(CEO/Publisher Note: RSR welcomes our newest Music Reviewer, Sam “Gonzo” Gonzales who will bringing you his column weekly called Gonzo’s Gems. On behalf of the entire team at RSR, we welcome him aboard.)
Where were you when you first heard “My Sharona” by The Knack? For me, it was June 1979 and I had just stopped by to visit a friend. “You gotta hear this“ he said and quickly put a shiny new 45 single on his turntable and cranked it up. I was floored by the instantly addictive punchy drum beat launching out of the speakers, the hook laden guitar riff, the pulsating bass line and the horny lyrics about some girl named Sharona.
The song played all the way through and when it ended I asked who it was? My best friend explained it was a new group from Southern California called, The Knack. “Play it again!” was my response. The Knack, formed in Los Angeles in 1978 with Doug Fieger on lead vocals, Berton Averre on lead guitar, Prescott Niles on bass and Bruce Gary on drums, hit the music scene hard and fast with that now classic tune straight off their debut album, “Get The Knack“.
“Get The Knack” was recorded in 11 days for a mere $17,000 and held the number one spot on Billboard magazine’s album chart for 5 consecutive weeks and sold an impressive 2 million copies in the United States. Because Capitol Records packaged “Get The Knack” in an album cover closely resembling The Beatle‘s “Meet The Beatles” album cover and with the band’s retro 1960s look it caused critics and fans to make comparisons to The Beatles, but their sound and energy was much more similar to The Kinks or The Who, much rougher than The Beatles. The second single, “Good Girls Don’t”, was released and I heard another Knack song for the first time at my friend’s house. Only this time we were treated to a “pre-MTV-video” moment as my friend’s girlfriend lip-synched and danced around the living room to the entire song. Nice moves.
I made my move, I rushed out and purchased the album and played it over and over. No lip-synching, dancing girlfriend though. Another great song from the album is “Your Number Or Your Name”. A stellar debut from The Knack to say the least. I joined the Navy soon thereafter, started a family and lost myself in the rigors of military life while The Knack continued making music. Their next release, “…But The Little Girls Understand” didn‘t fare as well as “Get The Knack“ and a backlash towards The Knack began after it’s release.
Disco was in full bloom and San Francisco artist Hugh Brown was now leading a “Knuke The Knack” campaign. The Knack weathered on and recorded their third album, the mature sounding “Round Trip“, but sadly the band called it quits three weeks after its release. Fast forward 10 years… I rediscovered those pesky “Knacks” again! It was now 1991 and “Serious Fun”, The Knack’s fourth album, had just been released. I was watching MTV and The Knack’s new video for the first single, “Rocket O’ Love” blasted onto the screen. Again, I was floored! “Rocket O’ Love” was instantly addictive to me as “My Sharona” had been all those years ago. And there was a hot girl dancing around in the video with lots of rockets blasting off into orbit! On top of that, how could you resist a song that started off with the lyrics: “One shot, ecstasy, funkhouse fever’s got a hold on me. Big bang, bedroom scene, shakedown cruise on a mean machine…“
Well, the funkhouse fever had a hold of me and I purchased the “Serious Fun” CD in double time. And listen to “One Day At A Time”, it’s absolutely mesmerizing! What should have become a huge hit for them was not to be. The record company chose not to release it as a single. Such a bad move on the record company’s part. Thoroughly satisfied with this new release I asked myself, “What had I missed between 1979 – 1991 with these guys?” I made it my mission to find out.
I was a true “Knackster” from that point on and began scouring record store bins across the city in search of the missing gems, “…But The Little Girls Understand” and “Round Trip” (released 1979 and 1981 respectively). My only chance in finding these gems was in LP form since they did not exist on CD yet. My dogged determination paid off within days when I found both LPs in separate dusty and rickety record stores. I dusted them off, paid $3 and $4 dollars for them and took them home. I recorded all my Knack songs in chronological order onto cassettes and now played The Knack continuously, keeping a close and vigilant eye open for any new Knack releases. As I listened to the first four albums religiously, I realized The Knack had not lost a single step with “…But The Little Girls Understand“, especially with standout tunes like, “Baby Talks Dirty” and “Can’t Put A Price On Love”.
