“Whenever You Need Somebody”: A retrospective review of Rick Astley’s 1987 debut album.
Rick Astley burst on to the music scene in 1987 with his international smash hit “Never Gonna Give You Up”. He was 21 years old and could already boast of a number one in the UK and the US! In November that year he released his debut album “Whenever You Need Somebody”, preceded by a single of the same name. The music of Stock Aitken Waterman had already penetrated every conceivable part of the globe with hits like Dead Or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round” and Bananarama‘s “Venus”, now a new star had been born, and everyone wanted to know.
A total of five singles were released from the album beginning with “Never Gonna Give You Up” in July which would top the charts in twenty two countries around the world! It spent five weeks on top in the UK and became the biggest seller of the year, shifting 810,000 copies. To date it’s sold over a million with streaming and digital sales. It would also top the chart in America, becoming SAW’s second US number one and selling over half a million there. Globally the song has sold over four copies. The video is very much of its day with Rick performing in a bar with the waitresses acting as dancers and backing singers, but it worked then and it still clearly works now.
When your career kicks off with a big’un it’s often impossible to follow it up with a single of identical success and while Rick’s second release in October “Whenever You Need Somebody” failed to emulate the success of its predecessor, it was nevertheless another international smash hit topping the chart in seven countries, peaking at No.3 in the UK and charting top ten across Europe and Australasia. The song was originally recorded for singer O’Chi Brown and released in November 1985. It peaked at No.97 in the UK and in 1986 topped the US hot play chart although it failed to make the Billboard singles chart itself. Perhaps because of this success, Rick’s version was not released in the US so soon after.
“Whenever You Need Somebody” the album was released the following month and it was hardly surprising that it became an instant smash hit, reaching the top spot in the UK, Spain, Germany and Australia and selling, to date, over fifteen million copies worldwide. Christmas 1987 saw the release of Rick’s version of Nat ‘King’ Cole’s classic “When I Fall In Love” which allowed Rick to croon his way to number two in the UK, but unable to take the festive season’s top prize from The Pet Shop Boys with their Elvis cover “Always On My Mind”. He did take it to the top of the charts in Belgium, however, as well as No.2 in Ireland and No.5 in Australia.
“When I Fall In Love” was paired with “My Arms Keep Missing You” as a double A side, but as soon a December 25th had passed, the campaign and radio stations switched to the ‘other side’ and kept the single selling way into January. It did become a hit in its own right in Germany where it reached No.6! “When I Fall In Love” and “Somebody” were not released in the US, they got “It Would Take A Strong Strong Man” instead, which would reach No.10 in America and No.1 in Canada as well as reaching No.8 on the US hot play chart. This was helped by a video that was played endlessly on MTV and captured a wide audience that also helped the album to sell over two million copies Stateside.
Back across the Atlantic, single number four or five (depending on how you are counting) came in early 1988 with “Together Forever”, a lively catchy, stereotypical SAW tune that proved irresistibly popular across the world and has gone on to become something of an anthem, being used in TV commercials thirty years after its release. The song peaked at No.2 again, this time being denied the top spot by an Australian 19 year old with her debut single. Whatever happened to her?(!) Better news came from the ‘other side of the pond’ where it topped the chart in both The United States and Canada. The song also made No.1 in Spain and Ireland and became one of the biggest sellers in the world in 1988. The sixth and final single released from the album is perhaps the unknown one. “Don’t Say Goodbye” was released as a single in Italy at the end of 1988 and just scraped into the singles chart there, a full year and a half after “Never Gonna Give You Up”!
Unusually for a Stock Aitken Waterman album four of the ten tracks were written by Rick alone. “No More Looking For Love” and “You Move Me” were produced by Daize Washbourn, and “The Love Has Gone” and “Slipping Away” were produced by long-time PWL engineers Phil Harding and Ian Curnow. The album became and remains to date, Rick’s biggest seller. He would go on to release “Hold Me In Your Arms” in 1988 before leaving the confines of SAW/PWL to stretch his creative cells as far as he wanted. Rick returned to music in 2016 with “50” and in 2018 with “Beautiful Life” and has lost none of his charm, ability or knack for being a top class performer, songwriter and all round nice guy. He proved this when he joined that Australian who kept him off the top in 1988 on stage thirty years later, in Hyde Park, in front of 50,000 people, to perform his biggest hit. The best version yet of “Never Gonna Give You Up”. Unless you prefer Brian from Family Guy’s rendition…?!
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