Nov 3, 2018

Listen to New Wave Rock! THE KNACK: “MY SHARONA”

Listen to New Wave Rock! THE KNACK: “MY SHARONA” WLCY Radio Hits

The Knack’s career seemed to have suffered greatly because Capitol Records appeared to go out of its way in hyping the group as something approaching the second coming of the Beatles (which it was not), the band’s refusal to grant interviews, and because the Knack fit in a stylistic slot that made the band a bit difficult to define. For some music fans of the day, the hype the band was given raised questions about its authenticity. In any case, this Los Angeles band enjoyed a couple of significant hits that were part of the new wave scene, “My Sharona” and “Good Girls Don’t,” and might easily have been more commercially and critically successful than it was had it not been for the aforementioned apparent career miscues.

The Knack consisted of singer/guitarist Doug Fieger, lead guitarist Berton Averre, bassist Prescott Niles, and drummer Bruce Gary. Significantly, the members of this group had extensive professional experience in other bands, as backing musicians for solo performers, and as studio musicians before the Knack was formed in 1978. The Knack’s early performances in 1978 in Los Angeles were highly touted and attended by some of the elite of the rock-music world. So, this was a band that could clearly connect with an audience and had the experience and technical skills to perform virtually any kind of popular music they chose. It seems, then, that the extramusical part of the group’s career was really what got in the way for Fieger, Averre, Niles, and Gary.

Easily the Knack’s biggest hit, and one of the biggest hits of the new wave era, “My Sharona” was written by Doug Fieger and Berton Averre, a team that had collaborated even before the establishment of the Knack. According to Fieger, the song was inspired Sharona Alperin, a friend of Fieger’s then-girlfriend, with whom Fieger became enamored upon meeting. Fieger also acknowledged that the insistent musical setting of the song and the famous opening instrumental riff were influenced by the songs on Elvis Costello’s This Years Model album (Konow 2017).

Perhaps one of the most important things to keep in mind about “My Sharona” is the song’s use of what are known in the world of pop music as hooks. According to NPR’s Tom Cole (2010), a hook is “a catchy combination of melody, lyrics and rhythm that stays in the listener’s head - something that songwriters from the dawn of time have wanted to achieve.” “My Sharona” is a song that contains several particularly strong hooks, melodically, rhythmically, and accompanimentally. The instrumental introduction includes a distinctive rhythm, which eventually turns out to be virtually identical to the rhythm in Fieger’s vocal melody in the song’s verses. The instrumental figure associated with the rhythm in the introduction also contains references to the later vocal line, particularly on the title words; however, the very opening of the instrumental riff consists of alternations of pitches an octave apart. There certainly is nothing magical about the interval of an octave, but its use in “My Sharona” as the basis of an instrumental riff is highly distinctive and easily memorable.

The strong pop hooks of “My Sharona” apparently made a strong, favorable impact on a large part of the public, as the single release is reputed to be one of the biggest-selling singles of the rock era. In fact, as the Knack’s official website puts it, “During the summer of 1979, culminating with a riotous sold out performance in New York’s legendary Carnegie Hall, the Knack was unavoidable. It seemed as if every stereo and car radio reverberated with the thunderous hook of their number one smash. It took rock icons Led Zepplin to finally relieve them of the number one album position in the fall of ’79. Billboard named ‘Sharona’ as the number one single of 1979. Today it still ranks as one of the biggest selling singles of the rock era” (Knack n.d.).

Unfortunately, “My Sharona” represented the Knack’s first and biggest brush with commercial success. The single “Good Girls Don’t” was not quite as successful, and the group’s albums subsequent to Get the Knack did not sell nearly as well as the band’s debut. “My Sharona” itself reentered the singles charts when the song was used in the 1994 film Reality Bites. Although the band officially broke up just a few years after “My Sharona” made the Knack a household name, the group did undertake several reunions over the years, some with the original members and some with substitute personnel. Unfortunately, drummer Bruce Gary died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2006, and lead singer and songwriter Doug Fieger died of cancer in 2010.

In 2003, VH1 ranked “My Sharona” at No. 64 in the music-video network’s list “The 100 Greatest Songs of the Past 25 Years” (Cosgrove-Mather and Lemire 2003). One might debate whether or not a song parody suggests the importance or the popularity of its source. However, for a parody to be successful, particularly from a commercial standpoint, there has to be a certain degree of mass familiarity with the source. Interestingly, “My Sharona” played a significant role in the establishment of one of the United States’ best-known musical humorists of the rock era. Weird A1 Yankovic’s homemade recording of his parody of “My Sharona,” entitled “My Bologna,” was the great parodist’s first exposure to the public and helped to secure Yankovic his first record contract. In this way, the Knack unwittingly helped to kick off the career of one of the most successful musical comedians of all time.

1 comment:

  1. Bruce Gary - drummer in The Knack - producer of archive Jimi Hendrix recordings - and respected sideman for Jack Bruce, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Stephen Stills, Rod Stewart, Sheryl Crow, Bette Midler, Yoko Ono and Harry Nilsson et al - died rom complications of lymphoma. (www.BruceGary.com)

    In the late 1970’s it wasn’t only rock ‘n’ roll that was in the doldrums - drumming had been eclipsed by the universal drone of techno-perfect but soulless drum machines.

    It was into that sterile vacuum that Bruce Gary and his powerhouse drumming for The Knack burst like an incendiary bombardment. The first drum attack on “My Sharona” sounded the death knell for disco. It was shock and awe percussion that demolished the blight of disco handclaps and returned rock to its primal roots.

    No less shocking were the contradictions in Bruce himself. He looked as tall and stick-thin as the average Brit rocker - yet his personality was as warm, cosy and “haimishe” as your favorite Jewish grandmother. With a mischievous twinkle. Keith Richards exterior - Ruth Gordon on the inside.

    I only had the gift of knowing Bruce for the past few years. I first met him when I was producing some benefit shows and needed a drummer to play with the highly-ranked Brits-in-exile I’d assembled . Spencer Davis, Denny Laine, Andy Summers, Chris Spedding, Phil Chen, Gordon Waller, Laurence Juber... It need a drummer of stature to play with all of those characters - and I found that and more in Bruce. He played like a dervish and provided the unity that bound the unrehearsed musicians together. Watching him thrash the drums on Spencer Davis’ “I’m A Man” and Andy Summers’ acid-tinged take on the Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run” was to see a man possessed... possessed of the pure passion of rock ‘n’ roll.

    Getting to know Bruce was even more pleasurable. Warm, funny, Beatles-obsessed, lanky, goofy, ladies’ man... And on Oscar nights he was a perennial at Norby Walters’ “Night Of A Hundred Stars” bash at the Beverly Hills Hotel - sat around a table next to a cigar-chewing radio deejay - schmoozing Sean Young and sundry actresses to the manor born...

    Most of all I shall miss Bruce and his habit of greeting me - as he did all his friends when he ran into them - by gently cradling my face with his calloused drummer hands while shining a smile as warm as the sun. He was that rarest of people: A musician AND a mensch. Elvis and chicken soup in one package. Happy trails Bruce...

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