“I’m a closet rock fan in truth and reality,” Rick Astley tells Classic Rock. “I started as a kid, playing drums and what have you, and we just did covers of whatever we could play.” And so began Astley’s life-long love affair with the genre. “I was wedged between the punk era and the New Romantics era as a teenager growing up, so we chose punk, because it didn’t have synths and it just sounded better in the garage really, which is where most young bands start. So there you go.”
Below, Astley picks his 10 favourite rock tunes of all time.
10. Slipknot – Duality
This is a bit of a weird one, because obviously a lot of people’s perception of Slipknot if you’re not really aware of them is “Oh, it’s those guys who wear the masks”. Which is very, very true; that is a lot about what they’re about, their identities being hidden all these years and all the rest of it – even though we kind of know what the singer Corey [Taylor] looks like. Or I do anyway, because I’ve seen stuff of him on YouTube going out doing his acoustic gigs and all the rest of it, which is a bit weird after all these years.
The thing with them is they actually write really great melodies, it’s just sometimes the thing that comes out for a lot of people who aren’t into [metal] – and it’s not my genre, I’m not saying that – but I’m saying of various things that I’ve looked at that they’ve done on YouTube and what have you, this one just stands out to me as being a great song. They’re quite unconventional [in] the way they write songs sometimes, but it’s just a brilliant track. When I’m in my room thrashing about on my drum kit with my headphones on, it’s one of the tracks I like to play. I forget what their drummer’s called, but he’s just a ridiculous drummer as well.
9) Rammstein – Sonne
A long time ago – I’m talking around 2000 or something like that – I signed a deal with Polydor in Germany for a record that I didn’t want to release or do properly. Anyway, long story, I did it, so I find myself in the offices of Polydor one day, and this band came in, and I’m like “Who are they?” And [Polydor] were like “Oh, it’s this band Rammstein”. I think I might have heard the name, but I had no idea who they were. So anyway, I just Googled them, and I started looking at a few things, and I don’t know if it was that particular moment, or whether it was some years later, but I came across the video for Sonne, which is one of the craziest videos I think I’ve ever seen in my life. I just thought ‘Oh. My. God’. It’s just unreal – literally. It’s almost on the perversion side – and that’s okay! Seven dwarves digging out gold drugs for a giant, unbelievably formed Snow White – it’s just a bizarre thing.
What I love about them is the theatrical, completely over-the-top production. When they go live and in videos and everything, it’s like theatre – but not in a naff way like when sometimes people combine rock and theatre and it’s just lame. It’s not like that at all, it’s like they’ve almost gone into a different world and found their own space in it. And the fact that they can tour, singing in German, to massive audiences in different parts of the world – that’s pretty crazy, there’s not many people who have ever done that. They’re just epic. I think that’s such a great word for them. They’re epic.
8) Metallica – Nothing Else Matters
Obviously they’ve done loads of amazing songs, I like – is it Enter Sandman it’s called? – I like that one, it’s just an amazing riff and it’s just a monster tune that one. But I think it’s always interesting when you have a full-on kind of – I don’t know the genres to be honest, but what I presume would have been metal at one point – band and they turn round and write a song that one of the classic old-school country writers almost could have written. Or just a stand-out artist who’s written those great kind of singalong songs. Singalong is pushing it I guess, but again, the epic side of rock is what I like most a lot of time. It’s just a really great song. I think there’s lots of bands in the world who don’t come anywhere near metal, or that edgier, darker side of rock, who would have loved to have written that tune.
7) Biffy Clyro – Many Of Horror
I was introduced to Biffy because of my friend’s kids across the road who had a band, and I used to help them out sometimes. They kept mentioning this name ‘Biffy Clyro’, and I’m kind of like – ‘That doesn’t even sound like… What is that? I don’t even know what that sounds like’. So I heard a few of the tunes, and to be honest they’re not the most accessible band in the world I don’t think, until they wrote Many Of Horror. I heard this song on the radio – I had no idea it was Biffy Clyro, I just heard it – and I genuinely pulled the car over because I was crying that much I thought it was unsafe to drive. So I went home, got in my studio, downloaded it and listened to it about 25 times one after the other.
