After more than 20 years, I still have the Reality Bites soundtrack in rotation - the album that catapulted the Knack's '79 Billboard Hot 100 number 1 hit "My Sharona" back into the pop charts. Let's just say I've done my share of dancing in convenience stores over the years, à la Winona and Janeane, to the catchy song.
But, until today, my appreciation for the Knack ended there. I'm ashamed to say that I pretty much considered them one-hit wonders. So, inspired by this new arrival (a deadstock the Knack t-shirt from 1979!!!), I'm delving into the band's debut album Get the Knack today and it's pretty darn great!
Of course, we must start with "Sharona". The real-life girl at the center of the Knack’s smash hit—Sharona Alperin, on the single’s cover below—was only 17, a fact referenced in rather Prince-ly detail in the lyrics: “Never gonna stop, give it up, such a dirty mind / I always get it up for the touch of the younger kind.”
To be fair, Knack singer Doug Fieger was only 25 at the time the two met at the clothing store where Alperin worked. "I was about 16 or 17 at the time," Alperin said in a 2010 interview for NPR. "He was nine years older than me. And within a month or two later, he told me, 'I'm in love with you, you're my soulmate, you're my other half, we're going to be together one day.' And I was madly in love with my boyfriend at the time, and so it took a year for me to leave my boyfriend."
Alperin remembers the day when she first heard "My Sharona" — before she and Fieger were an item.
"One day, on my lunch break from my clothing store, I went to their [The Knack's] rehearsal," she says. "And I saw maybe Burton [Averee] or Doug [Fieger] say, 'Should we play it? Should we play it? All right, let's play it for her.' And I sat down. Cut to: I'm driving back to the clothing store, and I'm thinking, 'Did I just hear a song with my name in it?'"
When the two got together they ended up dating for several years. Alperin even toured with the band. Here they are around 1979...
Here's a great live performance of "Sharona", the song that kick started ... and arguably killed the Knack's career...
The Knack’s seemingly instant rise to the top led some critics to question their authenticity, sincerity, and motives. But they truly did earn their place at the top of the rock pyramid. Throughout 1978, the Knack endlessly played the L.A. club scene, with triumphant residences at the Whisky and the Troubadour. Eventually, record companies came calling. “I was aware of them, as everybody else in L.A. was,” said producer Mike Chapman in the documentary Getting the Knack, “because there was lines of kids around the block to go see them at their shows.” The large fan base they had built up happened to include people like Tom Petty, Stephen Stills and Bruce Springsteen, all of whom would jam with the Knack at the Troubadour. “Bruce Springsteen gets up onstage with us on a Friday night, and on Monday, we have 14 record offers,” Fieger memorably quipped.
Unfortunately, there were a bunch of wrong turns ahead for the Knack. With the offers rolling in, the band chose Capitol Records, the home of the Beatles, and comparisons would dog the Knack from there forward.Meanwhile, radio overkill led to general listener fatigue with the Knack and, hoping to take back a lost sense of mystique, management decided not to have the Knack give interviews. And, that just plain pissed people off. A ‘Knuke the Knack’ campaign was started by San Francisco artist Hugh Brown (pictured below, members of the band ironically wearing some "Knuke" gear). Things kind of snowballed from there.
The Knack never recovered from the backlash. “How could it have changed so much that we were ‘the glorious, the wonderful Knack’ one minute, and we were this horrible, sell-out, commercial bulls— hype the next minute?” Fieger later mused. “It made me angry.”
The list of parodies of “My Sharona” is indeed impressive...
Weird Al Yankovic’s novelty debut “My Bologna" put him on the map!
Cheech and Chong’s send-up appeared in Next Movie as “My Scrotum"
This live track was performed only once by the Dead Kennedys in 1980 for the Bay Area Music Awards. The spoof of “My Sharona” — which begins at 1:42 and features the lines “my payola” — was aimed at the music executives in the crowd of the awards show.
Sadly, we lost Knack front-runner Doug Fieger on Valentine's Day 2010 to cancer, but his friend and former muse, Sharona, was reportedly with him in his last days. I really recommend you revisit this great pop band's music! I can say with confidence that the Knack's music will never be forgotten.
“We’ve already had the success you dream about. But we’ve never played our music for that. We play it because this is the only worthwhile pop music to make – fun and sad, silly and smart, explosive but sweet, snide but vulnerable. It’s not about being cool but about being goofy and having a great time. We didn’t invent this, but it’s what we do.” – Doug Fieger