Classic Songs of My Youth Revisited #12

The Knack – My Sharona

If you turned on your radio for even an hour in the summer and fall of 1979, you could not avoid hearing “My Sharona” by The Knack at least once. It was the biggest song of the year, and I don’t remember anything else being particularly close in the way it took over our airwaves.

That kind of dominance almostly certainly means that we’re going to get sick of the thing we once loved, and this was no exception. The backlash against The Knack, when it came, was particularly vicious. Some of this, I think now, was due to category confusion. The Knack were marketed as a new wave band, and this probably contributed strongly to general denigration of the band. New wave, to my mind at least, meant more melodic and smarter punks, like Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, Blondie, The Police. Stacking The Knack up against those bands made them seem like lightweights.

Replaying their first album, “Get the Knack!”, I saw how faulty this label was. No, The Knack were not a weakass new wave band: they were a holy-shit-this-is-fucking-awesome power pop band. Their antecedents weren’t the punks that evolved into new wave – they were Todd Rundgren, and Big Star, and (fuck you, Eric Carmen and the Trump-loving train you rode in on) Raspberries. They made big, melodic, energetic blasts of joy that had you – well, me – jumping around your bedroom like the demented hormone monster that you really were.

So, let’s get this out of the way off the top – this is an incredibly pervy song. This is obvious even if you didn’t know that there actually was a Sharona, who was 17 years old, while frontman Doug Fieger was, umm, not. I probably at 15 wouldn’t have gotten the point had I even been paying close attention to a line like “I always get it up for the touch of the younger kind”. So let’s just set aside for a moment this ode to ephebophilia (don’t worry – Sharona seems to have turned out fine), and focus on the song itself.

Actually, one other thing needs to be mentioned: The Knack were NOT a one-hit wonder. “Good Girls Don’t” also did well, and even hit #1 in some markets.

It opens with pounding drums, then a throbbing bass joins in to lay the foundation. And this just keeps repeating, with guitar flourishes added, and occasionally a sped-up tempo. It’s an insistent, pulsating beat, and the song feels much shorter than its 4:55 length (the single release was about half a minute less). There isn’t a lot of variety – they aren’t trying to impress you with their songwriting virtuosity, they just want to rock. The guitar solo is serviceable, but nothing that wasn’t being matched by reams of bedroom rockstar teenagers – more noise than finesse. But that’s what makes it so great – you might’ve wanted to be Keith Richards, but you couldn’t see it happening. But The Knack? They seemed so normal, and that was some­thing you could be. Well, maybe not entirely normal: Fieger looks like a creepy uncle in the jacket photo, and the faces he makes in this video do not lower the cringe factor. Drummer Bruce Gary had model-quality cheekbones – I could see him flashing Magnum, or at least Blue Steel – but the others are just normal-looking guys.

After their second album tanked (don’t blame me – I owned a copy), I never gave much thought to The Knack. About a decade later, in the thrall of Was (Not Was)’s “What Up Dog?”, I plucked their 1983 album “Born to Laugh at Tornadoes” from a vinyl discount bin and found Fieger singing on a few tracks. The Knack ultimately released six albums, trying over and over to recapture glory, without success. Cancer took Gary in 2006, and then Fieger in 2010. 

I don’t think this song has ever really stopped being played, and it had a bit of a bump from “Reality Bites” in 1999. (The world can probably be divided into Ethan Hawke, and everyone else.) It’s still a great song, and a great album, too. Rediscovering The Knack has been one of the true joys of writing this series.

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