The Knack‘s driving power pop tune number one smash “My Sharona” celebrated its 40th anniversary recently, without nary a pomp and definitely no circumstance.
But make no mistake, to be in the summer of 1979 back then, there was nothing bigger on radio or arguably on the music scene at the time than The Knack, with their brash unapologetic attitude, and a sexism in their music that would be all but forbidden if released today. By 1979 punk music was starting to ebb in terms of curiosity and shock value and the later named “yacht rock” was beginning to bubble up, evident in bands like Ambrosia and the solo works of Kenny Loggins and Christopher Cross, all with a sonic kind of pullover sweater over the speakers sound to it and all beginning at the end of the 1970s.
The Knack were kind of somewhere in between. All the members had cut their teeth on other projects for the most part before coming together around 1977 or so. By the time their first album was released, they were a primed rock and roll band on high energy but with a jangly Beatles-esque feel and flavor to it, sometimes right on its sleeve. The Beatles influence was something that dogged the band their entire time. And they didn’t help the matter — their first album Get The Knack was bolstered by a huge promotional campaign by Capitol Records, which was conveniently the Beatles’ label too. It also didn’t help that the band had an album cover that resembled Meet the Beatles and a back cover which downright plagiarized an iconic Beatles moment. If that wasn’t enough, the record label itself had the old 1960s Capitol color “swirl” logo, which (surprise) also adorned early Beatles releases.
These kinds of antics — coupled with the fact that the band refused to give interviews to the American press, nor appear on any American TV shows to promote their singles — made them a polarizing group, vilified for the most part by critics and rabidly loved by young fans. Although it was through the constant and consistent touring and the highly pumped up ad campaign by Capitol that made the band a household name (albeit briefly), it was the music that walked the walk over all that talk and buzz.
And the music was and remains an incredible debut slice of power pop songs that are at once catchy (some extremely catchy), memorable, tough, funny (if not taken seriously), and all within the idiom, for the most part, of teenage lust and longing, done with a kind of sonic amalgam of if The Byrds and The Beatles did a super group with The Ramones, The Sweet, and Buddy Holly. It’s that hybrid of noise done in nice sonic sound bites that preserves in many ways the genius of the late singer/songwriter/magnetic front man Doug Fieger, who had just the right penchant for and right amount of zeal, spit in your face while shaking your hand, and sonic know-how.
You can clearly tell, even though he and the band are best remembered for the top shelf rat-at-tat of “My Sharona” — a song which showcases the guitar work of Berton Averre, who shines all over Get the Knack — Fieger still has his roots in ’60s bands a la The Byrds and electric Dylan, Lennon, and others of that ilk. It’s an influence that brings a rare kind of depth to what otherwise might have remained some simple half-baked sonic fodder.
But the contrary is true with Get the Knack. Each song has a kind of bounce and smack to it, regardless of the tempo or content. Whether it’s the out-of-the-gun opener “Let Me Out”; the more understated, almost dare say sensitive sonic musings of “Oh Tara” or “Your Number or Your Name”; the rave-ups like the aforementioned “Sharona” or the follow-up hit “Good Girls Don’t”; and the in-your-face jagged edge of “Frustrated,” Get the Knack and the band are memorable and professional from the start. A juxtaposition of punks who actually knew what they were doing and then some.
Of course, while the band pretty much disappeared no less than about four years after the debut album, the strength of “My Sharona” still played strong all over the country and continues to. Various reunions occurred through the years (usually with a different drummer; the underrated and powerful original Knack drummer, Bruce Gary, died in 2005). The band kept going until Fieger’s death put a permanent halt on all proceedings in 2010.
40 years on there’s definitely a reason to revisit, or perhaps even hear for the very first time, a record from a band that most didn’t even realize had such a wider scope than the fun, sexual urgency of “My Sharona.” The Knack, in many ways, tried to contemporize The Beatles for a late 1970s generation of teenagers and young adults and almost succeeded.
But they are definitely more than a curio. In fact, they are a lot better than you ever imagined or realized. Get Get the Knack and turn it up. 40 years later, it still makes a lot of noise.