he Knack -- lead singer/guitarist Doug Fieger, lead guitarist Berton Averre, drummer Bruce Gary, and bassist Prescott Niles -- formed in May 1978, in Hollywood, California. All had previously played in unsuccessful bands or as studio musicians.
Their aim was to bring back "teenage rock'n'roll" -- "high school songs with a teenage viewpoint." They put together a demo tape and sent it around to every major label in town. After being completely rejected, the group decided to "show everybody" and blitz the local rock club scene. They caused such a sensation that thirteen labels reportedly came by to make offers. After much consideration, the group signed with Capitol, which guaranteed $500,000 for two albums.
Mike Chapman, who heard about the Knack from an L.A. writer, was chosen by the band to produce their debut album. The reason given was that "his pop sensibilities and vision paralleled the Knack's." Of course, Chapman's number-one singles by Blondie, Nick Gilder, and Exile over the last year didn't hurt his chances either. Almost all the tracks were cut live in one take; there were overdubs (mostly lead guitar) on only a few tracks. The entire album was recorded, mixed, and in the can in eleven days flat. Total cost: $18,000.
It was perhaps the cheapest platinum album ever made. Released on June 11, it went gold in thirteen days -- the fastest climb by any new group in years. It went platinum on August 3 and sold more than four million copies.
Doug Fieger, who described his most distinguishing feature as "smirk on face," listed his favorite pastime as "writing nasty songs about girls that I know." One was a young groupie named Sharona.
With its slamming drums, driving guitar work, and simple, infectious beat, "My Sharona" caused a sensation in 1979. Released June 18, the single went gold in eight weeks, reaching number one in early August.
The Knack had their detractors: Some were offended by their Beatles-like album cover, the title of which was a play on the Fab Four's debut, Meet The Beatles. One critic called the Knack "an arrogant hype," while another termed leader Fieger "obnoxious." Still another reviewer said, "The ugly sexism of these corrupt creeps is an affront to women. The Knack delivers time-warped heartless junk with a contemptuous sneer." San Francisco artist Hugh Brown invented the "Knuke the Knack Kit": a button, a bumper sticker ("Honk If You've Slept with Sharona"), and a Jaws -style T-shirt (a swimmer is shown being attacked by a shark wearing a Knack T-shirt; the slogan reads, "Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Listen to the Radio"). Amused, the Knack bought four of the shirts and wore them to rehearsal the next day. However, when kit sales picked up, they stopped smiling, took them off, and threatened to sue.
The band's success -- labeled "The Big Knack Attack" -- brought dozens of talent scouts into L.A., hoping for a similar miracle. There were none. The group had a lesser hit, "Good Girls Don't," and in 1980 cut their second album, ...but the Little Girls Understand. Producer Chapman gleefully bragged that it cost even less to make than the first album. "It cost more to mix than to make," he said. "Everything was cut in one take. I'd say we spent less than $10,000 on it." The biggest single pulled from it, "Baby Talks Dirty," was a flop; critics called it "My Sharona Part II." The Knack disbanded two years later but Fieger, Averre and Niles reformed in 1987 and recorded an unsuccessful album in 1991, Serious Fun, which also bombed and the three went their separate ways again. Fieger had a small role in the hit TV sitcom Roseanne as one of Dan Connor's poker buddies and recorded a solo album produced by Don Was. After "My Sharona" was included in the soundtrack of the hit Ben Stiller movie Reality Bites in 1994, the Knack reformed and and continued to release albums and tour through the late-2000s. In 2004, Fieger was diagnosed with cancer and two years later underwent surgery to remove two cancerous tumors from his brain. He succumbed to the disease on Valentine's Day 2010 at his home in Woodland Hills, Calif. He was 57.
"Doug was devoted to rock & roll -- a walking encyclopedia," said L.A. real estate agent Sharona Alperin, Fieger's ex-girlfriend and the inspiration for "My Sharona." "He [died] too young, but I'm grateful he's out of pain."
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