Tag Archives: Devo

the Knack

27 May , 2012,
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the Knackthe Knack1

The Knack was one of the first bands I remember bringing America out of the Disco era into the New Wave era. I suppose I could be confused–this was over 30 years ago, you understand–but I recall that 1979 was a year of great change in popular music. With all of the crap going around, the Knack wanted to bring back what they called good, old-fashioned, “teenage rock’n’roll”. They wanted to produce what they called “high school songs with a teenage viewpoint.” So, the band put together a demo tape and shopped it around to every major label they could think of. After being rejected by so many labels, the group decided that they would hit the local LA tour circuit, where they were a sensation. Soon after that, every label in town wanted a piece of the Knack. After giving it some thought, the group signed with Capitol, records and was guaranteed $500,000 for two albums.

Mike Chapman had produced number one singles by artists like Blondie, Nick Gilder, and Exile. Chapman was chosen by the band to produce their debut record because the band liked his pop sensibilities and they felt that he shared their vision for their music. Almost all the tracks on the Knack’s first record were cut live in one take. There were a few overdubs here and there–mostly lead guitar on only a few tracks–but the entire album was pretty much recorded live, mixed down, and ready to go in eleven days. The best part for the label was, it only cost $18,000. According to some industry people, it was one of the cheapest platinum album ever made. After being released on June 11, 1979, Get the Knack went gold in thirteen days — the fastest climb by any new group in years. It went platinum on August 3 and sold more than four million copies.

the Knack–My Sharona

One of the things I remember about the Knack and about their song My Sharona–Ithe knack2 still think My Sharona is a great pop song–is how forward sounding the song was while maintaining a serious retro quality that reminded so many of us of the early Beatles. I was just a kid in the late 1970s, and was still listening to Los Angeles pop radio stations like Ten-Q, KIIS FM, KEZY, and KIQQ. The harder rock stations like KMET and KLOS had started to grab my attention, and I was all over the progressive New Wave station, KROQ. At about the same time as Blondie and the B-52s were charting with songs like “Heart of Glass” and “Rock Lobster”, and Devo and Rocky Burnett had released “Freedom of Choice” and “Tired of Towing the Line”, the Knack was playing music that was as simple as two guitars, bass, and drums, good vocals, and great hooks. Really, what more could you ask? The only two songs by the Knack that I can recall now off the top of my head are “My Sharona” and “Good Girls Don’t”, and I gotta say that those two songs are plenty to secure the Knack’s place at the table of rock and pop. I’m not saying that these guys are Hall of Fame material, but they made some fun music.

Doug Fieger, who originally put the band together, once said that his favorite pastime as “writing nasty songs about girls that I know.” One was a young groupie named Sharona. Telling the story, Fieger said that guitarist Berton Averre had a guitar riff and drum beat that was just laying about, not being used for anything. About the time the band was forming, Fieger became infatuated, and whenever he would think of this Sharona lady, Averre’s riff would go through his head. The end result was the song “My Sharona”.

With its slamming drums, driving guitar work, and simple, infectious beat, “My Sharona” took off on June 18, 1979, went gold in eight weeks, and reached number one in early August of that year.

the Knack–Creating an Anthem

You know how certain songs become legend? Some songs become anthems almost bythe knack3 accident. Queen’s “We Are the Champions/We Will Rock You” is like that. Slade’s “Come On Feel the Noise” made it to anthemic status after Quirt Riot recorded it, and gave it newfound attention. Ozzy Osborne’s “Crazy Train” is like that. U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. Aerosmith’s “Dream On”… There are so many other songs that have achieved anthemic status that I can’t even recall them all. The Knack’ s”My Sharona” is definitely one of them.

In 1994, I recall Wynonna Ryder and …was it Jannine Garrafalo..? singing and dancing their way through My Sharona in the film, Reality Bites. It seems to me that film put the song back in the great national consciousness, and I was cool with that.

I mean, what a great bass line. What a cool guitar tone. As damned silly as My Sharona is, there is no getting away from the fact that it has a great, catchy melody, good rhythm, solid production, and is an all around pop song that defies dating by musical era.

In so many ways. it is a shame that the Knack ran out of ideas before they could really shape popular culture. In many other ways, what more do they really need to do?

the Knack.


