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"The Knack are back and they're beautiful."
So trumpeted the trade ads for the power-pop group's second release, . . . But the Little Girls Understand, way back in 1980. Although that album went on to sell two million copies, it was widely viewed as a failure because it yielded no big hit on the order of "My Sharona," the biggest-selling single of 1979, from the monster debut LP Get the Knack. The band was still in the grips of a negative backlash when internal squabbles, inexperienced management and drugs overtook what success the group had had. Within two years of its initial triumph, the Knack would become the next big thing relegated to the Where-Are-They-Now files. Fast forward to 1994. Sharona--the Lolita who provided the inspiration for that lusty pop gem and who posed on the single's picture sleeve--is now a successful real estate agent. And Doug Fieger, the singer-songwriter-Knack leader who panted after her, is in the incredulous position of seeing his 15-year-old paean to a 15-year-old girl reenter the Hot 100. Aggressively remixed by producer Dave Jerdens (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane's Addiction, Alice in Chains) for the Reality Bites soundtrack, "My Sharona" still packs a wallop alongside the album's recent contributions by the Posies, Dinosaur Jr. and the Indians.

"Sharona" was personally chosen by the film's director, Ben Stiller, as one of the cultural reference points--along with Shaun Cassidy, Jimmie "J.J." Walker, "Disco Inferno" and Planet of the Apes--that were part of his growing-up experience. The question is, does this help or hurt the newly reunited Knack?

"Doesn't hurt," laughs Fieger, who is about to embark on the Knack's first U.S. tour in 13 years. "I don't consider myself as a cultural reference point, so I don't know how to answer that. The reality is that this band didn't exist before this movie came out. Now we do again and people are responding to our music again and taking a critical reappraisal of what we did without the political atmosphere that was going on when we originally came out. All of this has been really good."
There's certainly enough really good material in the band's catalogue--including 1991's overlooked reunion album Serious Fun--to merit a cursory look back, but some people might feel sheepish about taking that trip down memory lane.

Not since the Monkees has there been a pop group so reviled and thoroughly stigmatized by the elitist rock press as the Knack. Even now, rock historians would rather forget the Knack than forgive them. Before The Trouser Press Record Guide eliminated the Knack altogether from its pages, it called the group "New Wave's most confounding footnote."

And the Knack scored two songs in The Worst Rock n' Roll Records of All Time book. There you'll find "Good Girls Don't" and "Baby Talks Dirty" sharing the shame alongside other least-loved favorites like "In the Year 2525," "Hip to Be Square" and "My Ding-a-Ling."

Yet you don't hear much about the Knack's major contribution to rock: bringing back to disco-saturated Top 40 radio the garage-band aesthetics that punk promised but couldn't deliver commercially.

Although Blondie was the first New Wave group ever to reach No. 1 on the singles chart, the vehicle the band chose to get there--Heart of Glass"--owed more to Donna Summer than the Kingsmen. "My Sharona" stayed perched at the top of the charts for six weeks. It was hard enough, dumb enough and, doggone it, people liked it!

"My Sharona' went from not being on the radio to being the No. 1-requested record and -played record on every radio station in America overnight," adds Fieger. "It became a real phenomenon, without any promotion. People think that Capitol Records spent all this money promoting our band. The whole promotion budget for the first album was $50,000, which is peanuts."
Amazingly, Get the Knack went gold a mere 13 days after its release, achieving platinum status a month later. Its front cover was actually the first photo ever taken of the band, and had been used on all its concert posters. Many felt that given the quartet's rep for smutty, schoolboy lyrics, Fieger's sneering mug captured the essence of his group's sexist persona. But Doug wasn't thinking about pubescent trollops when it came time to say "cheese." "Bruce [Gary] had grabbed my butt at that moment and I had hit him in the ribs with my elbow," says Fieger. "It wasn't posed. The only pose was stand together, you know?"

Taking the album's title to heart, many critics made it their mission in life to do just that. Fieger, whose brother is the attorney now representing Dr. Kevorkian, leaps to his own defense about the death sentence the press tried to impose on his band. "If you want to talk about sexism in rock music, I've never written a song anywhere near as sexist as 'Under My Thumb' or 'Stupid Girl,' which both occurred on the same album. If they're going to pillory us in 1979, two years after the Rolling Stones did Some Girls, c'mon! Gimme a fuckin' break!"

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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic