Every week I will be listening to entire discographies of one-hit wonder bands and letting you know if their other songs are worth listening to or not. This week: The Knack.
Despite having written one of the most well-known rock hits of our time, the Knack never quite managed to make a name for themselves that transcended their claim to fame: "My Sharona.” Upon its release in 1979, the song became so popular that it instantly reached number 1 on the Billboard charts and stayed there for six consecutive weeks; one can argue that it hasn't ever really fizzled out. This mega-hit stands the test of time so well that even after several parodies and a terrifying (read: terrorizing) rendition by Bradford Cox, it still holds up as one of the seminal anthems of the 20th century. At the time, things looked really promising for this up-and-coming act and some even prematurely dubbed them as the next Beatles. So, then, why is it that the mention of the Knack today is often met with blank stares?
Perhaps it was their greatest hit that was also their greatest downfall, because the band failed to live up to the sensation that was "My Sharona"—an irresistibly catchy tune that is, at its core, really very simple (frontman Doug Fieger once claimed that it took him just 15 minutes to write it). The band employs that hook-heavy formula throughout their entire debut album, Get the Knack, making pretty much everything on it single-worthy. (Before you start giving me shit, I know "Good Girls Don't" hit no. 11 on the charts but it doesn't dominate as much as "My Sharona" and that song is just not very good and eh, screw technicalities and JUST BEAR WITH ME, OK?! Moving on…)
Get the Knack was released by Capitol Records in 1979 and because of the familiar packaging to another Capitol-released album by a certain well-known quartet, the band received a lot of criticism for trying to ride the Beatles wave a little too hard. By the way, whose art direction was it to have the two dudes on the left in the Knack album smiling gleefully/creepily and the two on the right looking super serious? I’m confused by this concept. Anyway, I'm having a pretty hard time wrapping my head around this ‘controversy’—probably because I live in a musical era where everything sounds like everything else—but apparently the Knack's similarity to the Beatles really bothered some people. Their rip-off status and, among other things, their lack of cooperation with the press inspired some people in the San Francisco and L.A. music scene to protest them with the oh-so-catchy slogan, "Knuke the Knack." I know, right? Did these people not have anything better to do? On top of everything else, the Knack also offended some listeners by writing songs about teenage girls when the members themselves were between 26–28 years of age. OK, but I don't think these guys were, like, actually pedophiles; it's just that youthfully lusty tunes about teenage girls are big sellers and they probably knew that. I mean, think about how many songs out there are about 17 year old chicks (like Sharona was). Tons! Plus, age of consent and yadi-yadi-ya; Doug and Sharona ended up dating for four years or so, so I don’t really know what the big deal is here.
Frontman Doug Fieger with his babely muse and then-girlfriend, Sharona Alperin
If you're still getting pervy old man vibes, though, here's one of the Knack's more honest and heartfelt songs off the album, and one of my favorites:
Because not many people seemed to
get the Knack
(ha), the band rushed to redeem themselves with a not-so-subtly-named sophomore effort the very next year:
…But the Little Girls Understand
girl (me) didn't really understand this half-ass attempt at redemption. If anything, they came off as more horny and generic-sounding than before. The deeper I dove into their discography, the more it made sense to me why they were mostly just remembered for "My Sharona" and not much else following that. I thought this second album would be good, though. I knew Kurt Cobain was a fan of the Knack so I was ready to discover that they had put out a series of severely under-appreciated rock records. But I don't know if
is quite the word. It was, well, mediocre and often too cheesy for my taste. The catchiest song from the album might be "Mr. Handleman" but even that is sonically a poor man's Beatles track while the lyrics are about some dude pimping out his wife—a subject matter that did no favors for the group’s already-tainted reputation.
Something about this live video is very awk.
The third LP, Round Trip (1981), had a couple "ooh, this is pretty good"-tracks but was mostly just as forgetful as the last. After the 5th track, "Just Wait and See"—which I actually quite liked—I zoned out so hard that I had to start over a bunch of times, just to realize this is pretty mediocre too. Shortly after this release, due to a less than successful tour, a mildly received album (number 93 on the US charts), and the looming realization of their fall from grace, the Knack broke up.
…And that should have been the end of it. Instead of staying split up like they should have, they reunited a few years later and tried to make a comeback with 1991's Serious Fun. Listening to this just made me feel really sad, wishing they had stopped while they were still somewhat respectable. Plus, the album title Serious Fun sounds intimidating, like a group of aged rockstars making a really grand promise (“WE’RE BACK AND WE’RE HERE TO ROCK YOUR SOCKS OFF”) but then turning out to be severely disappointing, which was actually the case with this. What a bunch of hot air you are, the Knack. I must confess I skimmed through the next couple albums, Zoom (1998) and Normal as the Next Guy (2001), because I was exhausted from all the listening and letdowns but occasionally caught lyrics like "ambition is all you need!" and shook my head a bunch. Oh, the Knack.
The verdict? The Knack was technically a two-hit wonder but really just a one-hit wonder. If you want to check them out anyway, there are a handful of gems to be found in Get the Knack but listening to anything else will leave you dismayed. It saddens me to think that in his last years, frontman Doug Fieger suffered from illness, fighting both brain tumor and lung cancer, before passing away in February 2010. Regardless of all the musical screw-ups in the later parts of his career, his contribution with “My Sharona” alone is enough to go down in rock ‘n’ roll history. And for that, I will always remember him as the guy who co-wrote this convenience store dance inspiring number (from 1994's Reality Bites):
Rest in peace.
Previously – Dexys Midnight Runners