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'80s singer Rick Astley latest Web phenomenon

It’s been more than 20 years since Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” topped the Billboard Hot 100, but it is once again infiltrating the public consciousness thanks to the phenomenon known as “RickRolling.”

Around March 2007, bloggers and online social networkers started casually linking to the song’s nostalgically ’80s music video via YouTube. RickRolling was a psych-out for readers who would click on tantalizing hyperlinks, only to fall prey to a young Astley’s blonde bouffant and idiosyncratic dance moves.

RickRolling has since taken on a life of its own, with YouTube users creating their own lip-synced routines and real-life RickRoll interruptions at, say, a Scientology protest or board meeting, often with the refrain “You’ve been RickRolled.”

The movement has spurred digital sales for the track, which has sold at least 1,000 downloads per week since late December and peaked with 2,500 sales the week of March 9.

On April Fools’ Day, YouTube RickRolled users by linking to the video on all of its home-page features. Other online outlets like Sports Illustrated and Live Journal followed suit.

Altogether, the video was viewed 6.6 million times in one day, generating 43,000 user comments and boosting the track to No. 77 at Amazon’s download store.

“YouTube brought (RickRolling) to our attention late last year and were able to track the sources of the hits,” says Sam Gomez, VP of digital marketing for Sony BMG’s commercial music group of Sony BMG, Astley’s label.

“Then about a month ago we were approached with the idea of the April Fools’ prank. Rick and his manager loved it. So we wanted to have fun with this.”

Gomez adds that it was all made possible through the alliance that Sony BMG made with Google and YouTube in 2006 for access to its back catalog of videos.

Sony BMG has issued “Never Gonna Give You Up” as a ringtone, and is mulling another greatest-hits release for 2008 in the United Kingdom. Three of Astley’s albums — his debut, “Whenever You Need Somebody”; “Greatest Hits”; and “Platinum & Gold Collection” — remain in print in the United States via Sony BMG’s RCA/Legacy label.

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