Wall of Voodoo

7 Aug , 2011,
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Wall of Voodoo

Wall of Voodoo 2 band photoEven as a kid, I knew Wall of Voodoo. I remember in the late 1970s and very early ’80s, seeing Wall of Voodoo on SNL and hearing them on the hip radio stations in Southern California. Those guys were a little strange to me. I liked them. Mexican Radio was the first song I heard by Wall of Voodoo, and it’s the only song of theirs that I remember off of the top of my head. I had just started listening to KROQ–Modern Roq of the ’80s!–and my world, at least musically, was expanding at a furious rate. I was discovering New Wave and so much of what that realm encompassed.

Wall of Voodoo–one of my early New Wave experiences

The years 1979 and 1980 blended together to me, musically. By that time, disco and the Bee Gees were pretty much done, and I was just beginning to hear a different music. I was going on 12. Pop radio just wasn’t interesting to me. I was out-growing what I was being spoon-fed by some of the traditional, commercial radio stations, and I wanted to hear something different.

b-52s yellow album

The B-52s’ Rock Lobster was a song that turned my world upside-down the first fewtimes I heard it on the radio. So was Dance This Mess Around and Planet Claire. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to say about Rock Lobster and the B-52s soon. I remember when Devo’s Gates of Steel was released after their first two singles, Freedom of Choice and Whip it! As damned silly as I recognized New Wave was, there was something about it that I liked. There were some other good Devo yellow albumsongs and artists that got my attention in my early-adolescence. One artist–one band in particular–I have been thinking of for the past few days is Stan Ridgway and “his” Wall of Voodoo. Wall of Voodoo was one of the sillier bands to come out of that time, and that was okay with me. Music was changing for me. I still held my parents’ Beatles, Stones, and Dylan LP collections in the highest regard, and I felt that I had so much more to learn.

Wall of Voodoo was a concept by Stan Ridgway. Ridgway had started a film-score business in Hollywood. Acme Soundtracks was right across the street from the Masque, one of Hollywood’s early punk clubs. He had  been making tapes–with overdubbed, synthesized drums and keyboards. and vocals–in the studio with a friend one day. Ridgway was fooling around, layering sounds, feeling pretty good about himself, when he compared his multiple-drum tracks and Farifsa organ-rich recordings to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. The friend laughed and commented that they sounded more like a Wall of Voodoo. That was it. Wall of Voodoo. The original line-up for Wall of Voodoo was Stan Ridgway, Marc Moreland on guitar, Bruce Moreland on bass, Chas T. Gray on keyboard, and Joe Nanini on drums.

Stan Ridgway–Wall of Voodoo’s First EP

Wall of Voodoo released a self-titled EP in 1980 which featured a unique, synthesizer-driven New Wave version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”, which didn’t entirely suck. The second half of “Ring of Fire” features a dissonant guitar and synthesizer solo covering the theme to the 1966 film, Our Man Flint, and was interesting for a young Johnny Cash fan to hear.

Wall of Voodoo–Dark Continent

Wall of Voodoo cover

In 1981, Wall of Voodoo released their first full-length album, Dark Continent. Bruce Moreland left the band–for the first time–soon after this, and Chas Gray performed on both bass and keyboard during this time. The band recorded their biggest-selling album, Call of the West in 1982. That same year, Wall of Voodoo opened for the Residents on part of the cult band’s first tour, “the Mole Show”, in Pasadena CA in early summer. The track “Mexican Radio” was their only Top 100 hit in the USA and the video for the song got some good exposure on the newly created MTV. Bill Noland was added as a keyboardist soon after the release of this album.

According to Stan Ridgway, the situation around Wall of Voodoo was becoming increasingly chaotic due to a lot of drug use and out-of-control behavior by the the band members. And, there was the sketchy behavior of the band’s managementand record label, who were jerking the band around over money.

Wall of Voodoo–Play the US Festival…then Disband

Wall of voodo 2Wall of Voodoo appeared at the largest show they had ever done–possibly the largest show in Southern California since Cal Jam II a few years before–the second US Festival–on May 28, 1983, immediately following the US Festival, Ridgway, Nanini, and Noland all left the band, and Stan Ridgway soon went on to a successful solo career, appearing as guest vocalist on a track on the Rumble Fish score and releasing his first solo album in 1986.

Ridgway’s Wall of Voodoo music could fairly be described as a cross between early synthesizer pop and the soundtacks to old,  Spaghetti-western films. Creating this distinctive yet strange sound were unusual percussive instrumentation–including many kitchen cooking utensils–some twangy guitar, and Ridgway’s unique vocal stylings.

