How Rick Astley and Foo Fighters Played ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’
When you go see Foo Fighters in concert, chances are good the band will break out a classic rock cover (or four) at some point during the night.
During the band's 2017 appearance at Tokyo's Summer Sonic Festival, Dave Grohl one-upped even himself: He brought out '80s pop star Rick Astley — "Our new best friend," he said — to do a rocked-out version of Astley's No. 1 hit "Never Gonna Give You Up" done in the style and spirit of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
The collaboration wasn't much of a stretch for Astley. Although he calls himself a "closet rocker" during a recent conversation with UCR, he's been known to get behind the drum kit and cover AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" at shows. In fact, Astley, who's on tour right now in North America, performed the metal classic recently in Toronto.
"Sometimes I wish I could mix it up a bit more, but I also want to be faithful to what people remember me being," Astley says. "And they certainly don't remember me being on the drums and doing 'Highway to Hell.'" Astley laughs and adds, "I like doing covers as well. It reminds me of being a kid, and it reminds me of why I got started. You heard something on the radio and just thought, 'That's the best thing I've heard for ages,' and you wanted to run home and try and work it out how to play it. I like doing that."
Fresh from a trip to the pub, where he had a pint with a friend, Astley chatted about how he got onstage with Foo Fighters and why Dave Grohl and his band deserve every bit of success they've earned.
How did you end up onstage with Foo Fighters in Tokyo?
That was very amazing, to be honest. I'm a closet rocker, myself. I play drums in a little power trio. In fact, the guy I've just a pint with, Simon, one of my best friends, he plays bass. We do it for charities, and that's why we can get away with it, because if we didn't do it for charity, we'd probably be very, very, very, very sad indeed. We just play all the punk songs we learned as kids when we were in garages.
We'll do anything that's gone through that sort of genre, if you like, which, obviously, is Foo Fighters as well. So I'm a bit of a fan of theirs. And when I saw that [Tokyo] gig come along, I just said, "Right, we've got to do that festival. I don't care where we're playing. I don't care if we're on the smallest stage at one o'clock in the afternoon, we're doing that festival. Because I want to go and see the Foo Fighters, and see them in that way."
So we ended up at the side of the stage. Never met any of them before. And through some weird, bizarre coincidence, they'd learned "Never Gonna Give You Up," because they did it on the James Corden [TV] show. They did the thing in the minivan where they go around and do "Carpool Karaoke." I didn't know this at the time, by the way, but I've kind of since gathered this. We hung out with them for a few hours afterwards, so they explained that. Because I'm like, "How the hell did they know it? Do they just know everything?" And, obviously, they didn't play it exactly like that. They did, like, a "Smells Like Teen Spirit" version of it.
It was just amazing, because I was at the side of the stage [with] my band and a few of our crew and my wife. And Mr. Grohl — I'm going to call him that rather than Dave — came over and just threw his arms around me and said, "Hey, I'm Dave." And I said, "I'm Rick." And he said, "I know." [Laughs.] This is in the middle of the gig, by the way — it's not before or anything. They're playing songs at this point.
Then [Grohl] started saying something, but I couldn't quite hear what he was saying. The band and all his crew started looking at me, and I'm like, "What?" And my band, one of them must have heard something, because they just started pushing me. Then somebody gave me a mic, and we were off. That was it. And Dave whispered in my ear, "We're doing your song, but we're doing it like this."
I've done it a couple of times since with them. I did it when they came over to London to promote their new album. They did a show here. And then they reinstated this festival in California called Cal Jam. And they said, "Look, do you fancy coming over and just hanging out and doing that?" So we did. We hung out for a couple of days and watched all the bands and everything, and then I got up with him and sang that song again. It's just crazy. Really crazy.
You've got to take your hat off to them, I think, to be fair. They've earned the position they're in right now. It's not like anyone can say they haven't been and played every crappy little venue, because they did all of that. I know [Grohl] came from what he came from. But forget all of that — they've played every venue under the sun, and that's why they're doing stadiums right now. Because they've earned it with the records they've made.
But I also think what's kind of amazing about them is that they're fearless in the sense of saying, "You know what? We're going to get that guy to come out and sing this song." They just think that's a bit of a giggle. Because I think there's a lot of bands in their position who wouldn't dream of doing anything like that, because it might tarnish their rock 'n' roll credibility. And I think they're just way above that. They're just like, "If we want to do this, we're doing it."
Watch Foo Fighters and Rick Astley Perform 'Never Gonna Give You Up'
And they're confident enough that they can do it too. They're like, "All right. If it doesn't quite work, eh, we'll just go on." You just plow through.
Having seen them play a few times, one of the things about them is that they're comfortable enough that [what] they do it all the time is get a kid out of the audience and say, "Look, we're going to make this kid's night. He's going to play guitar on this song, or drums," or whatever. It's kind of special; it's like somebody's dream moment. And I still think they've got that in them.
If you listen to some of Dave Grohl's interviews and [ones] from other members of the band, and what have you — I know Taylor Hawkins is very much like that as well — they're like kids. And they can recognize in other people what it means to be at a gig, and something that bizarre happens. To get drawn out on the stage and plucked out of the audience to come and play with the Foo Fighters — I still think they can relate to what that means for somebody. They're a special bunch of guys, I think.