Sandy Robertson – “The Knack: How You’ll Be Getting It” (1979)

February 19, 2010 at 1:58 am (Music, Reviews & Articles)

From the June 2, 1979 issue of Sounds comes this article on The Knack, who exploded onto the charts that year with the classic power pop anthem “My Sharona.” Lead singer and songwriter Doug Fieger sadly just passed away from cancer at the age of 57…


I leaned over and whispered in the ear of the blank-looking blonde girl seated next to me: “I’m a stranger in this town, so maybe you could tell me why this club is so full of people tonight. Is there something special about the group that’s playing, or what?” With hardly a change in her facial non-expression, this creature glanced at her friend and intoned softly: “Oh, they’re rilly neat. You’ll see…”

As the band sprang onstage sporting narrow ties and cute smiles, I sagged. Failed to strike up a conversation in L.A.’s Troubadour venue, in spite of my lovely accent and sparkling Bing Crosby sweatshirt, and now I have to suffer some guys who look like the sodding Jam.

But what a surprise! The songs turn out to be memorable rhythm rock, the playing hot, the screaming girls at the front rather wonderful and gee, I had a real good time. Arista boss Clive Davis was in the packed house, clapping along on some of the tunes at the urging of the rhythm guitarist/vocalist, who looked like a crash between John Lennon and Neil Sedaka.

I made a mental note: The Knack/standard rock of 4-piece/lots of executives in the room/Mr Davis didn’t have much to say about them when I was introduced after the show/when they get signed by someone and come to England, write a feature and predict big things a week before every other hack does. Heh-heh.

That all went down at Christmas, and now it’s mid-79 and The Knack are on Capitol, poised to go megaplatinum with their forthcoming album (produced by Mike Chapman) and about to commence a low-key European tour.

Yes, you can even see them at the Marquee and the Civic Hall Guildford! And you thought power pop was dead. Smirking and genuinely enthusiastic Mr. Doug Fieger (the aforementioned frontman) probably wishes it was, despite his bishop-sleeved shirt and neatly cropped mod-ish hair:

“I hate labels. Labels are for stupid people. We play pop music, that’s definite, we play pop rock’n’roll music. I don’t know what to call it, we play songs. We play them straight, we don’t use any effects.”

Lead guitarist Berton Auerre (a printer’s nightmare, that one) affirms: “Everybody that’s heard our songs so far has gone kinda nuts over them.”

Berton, a shy sort of bloke who looks a cert for Smash Hits front cover, seems to be right. The band’s just-issued single ‘My Sharona’ has already been garnering airplay on Radio 1, a station not usually noted for spinning records that sound like The Byrds doing ‘Nutbush City Limits’.

The thing is, for a group so directly aimed at the charts The Knack’s lyrics are a little risque, to say the least. I know The Doors once laughingly claimed that all their songs were about fucking, but The Knack’s debut LP, Get The Knack, is the only record I can recall where nearly 100% of the verbal content is concerned with sexual activity.

Apart from a fine version of Bob Montgomery-Norman Petty’s ‘Heartbeat’, there are 11 Knack originals on the album, penned by Berton and Doug. 10 of them are about screwing or trying to, and the other one (‘Siamese Twins (The Monkey & Me)’) has dubious references of scatalogical nature, unless my ears are misleading me.

Doug: “Well, they’re all about girls, and I think girls is what rock’n’roll is all about, the relationship between guys and girls…and fun. They’re basic theme…all the songs are about kids, the idea of being a kid in love, or the idea of unrequited love as a kid”.

The Knack talk a lot about kids but they can’t be all that young. Drummer Bruce Gary, a soft-a soft-spoken native Californian, toured here and appeared on OGWT in 1975 with the Jack Bruce Band, and has played on more albums that I’ve had promotional t-shirts. He was recently offered the drum set in Wings, which he rejected in favour of staying with The Knack.

“I’ve already been to Europe and done the sideman thing and I know what that is and I know what it entails and I know where it ends up. One experience like that is enough”.

Doug and Bruce have known each other for eight years, and Bruce was friends with bassist Prescott Niles from when they were both living the expatriate life in England. Berton and Doug have been buddies for about half a decade, and before that Fieger was apparently in some group called U.S. Sky who made one of those albums which clog bargain bins from here to Tucson. Though Fieger has worked with the likes of Gary Wright, Andy Johns and Jimmy Miller, he’s not interested in talking about his experiences.

“It’s not that we’re not proud of what we did, it’s just that The Knack is what’s happening. The only reason we gave you an interview is because you’ve seen the band. I hate to talk about what we’re about, it’s very self evident. We wear very simple clothes, black and white, the music’s black and white, it’s about little girls and fun.”

The Knack LP was made in 9 days with few overdubs and much enthusiasm from Sweet/Blondie auteur Mike Chapman, who, they claim, has so much money that he does things more for the fun of it than for the cash. I can’t quite swallow that one whole, but I’m sure Chapman knows a hit when he hears one.

Punchy and versatile as they are (Bruce even plays drums behind journalist Phast Phreddie on the upcoming LA Radio album of local talent), The Knack have enough suss to realise that their confidence about their abilities may get in their way.

Doug: “Rubs people a little bit the wrong way, the attitude we have that we’re good. A lot of people like a band to come off as being humble as far as their ability is concerned, and that’s bullshit. I can’t name one really great person or band around that’s made it that doesn’t say, ‘Hey, yeah, we’re great’.

“So we haven’t made it in the traditional sense, we haven’t had a hit record, but that doesn’t preclude the idea of knowing that you’re good. And we’re not gonna deny that we feel we’re…worthy of the acceptance we’ve gotten in LA and San Diego and San Francisco, California and,” he barely pauses for breath, “the business community’s acceptance of us.” They’ve also been accepted by Bruce Springsteen, who’s given them a song for future use called ‘Don’t Look Back’.

My computer says that The Knack will be big in America (bigger than 20/20, which is what they were called till the other 20/20 started to make a name for themselves), but that they might have to place all their cash on radio play as far as Britain goes. Because (unless they get lumped in with the Mod Revival) people will scream ‘powerpop’, point at words like ‘money’ and ‘business’ and number the group (who didn’t name themselves after Richard Lester’s ’60s sex comedy) as some kind of new wave Toto. I mean, I love Toto, but as far as the UK press went, they sunk like a lead balloon.

The Knack are not laid back. Listen to their inspired debut LP, with its echoes of everything from Bo Diddley to ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, and be thankful that they’re not so preprogrammed as to simply trot out all the ‘right’ quotes for the English market, like so many of your heroes do. They say what they think, and what they think is that they “took The Beatles, and The Yardbirds, and The Hollies, and The Who, and The Stones, and The Animals and The Pistols and a number of other bands, and we reinvented it for Southern California 1979”.

Don’t use that quote as a reason to crucify The Knack, use it as a guide to why you should cherish them. The Knack are the pot of gold at the end of the punk rock rainbow.

Sandy Roberton

1 Comment

  1. Sandy Robertson said,

    Just found my old Knack interview here! Hadn’t read it for years. Their first two albums are still dazzling.

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