Stan Ridgway–30 Years Later, What Does He Care?

Stan Ridgway probably has plenty to think about these days. He has a lot going on. Ridgway has had a pretty good career since his Wall of Voodoo days.  He probably doesn’t care that there is a guy out there who still thinks about and finds himselfband photo Wall of Voodoo4 singing what is possibly his favorite line ever– “I wish I was in Tiajuana, eating BBQed iguana…”. But, I gotta tell you, Wall of Voodoo was one of those bands who helped turn everything around for me as I made my way through puberty, saying goodbye to the ’70s and wondering what the 1980s would be about. Stan Ridgway and the Wall of Voodoo  helped bring me into New Wave.



Wall of Voodoo


Wazmo Nariz

5 Aug , 2011,
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Wazmo Nariz–Checking out the Checkout Girls

Wazmo Nariz. So, I was out on the land this morning, doing my morning rituals and chores, as this weird song danced around in my mind. Does anyone remember a guy named Wazmo Nariz? He had a few singles in the late ’70s and early ’80s, I guess, but the one I seem to recall best was Checking Out the Check-Out Girls.


In so many ways, Checking Out the Check-Out Girls has to be one of the Top Ten Goofiest Songs ever. In many ways, it is definitive of certain aspect of late 1970s and early’80s New Wave.  In the brave new world of New Wave in the early 1980s, Wazmo Nariz’s music was right up there with the best of them.

Wazmo Nariz–early New Wave in America

I was pretty young when New Wave was breaking into America. With all of the English New Wave bands around at the time, many of my favorite atists were American. Devo, for example was from Ohio; the B-52s, hailed from Georgia. Wazmo Noriz was from the Chicago area. There were other American and English New Wave artists of course, but these bands kind of defined at least part of my experience, growing up in Orange County in the late 1970s.

Wazmo Check out girl

Eccentric New Wave pioneer Wazmo Nariz was born Larry Grennan, and holds a few unique distinctions in late 20th century American music. First, he and his “Wazband” were one of the first two Chicago punk/New Wave acts signed to a major label–Wazmo Nariz and Skafish were both signed by Miles Copeland to the IRS label, which was still in its infancy. Wazmo Nariz is also the only Chicago punk/New Wave artist to have a single released on England’s prestigious Stiff records label, and the the only Chicago punk/New Wave artist to be mentioned in Incredibly Strange Music, vol II–released by Re/Search Publications, in 1994. In that work, record collector Candi Strecker defines the Wazmo mystique as: “…weird, even though he looked very normal. On {his first} album, he’s wearing a polyester salesman’s suit and sports a blowdried hairstyle, but his gimmick was that he always wore two neckties–fat polyester ones at that…” She also noted that Nariz’s voice has operatic qualities that one would not expect to find in modern popular music.

Nariz wore a skinny-tie before skinny-ties were in.  Nariz was playing New Wave in America before New Wave truly existed. Wazmo Nariz and his Wazband are undeniably talented and strikingly weird, even by early 1980s standards.

Wazmo Nariz–signed to–and dropped from–I.R.S.

After hearing the follow-up ep on Fiction, Miles Copeland signed Wazmo to IRS where the band wazmo2recorded “Things Aren’t Right”, a record rife with sexual innuendo, local Chicago references, and Wazmo’s trademark histrionic vocals. Although the single from that album “Checking Out the Check-out Girls” was a modest hit–receiving club play at both O’Banion’s and New York’s Mudd Club–IRS dropped Wazmo after the album was released. He released a second album on Big Records, “Tell Me How to Live” in 1981. He toned down the weirdness level for this album slightly, but without commercial success.

Wazmo Nariz and Stan Ridgeway

Since disbanding the Wazband, Wazmo has been a frequent sideman on Stan Ridgway’s albums, as has Wazband keyboardist Jeff Boynton. Wazband’s drummer, Bruce Zelesnick later became an official member of Ridgway’s band.

The thing about Wazmo Nariz is that this Chicago combo served up some really weird, and truly bizarre music that stick in your head. Hmm…the jury is still out on whether or not this is a good thing.  You will really have to want to listen to the aptly-titled, Things Aren’t Right to enjoy and to get the jokes. After signing to I.R.S., this inaugural LP was described as reminiscent of Bryan Ferry being trapped in a bouncy world of Oingo Boingo.

