Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

September 3–10, 1998

music

Back with the Knack


 

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Knickknacks: Doug Feiger (right) and the newly assembled Knack



The Knack is back with a new album (and there's not one reference to that chick Sharona on the whole damn thing).

by Jennifer Darr

When The Knack plays Philly this week in support of their new album Zoom (Rhino), there's no doubt at least one audience member—whether it's an aging rocker or a pierced and jaded 20-something—will shout "Play 'My Sharona'!" And though the band will most likely oblige (after all, it did secure them a spot in music history), lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Doug Fieger wants to clear up a few things first.

"'My Sharona' was a golden albatross," says 46-year-old Fieger calling from a Des Moines hotel room. He doesn't resent the success of the song (which he wrote about his then-love interest, Sharona Alperin), he just wishes that people would remember them for some of their other accomplishments.

Back when "My Sharona" was released in 1979, it shot them to superstardom. Before "My Sharona," The Knack, then made up of Fieger, guitarist Berton Averre, drummer Bruce Gary and bassist Prescott Niles, was a part of the L.A. club scene, playing haunts like the Troubadour and the Starwood. They had a loyal local fan base, yet they were consistently turned down by record companies who were only looking for disco acts. In the late '70s, as their following grew—and, of course, as disco started to die—record honchos began to take notice. In November 1978, 13 record companies were fighting for their signatures.

They signed with Capitol and released Get The Knack, which went platinum in a mere seven weeks. Rolling Stone called them "the next fab four."

"We were told we would be lucky if [Get The Knack] sold 250,000 copies," laughs Fieger. "We had no idea it would take off the way it did."

After "My Sharona," the band released a follow-up single, "Good Girls Don't," which reached number 11 on the charts, and embarked on a sold-out world tour.

On the advice of a novice PR man, The Knack refused to do interviews.

"He thought it would give us a mystique," Fieger recalls.

"It was a mistake."

Though the band's songs were hits, the media changed its tune. They started hurling obscenities like "one-hit wonder," "knock off" and "derivative."

"We are not a one-hit wonder," Fieger counters. Although he's clearly bitter about how he says The Knack was treated by the music industry (including journalists and label execs), he alternates his harsh statements ("[Record label executives] don't know anything about music; they want to appear hip and cool to their buddies—and they want to get laid") with little doses of soothing philosophy ("As Oscar Wilde once said, 'Criticism is the highest form of art'").

Less than a year later they released their second album, …but the Little Girls Understand, which fared well on the charts.

Then a ramshackle "Nuke the Knack" movement sprouted in Los Angeles. It wasn't quite a movement, contends Fieger, it was the work of one man who "was out to make a buck." That entrepreneur, Hugh Brown, printed up T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan and sold them all over town. (Ironically, Brown is now Rhino's art director, and he designed the cover of The Knack's latest effort, Zoom. According to Fieger, they haven't mended fences because Fieger says he was never really pissed at him in the first place.)

In 1981, they put out their third effort, Round Trip, which was produced by Jack Douglass (who worked on John Lennon's Double Fantasy).

Then they broke up.

Throughout the first half of the '80s, Fieger did a few acting jobs (that's what he initially wanted to be), and did producing and session work, as did other members of the band.

The Knack regrouped in 1986, but failed to release an album. Fieger cites personality differences: "I just couldn't stand [drummer] Bruce Gary."

In 1991, they got together again, but this time with Billy Ward on drums. The result was Serious Fun, their fourth album, produced by Don Was. The first single, "Rocket Of Love," hit the charts. As they were gearing up to release the second single, "One Day at a Time," the record label, Charisma, pulled the plug on promotion. "They decided we didn't fit their image. Grunge was getting big and we just didn't fit in," Fieger says.

A stroke of luck came along in 1994, with the release of the Reality Bites soundtrack, on which "My Sharona" was the lead track. The Knack joined the ranks of only 12 other bands that have had a single song hit the top 10 twice, says Fieger. It also netted the aging Knack a whole new legion of fans, says Fieger. "We've got fans who don't even know 'My Sharona' is from the '70s."

But, interestingly enough, around the same time The Knack was negotiating with the soundtrack producers for Reality Bites, the folks from Pulp Fiction started knocking on The Knack's door. They wanted "My Sharona" on their soundtrack.

"We had already agreed to do Reality Bites, so we couldn't have done Pulp Fiction," explains Fieger.

According to Soundscan, the Pulp Fiction soundtrack sold 3 million copies; Reality Bites sold 1.9 million. Any regrets, Fieger?

"No," he says matter-of-factly. "Reality Bites was a good film. And I am also a fan of Quentin Tarantino. I loved Reservoir Dogs…" he pauses.

"Put it this way, I'd much rather see Winona Ryder dancing in a 7-11 than see Ving Rhames being sodomized in the back of a curio shop."

Veruca Salt paid their respects to the band as well with their 1995 unauthorized cover of "My Sharona" (on the b-side of "Victrola").

The renewed interest in The Knack led to a sold out gig at Hollywood's Viper Room last year, where Rhino president Harold Bronson just happened to be lurking in the audience. Fieger knew Bronson in the '70s when he was an L.A. Times music journalist. Bronson, already a fan, was so impressed with the show that he immediately brought The Knack—now with Terry Bozzio (of Missing Persons and Frank Zappa fame) on drums—into the studio to start recording. Early this year, Rhino released Proof: The Very Best of the Knack, and in July they put out Zoom, a power pop-filled album full of ironic statements about the music industry (see "Pop is Dead," "Mister Magazine"). Their new sound is typical Knack, but packs a lighter punch.

And though you may see Fieger wearing a skinny tie on stage, the singer insists that The Knack is more than just "Sharona."

"We are not a nostalgia act."

I wonder how Sharona, now an L.A. real estate agent, would feel about that?

The Knack plays the Pontiac Grille, 304 South St., on Wednesday, Sept. 9. Call 925-4053 for info.

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