If you were in high school during the Summer of ’79 then you’re middle aged, possibly even considered “old”. It was the last summer of the “Me Decade”, though I felt like we’ve become more egocentric in the previous decades than compared to the ’70s. I’ll leave that one for the sociologists and historians to hash out. I’m hear to talk about rock music in all of its forms of glory.
During the Summer of ’79, my musical horizon expanded seemingly in a logarithmic fashion. All of a sudden, Central Indiana radio was blaring new wave, power pop, rap, funk, and for a very short time you thought that maybe the local stations were catching up to the rest of the world. It was simply that summer, but what a summer it was, musically speaking. That summer, I discovered Talking Heads (Fear of Music), Joe Jackson (Look Sharp!), Sugarhill Gang (“Rapper’s Delight”), Frank Zappa (“Dancing Fool” from Sheik Yer Bouti), The Cars (Candy-o), Bram Tchaikovsky (“Girl of My Dreams” and “Lady from the U.S.A.”), Funkadelic (“Aqua Boogie”), just to name a few. One of my all-time favorite bands became my favorite band that summer, Cheap Trick, due to the success of “I Want You to Want Me” and their ‘Cheap Trick at Budokan’. But, that summer belonged to a band that I feel gets a hard knock. That band blasted out of L.A. and seemed to be playing everywhere I went that summer. The Summer of ’79 was the summer that young people my age got a STD-sounding disease called The Knack. “My Sharona” was the first single and became the biggest selling song of the year. Their debut album was the great Get the Knack. And, all of us teens, well, we got the whole thing.
But, for some reason, the Boomers didn’t get the Knack. I read poor review after poor review of the album in my sacred music magazines. Rolling Stone and Creem magazines were blasting the Knack’s appropriation of the Beatles’ images, when we all understood the parody and how the Knack was honoring the Beatles. The critics hated the Beatesque sound, while the youth understood the whole joke. But, what is forgotten by everyone is that their debut album is a straight-up, bona fied classic.
The whole purpose of New Wave or Power Pop or Punk or whatever you want to call the “alternative” music made back then was post-modern in both sound and image. Bands that sold far less than the Knack were praised for this appropriation. Yes, the Knack got bad advise from their management team to keep them from interviews in big magazines (Rolling Stone has always acted like a little girl who doesn’t get their way when artists turn down their requests for interviews. The magazine will always try to destroy the artist’s career in retribution. And, the turned down a spot on Saturday Night Live, as well. But, remember this: Aykroyd and Belushi were gone from the cast that year, so they felt their exposure was limited. Still, the members have all stated regret. The last straw happened when the band’s management turned down a performance spot on the Grammy Awards Show in March 1980. The final nail in their coffin was that the Knack listened to their label to release another album in less than a year. Everyone could have used a break, especially the creative force in the Knack, Doug Fieger. To compensate, the members of the band turned to drugs to pick them up. But, as we know now, drugs ain’t good for anybody.
However, the Knack did give us one of the finest albums from our youth. Get the Knack is loaded with great songs, with nods toward their ’60s music heroes The Who, The Kinks and, yes, the Beatles, as well as Badfinger and Raspberries. The best part of the album is the discovery that all the members of the Knack are terrific musicians.
Get the Knack opens with one of the greatest opening four songs that I have EVER heard on an album. The album kicks off with the rocking, seemingly amphetamine-charged “Let Me Out”. This was a call-to-arms of a generation tired of endless guitar solos and virtuoso drum solos. Now, we were getting a simple, straight-ahead rock song that would be a fantastic concert opener.
Their is barely a break between “Let Me Out” and the next song, “Your Number or Your Name”. Now, the momentum slows half a step, as the singer (Fieger) pleads to a girl that he just needs to know her phone number or, at the very least, her name. Guys can all relate to that moment when you met a beautiful young lady and get had to get her number or her name. Most of the time, I was too awkward to talk to the girl, so I simply tortured myself as I left the dance.
The third song was Fieger’s first song whose title is the name of a girl, “Oh Tara”. Fieger is great at voicing the unrequited love of a teenage boy for a teenage girl.