 Wazmo Nariz–Too weird to be Mainstream, not weird enough to be Avant Garde

Wazmo and his band–guitarist Jeff Hill, bassist James E McGreevey III, keyboardist Jeff Boynton and drummer Bruce Zelesnik–were really too weird to be mainstream but not strange enough to truly be avant-garde. Their sound was highly melodic and their songs could even be described as “catchy.” Most of the band’s music revolved around a theme of quirky sex, delivered in Wazmo’s trademark strange, hiccupy tremelo.

Wazmo Nariz–Tele-tele-telephone

Wazmo Nariz scored a minor local hit in 1978 with an independent single, “Tele-tele-waz band1 telephone” that was picked up and reissued in the U.K. by the then fledgling Stiff Records. In 1979, they followed up with an EP which caught the ear of Miles Copeland who signed them to his Illegal Records/I.R.S. label where they released their debut LP Things Aren’t Right and single “Checking Out The Checkout Girls” which managed to get some airplay in their native Chicago. Wazmo Nariz had some other singles, I recall, but none of them were as interesting to me as Checkin’ Out the Check Out Girls.

Wasmo Nariz.  He is a little weird.

If you like your 80’s pop off-kilter and and a little strange, chances are you’ll like Things Aren’t Right, which sets the standard for standing apart from everything else.

So, I woke up this morning with this weird song in my head. This song is just too out there and too weird for me not to write up today. Wazmo Nariz.



Joe Jackson–Is She Really Going Out with Him?

7 Jun , 2011,
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Joe Jackson–Is She Really Going Out with Him?
Joe Jackson1

From the 1979 Look Sharp 10″ ep release,  Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” is one of a handful of 1970s new wave–along with Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”, the B-52s’ “Rock Lobster”, and Devo’s “Freedom of Choice”–that I have never forgotten.

I always like it when a bass line catches my attention.  It doesn’t have to be flashy or complicated to get my ear, it just has to be interesting.  I really like the bass part to “Is She Really Going Out with Him?”  Sort of like McCartney, whoever is playing bass  for Joe Jackson on Look Sharp! seems to know exactly what notes to play, what notes not to play–and exactly when to play them.

I’ve never been impressed by flashy bass playing.  Technically, these artists generally know what they’re doing, nevertheless, even guys like Les Claypool of Primus kind of bore me.  Even though Claypool gets some amazing tones and rhythms from his instrument, and is technically a far superior musician in many ways, than I could ever hope to be, his music never really interested me much.

The bass part on “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” is subtle, understated and beautiful.  I really like the way the bass line supports the song and provides a melodic counter-foundation for the keyboard and guitars.

Joe Jackson–earlier projects

joe jackson look sharp2Joe Jackson’s first band was called Edward Bear . The band was later renamed Edwin Bear and later Arms and Legs, but dissolved in 1976 after two unsuccessful singles.

Although he was still known as David Jackson while in Arms & Legs, it was around this time that Jackson picked up the nickname “Joe”, based on his perceived resemblance to the puppet character  Joe 90.  I don’t know who or what the hell Joe 90 is either.  He then spent some time on the cabaret circuit to make money to record his own demos.

In 1978, a record producer heard his tape, and got him signed to A&M Records.   The album Look Sharp! was recorded straight away, and was released in 1979, quickly followed by I’m the Man–also 1979–and Beat Crazy in 1980.

Joe Jackson–Happy Birthday, Miles!  You’ve lived longer than many of your heroes

I think that it was my twenty-eighth birthday in 1996 that my buddy, George gave me a copy of Look Sharp! in a mylar bag with ajoe 3 bottle cap, a couple pieces of string, some black and red licorice and a couple of tic-tacs duct-taped to it.  “Happy birthday,” he said, thrusting the record in my hands.  “You made it.  You are now officially no longer eligible to join the 27 Club. Congratulations!”

I looked at the cover in amazement.  How many times do I remember hearing “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” on the radio, and wishing I had a cassette tape handy to record it?  I don’t know why, but I never thought that I’d own a copy of Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp! on ten inch vinyl.  It still had the lapel pin on the cover and everything.

Thanks, George!  When the book is written, you will go down as one of the good guys.

I saw my copy of Look Sharp! last week.  It is still in a safe place, still in the mylar bag, still with the bottle cap, pieces of string and licorice and the crusty old tic-tacs firmly attached with 17 year old duct tape.

I love this record.  Look Sharp! reminds me of being a kid in Orange County, before the folks moved us to Cathey’s Valley when I was 12.

Joe Jackson.