I found The Knack’s third album, “Round Trip”, a bit more adventurous and sounding much more polished than it’s predecessors. Listen to “She Likes The Beat”, “Just Wait And See” and “Pay The Devil” and you see The Knack were still in very fine form and creating great music! Yet the band had broken up. Now my love affair with The Knack’s music continued through two “Best Of” compilations.
And how elated was I when I saw The Knack experience a resurgence in 1994 with the inclusion of “My Sharona” on the Reality Bites movie soundtrack. 1998 saw the release of “Zoom”. “Zoom” picked up right where “Serious Fun” left off. The tunes were strong and energetic, beaming with pride and a “happy-go-lucky” attitude. Kicking off the CD is “Pop Is Dead”. What a great start! I dare you to listen to it twice, back to back and keep the song from imbedding itself in your brain. You, my friend, will find yourself humming or singing it for the remainder of the day. Where “Pop Is Dead” starts out of the gate at full pace, “Can I Borrow A Kiss” eases in and finds you thinking of a lost love or the one that got away. For you Knack beginners, I recommend the “Zoom” CD and the “Get The Knack” CD as a starting point. You won’t be let down. 2001 saw the release of Normal As The Next Guy”, their last studio CD.
Once again, great music from a great band. My favorite song from that CD, “Seven Days In Heaven” became one of my favorite songs. I listen to music constantly, new and old and I’m constantly looking for lost musical gems, but I always seem to come back to The Knack. They are my constant. My musical home base if you will. On one hot summer night, in the summer of 2005, I was driving home after a particularly long day at work when I spotted ahead of me in the distance the big casino marquee announcing “The Knack” and “Flock Of Seagulls“. They were playing tonight! I drove to the casino and quickly parked.
As I walked from the parking lot to the casino ticket counter I could hear “Flock Of Seagulls“ playing live in the outside amphitheater. The Knack were on next! I bought a ticket and made my way through the casino to the amphitheater. I sat and waited for The Knack. Finally, with the lights out they made their way onto the dark stage and found their places. One… two… three! Lights blared on as the first note of “Pop Is Dead” blared out of the huge speakers on stage. That night they played all my favorites and played their hearts out. And when they played “My Sharona” the place went nuts!
By the end of the concert I came to the full realization of two things: This is a great live band who had truly captured their live energy on all their records; and Berton Averre is criminally underrated as a guitar player. Take the time to really listen and concentrate to his guitar playing on any of their CDs and you will see what a huge part he played in the creation and success of The Knack. He is a monster!!! What a great band! What a great concert! I went home elated that I had seen one of my all time favorite bands. My only complaint: the concert was too short, it could have been longer.
Then in a turn of events in 2006. During a performance, Doug became disoriented on stage and began struggling to find the words to the songs he had written and sang for so many years. Soon after, Doug was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He underwent treatment and then returned to performing. Then again, another sad turn of events, Doug was also diagnosed with lung cancer. He continued a brave fight against brain and lung cancer until his death on February 14, 2010 at the age of 57. Rest in peace Doug and thanks for all the awesome music. Interesting note: Doug did manage to leave us a little ditty before leaving. He contributed lead vocals to “Dirty Girl” from Bruce Kulick’s CD, “BK3”. If you get a chance, check it out! These days, a wry smile crosses my lips every time I come across “My Sharona” on a compilation CD or a movie soundtrack.
I know The Knack are considered by some as one hit wonders, but the truth is they released such a wealth of clever, well crafted songs with an abundance of energy and attitude. Remember, music doesn’t have to save the world or answer some deep mystical question. Music is fun. Music has the power to move you. Do yourself a favor and explore the music this great band created. Get The Knack… Again!
(DVD) “Live From The Rock N Roll Fun House”
(CDs) “Get The Knack“ and “Zoom”
(Songs) My Sharona, Good Girls Don’t, Your Number Or Your Name, Baby Talks Dirty, Can’t Put A Price On Love, She Likes The Beat, Just Wait And See, Pay The Devil, Rocket O’ Love (Demo Version), One Day At A Time, Pop Is Dead, Can I Borrow A Kiss, Teacher Teacher, I Knew The Bride, and Seven Days In Heaven