder, and even though three of his songs have remained popular enough in Hot AC and AC rotations, the late 80’s and early 90’s are not an era of pop music that has been well-respected by the RRHOF. Meme acts in particular have struggled to receive the critical recognition that they deserve, and Astley is a particularly strong example of that.
Verdict: Put him in. It’s long past time for Cleveland to be rick-rolled.
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