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–I 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 by 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?