I actually emailed the producer of the record because I wanted him to say what he had done – obviously they wrote it, it’s their song, I know that – but in terms of sonically and sound-wise, what it did as a record, it just stopped me in my tracks. I have this little rock band with two friends, we do Many Of Horror, and I’ve shed tears singing it, to be honest. I play drums and I sing and what have you, and it does get emotional sometimes because we just really love doing it, and we’ve been lucky enough to step the gigs up a bit – we started off in a cricket club with 200 people, and the last gigs we’ve been doing have been [to] 1000 people at a theatre in Kingston, which funnily enough Biffy Clyro played recently! It’s an amazing song, it’s just one of those tunes that I can’t get enough of. Once I hear it, I need to hear it again.
6) The Hives – Hate To Say I Told You So
Again, we play this tune in the band, and for us, this mid-life crisis rock band we have, we do it for us; we’re not really doing it for anybody else. Yes, we give the money to charity, which is why I like to publicise it as much as we can because that’s the name of the game at the end of the day, but truthfully it’s just us. We’d go and play if nobody came – in fact, nobody might come! When we play this one in particular, it’s a real moment. The three of us went to see The Hives five or six years ago, at Brixton Academy – we were probably the oldest people there, but we didn’t care. When they played this song we all just looked at each other and just sort of went – ‘game over’.
It’s just frickin’ monster this song. And I love the drummer – the whole band are great to be honest, and they’re real characters on stage, but the drummer, all night, he just kept drinking beer and tossing the beer bottles behind him somewhere. I’m hoping they were plastic to be honest, because someone probably got killed! He’d finish his beer off and he’d just throw it over the back of his head, just randomly, he didn’t care where it was going, and I just thought ‘Yeah, thank god, it’s like a return to punk rock’. It’s like, let’s ‘ave it! It’s a great tune, it’s a monster tune to play as well because it’s super fast. It’s just nasty.
- Biffy Clyro: James Johnston's Top 5 Rock Bassists
- The best Foo Fighters memes
- Every Home Should Have One: Highway To Hell By AC/DC
- Dave Mustaine reviews Metallica’s Hardwired… To Self-Destruct
5. Green Day – Basket Case
I am definitely a fan of Green Day, but to be honest they’ve almost made so many albums that I can’t keep up. They’ve done some amazing records over the years, but this one is probably the first one I ever heard of theirs, and I remember thinking I’d just been transported back to 1977. Even the way they looked and everything about it, they literally could have supported the Pistols with that and it would have fitted in exactly. And yet, it sounded great and worked for them, which would have been, when I heard this, ‘93 or ‘94.
And I remember thinking it was just really weird, because we’d gone back 18 years, but it didn’t sound naff to do it. And I think because their intentions were absolutely true, there didn’t seem to be any posturing, it was just like ‘Nope, this is it, we’re ‘avin’ it’ and I just loved it. I’ve been a bit of a fan ever since. There’s lots of their songs, the more mellow songs that I really, really like, Wake Me Up When September Ends and Boulevard Of Broken Dreams – it’s just epic that song, it’s amazing – but when I think of Green Day for real I think of that very early time.
4. Foo Fighters – The Pretender
Foo Fighters are probably my go-to band when I want to get in the mood. They’re probably pound for pound the best rock band that’s been over the last 20 years – I guess it’s obvious to say that, but I think they are for a number of reasons. I think the musicianship is just off the scale – they’ve got two of the world’s best drummers in that band; that’s just greedy. I also think, to his credit, Dave Grohl had one of the toughest jobs in the world to come out of a band that imploded because of the death of Kurt Cobain. To actually get through that is enough. To go on and have a life after that, [having been] the drummer in a band that changed music, that changed rock and the way we all perceive how a rock band should look and feel and sound, just to get through that on a personal level is an achievement.