It is with the fourth song that we begin to see the nasty side of Fieger. The song is “(She’s So) Selfish”. The singer has had it with his own ineptitude with talking with women. So, the problem as got to be the girl. Now, this girl has a reputation, whether that reputation is deserved or not is up for debate, but she won’t show her reputation to the sing er, so he’s pissed. So, what’s a pissed off teenage male to do? Uh, write a song knocking the girl’s image to smithereens. Classy me? No! But, isn’t it what every teenage guy feels when in that situation? Unfortunately, yes. The only thing is that we don’t write a highly infectious song set to a modified Bo Diddley beat at a break neck pace.
On the next-to-last song of Side 1, the Knack turns down the speed a bit for their first ballad of the album. The song, “Maybe Tonight”, has some Beatlesque effects, all the while giving a passing nod to a couple other power pop ancestors, Small Faces and the Hollies. Once again the singer is putting his, uh, horniness to words and music, but with a sense of resignation that his elusive dream surrounding his virginity will never take place.
Finally, Side 1 ends with the great male putdown to an “experienced” girl who shuns the singer’s advances with “Good Girls Don’t”. So, the singer takes out this girl that he is only dating for one reason, and guess what? She’s too easy for the singer! Wow! The guy really wants romance before the connection as his first. So, he’s never going to be a guy who accumulates may notches on his bedpost with this attitude. I will always remember getting so mad that our high school radio station General Manager/Teacher would not let us play that song. As a teen, I was appalled, but as a parent I get it. Well, that radio experience is a whole other story. Next!
Of course, we get up, turn over the album, and cue the needle to play the first song on Side 2, “My Sharona”. What can I possibly say about “My Sharona” that hasn’t been said before? First, it is a great, great song. It should be remembered as one of the greatest of all Fieger and Sharona did get together for a short yet intense relationship that burned out within a couple of years.
Now, its on Side 2 that the album begins to loose a little momentum. But, how could a band on their debut album be expected to maintain the high quality of their first seven songs? “Heatbeat” is a run-of-the-mill power pop song that is nice, but not of the high quality set by Side 1 and “Sharona”. The same can be said for the third song on Side 2, “Siamese Twins (The Monkey and Me)”. The songs are serviceable, but not classic. I could say that they are the type of songs that when played live, the band can stretch it’s collective muscles and display their strengths in a concert setting. But, the studio versions are a little on the boring side.
Next, we get our third song about a specific girl, “Lucinda”. It is a great power pop love song to a girl. My guess is that Fieger used Lucinda in stead of Sharona. Regardless, the song is bitter.power pop ballad song that contains an awesome guitar solo that utilizes a “talk box,” as popularized by Peter Frampton on “Do You Feel Like I Do”. I honestly always have felt this song was placed so the listen could catch his or her breath before the last two songs.
On the next-to-last song on the album, “That’s What the Little Girls Do”, Fieger is singing about all the different way in which he has had his heart broken by a girl. He does a great job putting into words how guys get not only their hearts broken by girls, but also their egos. No one has said that in a song until the Knack did.
To close out the album, the Knack offers up “Frustrated”. This is the “Satisfaction” for the older Generation X-ers. Now, Fieger has expressed our true emotions about all the parameters of a relationship. Yes, guys are wanting “it” all the time back then, and most of the girls in their teens want their Prince Charmings and unicorns and fireworks that everyone has a different opinion how the deed should go down, leading to all of the tension of the lyrics.
1979 holds a special place in my heart from a musical standpoint. I was beginning to dabble in the non-AOR world of punk, funk, power pop and anything else that was not REO, Styx, Foreigner, Neil Diamond, etc. I could not wait to get to college to see how my musical tastes diversified. And, Get the Knack played a huge role in the development. It’s a shame that the critics played such a heinous role in the demise of the Knack. We could have really had the voice of the older Gen X generation before U2 and R.E.M. and Tom Petty all moved in to fill that void after the Knack exploded and the Clash imploded and the Police popped after being somewhat bloated. Forget “Knuke the Knack”! Long live Get the Knack!