Look at that guy. You know which one I’m talking about. You’ve got three surfer dude boys in the band and the frontman with the thousand yard smirk.
You know that guy. So do I. He’s the dude who always had a copy of the exam beforehand, always had a parent’s note (that he wrote) each time he was late for school. The guy that never kicked in for the keg then left the party with the best looking girl. The guy who would end up wearing his high school letter jacket after graduation, unless he happened to become a millionaire. And the big difference: that guy in your life doesn’t have the redeeming value of writing a transcendent pop song that gets inside of you like herpes simplex and never leaves. Doug Fieger was that guy. And now he’s gone.
Rest in peace, you rascal.
Remember the Knack? These cats really did exist in that bizarre end of decade limbo: punk was already mutating into new wave and prog rock was punch-drunk in the dressing room. Hair metal was a ways off and MTV was not yet ascendant. The disco backlash was in full effect but nobody had really fired the shot heard round the roller rink. And then “My Sharona” hit the streets.
Obviously aping the Beatles (the stylistic shtick more than the substance), their temerity for even going there instigated a critical backlash they never quite recovered from. This was exacerbated by the fact that they never made another good album. No matter: in 1979 people got the Knack, whether they wanted it or not. These, of course, were days before iPods, CD players, cassette decks and even digital radio. In fact, some cars did not even have radios. Really. But the ones that did probably picked up three or four stations and all of them, at all times of every day, were playing “My Sharona”. At least it seemed that way. And I was at the right age at the right time, because I loved it.
Here’s the thing. The rest of that debut album (entitled, of course, Get the Knack) was pretty good. It still is. No, really.
Sure, listening to “Good Girl’s Don’t” (which has some pretty ballsy lyrics, literally) brings one right back to teenybopper limbo (that phase we recall nostalgically but, at the time, was interminable) when you weren’t getting anywhere, except in your mind, which made it the most important thing in the world. And that is the point. A time when the key word was frustrated. Wait, Doug Fieger was a genius! (Well, maybe that song owes more than a little to Elvis Costello’s immortal “Pump It Up” but there’s enough room in this world for both songs.) There are other more-than-tolerable moments (and I’ll admit, I haven’t listened to many of them since I owned the original LP: my loss), like “Maybe Tonight” (hello Beatles!) and “Heartbeat” (hello Buddy Holly!). All of a sudden it becomes safe to conclude: The Knack were not a one-hit wonder. A one-album wonder, maybe, but how many bands can even say that much? And Get the Knack passes the ultimate smell test: more than 30 years later, it is not just worth remembering, it’s worth revisiting.
Once you get the Knack, you keep on getting it.
Sci-Fi Author Ursula LeGuin's Stories of Class War, Religious Dissension, Identity Politics and More