But then, to go on and make a record on your own, that becomes the first Foo Fighters album, and then to go on and establish that band, it’s just bonkers. You couldn’t make that up – it’s proper bonkers that is. Every single time I hear this song start, even from the first time I heard it, I think ‘They’ve done a Beatles cover! But I don’t know it! I don’t know the song but surely this is the Beatles, it has to be!’ because it just reminds me [of them] so much in that opening. I don’t know what it is, but there’s just something in those chords.
3. Queens Of The Stone Age – No One Knows
I know again this is pretty obvious, but it’s very modern what they do, but it’s still steeped in proper rock. It’s that marriage that the Foos have done, they’ve got one foot in punk a little bit, but they’re not a punk band, they’re a rock band. QOTSA do that for me. They’ve got a punk edge and grittiness to what they do, but it’s proper rock. I love their videos as well, and Josh Homme, who doesn’t want him in your band?
If you were a young band going through the ranks and playing shitty clubs and all the rest of it, I’d want him as my singer – or anything I don’t care, he can play what he wants, as long as he’s in the band – he’s massive! He’s absolutely massive! It’d be like “We’re going on first” “Yeah alright!” “We’re going on last” “Not a problem!” “We’re putting our flight cases here” “Yep, that’s fine with us!” I’m sure he’s a lovely man by the way, but I mean, he’s a monster isn’t he?
2) Foo Fighters – Times Like These
We actually play this one, and we have a setlist, obviously – we try to make the setlist so it makes sense for us and also so I can get my breath back occasionally, because it’s just a bit ferocious what we play, so I try and put a slower one in every three or four songs. But if we’re not feeling it or we’ve just not got sunk in and we’re not quite right or what have you, this is the song to kick it off. For some reason, you play this, and that’s it, the night’s off. We don’t want to play it first because we feel we’re kind of throwing it away then, but once you play this, the night kicks off. It’s just a monster tune.
I also like Dave Grohl’s humour, I think that’s one of the really charming things about this band – they’re full-on rock, but they’re also able to have a laugh about it as well, and just dive into the joy of it. They don’t posture that much, they just seem to live it for real, and that’s kind of important. Rock music has, at certain decades, tended to go into this kind of mythical and mystical sort of bollocks world, and they don’t do that. They just go ‘This is who we are, we’re a band, we happen to be playing football stadiums now but we’re still doing pretty much what we’ve always done, we just step it up a gear each time and explore something new each time’, which again, I like that about them – they’ve got a bloody keyboard player; they’ll bring in strings if you want; they’ll do it all acoustic if you want! They’re just all-round brilliant.
1) AC/DC – Touch Too Much
The album Highway To Hell, every single song on it is amazing. As a kid, my dad had a little garden centre. He had a pick up truck, and I used to drive the pick up truck, it’s how I learnt to drive and all the rest of it. I’d sit in that truck at night and I’d listen to different radio stations, and obviously there was one that was just a rock station, and for whatever reason, when I was 16 or 17, maybe even 18 – I don’t know what I was – but for some reason they played the whole of Highway To Hell from start to finish. Don’t ask me why, but they did, and I was transfixed, and I just thought ‘This is never going to leave me, this moment’ and it never has.
It’s one of my favourite albums still. I do a lot of driving because I don’t do flying, so it’s one of the albums always on my phone ready to go, and it just gets me through a lot of things. We play Highway To Hell because it’s a singalong classic that everybody knows – you don’t have to be even related to anybody who even likes rock music, you still know that tune. But I’m going for Touch Too Much, because the opening eight bars of Touch Too Much is the sexiest piece of guitar work known to man – and that’s a fact. It just starts and you think, ‘Well, I’m in. I’m in’. It’s rock’n’roll heaven. I sound like Alan Partridge! Rock’n’roll heaven. There you go.