Long Player: The Knack – Get the Knack (1979)

Another in the series called “Long Player – Listening to Vinyl”. We pull out an actual vinyl 33 1/3 rpm LP from the sleeve, put it on the JVC turntable and let ‘er rip.  Our opinion, honesty and gut feelings follow….

This edition features the late Doug Fieger’s band
The KnackGet the Knack (1979)

Yeah, it’s gonna be about girls and love and sex. And if you listen to the words, it’s also the story of someone who covers up most of his vulnerability with bravado. Get The Knack was recorded in just 11 days for a miserly $17,000. Isn’t that the way it should be? According to the web, The Knack performed the songs “live” with minimal overdubs, as producer Mike Chapman (who had hit big with Blondie’s disco-fied “Heart of Glass” single) basically slammed the record button and let the band play. He would go on to produce the follow up album that sold significantly fewer copies, so this record was capturing magic – the band would never be bigger than the summer of 1979. Let’s let the record roll….

SIDE 1:
“Let Me Out” – Keith Moon drums, punk-with-lip gloss vocal shouts and rhythm section that is threatens to push Doug Fieger to keep up. “Tonight! Tonight! Tonight! followed by 25 “Let me Out!” and a scream. It is, really, fucking brilliant. Call to action: we’re gonna hit it hard tonight.

“Your Number or Your Name” – Here’s we get that Beatles influence. (Whooo!) vocals atop a 60s rocker. They beat REO Speedwagon to the sound that would send the Illinois road dog band to a zillion album sales a couple years later with Hi Infidelity. Just a clean, powerful production. Again – flying drums from Bruce Gary.

“Oh Tara” – I love guitars that duel out of each speaker. Georgia Satellites were one of those underrated bands whose albums were so much more than “Hands to Yourself”.  They split dualing rock guitars into one big hairy, raunchy snarl of rock. “Oh Tara”, a lightwight lyric, is saved by a rock and roll band. Nobody ever listens to anything other than “My Sharona”, but dammit, they should.

“(She’s So) Selfish” – Bo Diddley beat. See. They get it. Hiccup vocals ala Buddy Holly. Firmly planted in the Elvis Costello sound, which launched a year or two earlier. This, though, is a part of the misogyny arguement against the band “She’s got you by the short hairs” pops up midway through the tune. Girls ain’t giving the boys the respect – or sex – they want. So Doug shouts “Gimme, Gimme Gimme.”

“Maybe Tonight” – A ballad, in the tradition of Sgt Pepper. As close as they get to psychedelic. Gentle, by band standards. The yearning, shy side comes out of the Knack. They want the girl but haven’t had the courage. Maybe tonight. A counterpoint to the whole misogyny thing.

“Good Girls Don’t” – the other hit from the album. Leering lyrics, from the high school viewpoint, about the  girl who wants “it”. Or so the guy tells himself. Great, angry, wrong-and-right pop song. It’s the tune that critics point to when they want to trash the band, Yes, it’s sophomoric. And it’s a song that sticks in your ear after the album is done. Teen lust hitting us over the head with a backbeat.

SIDE 2
“My Sharona” – I think we have a enough distance between the summer of 1979 and now that we can look at the song as a near-perfect slice of American power pop. Did you know there is a raunchy, two-bar quick quitar solo right in the middle? Almost out of place on the glossy cut. That helps to make the song even more of a brilliant pop-rocker. And the band lets loose like a skinny tie freight train near the end of the song. A musical tension build and release (complete with false song ending) that pushes the tune to be more a rock and roll piece than just a slice of radio pop that burned too bright to survive.

Doug Fieger

“Heartbeat” – Buddy Holly again. Really?  A 50’s throwback – lightweight and odd in it’s placement on the record. Why here, after the best song on the album? The production is even a bit muddy. Somebody must have been hungover behind the mixing board.

“Siamese Twins (the Monkey and Me)”
I hear Graham Parker in the grooves. And these boys like to repeat lyrics. They take a line (“he’s on my back”) and chant it, yell it, croon it. Again, the guitars of Fieger and Berton Averre save the day. Sing-song lyrics about escape fall flat. But the guitars are garage.

“Lucinda” – Man, this second side isn’t nearly as good as the first side. The more I listen, the more this side sounds like  early 80’s midwest rock. And I don’t think that is good or bad, only less-than-groundbreaking. Fieger sounds like Kevin Cronin, while the song is about “cutting down” Lucinda, and “it’s going to hurt you”. That’s just not nice. Beatles “Hold Your Hand” ending.

“That’s What the Little Girls Do” – Boy tells girl she’s the one. Girl runs away, because “that’s what little girls do – to you”. Boy begging on his knees. She says she’s sorry. She doesn’t mean it. Guitar solo. Boy dreams of girl. Girl doesn’t give a shit. Music crashes to a cold ending.

“Frustrated” – The last cut of the record. Here’s a book that needs written: analyze the last songs on rock albums. They are usually a different than the other songs on a record. Many are hyper-personal. Somebody usually plays like they are high, and there are assorted screams, clunked notes and odd bits that were put off until the end. Like Fieger chirping, howling and gurgling for the final :45 seconds of “Frustrated”. We hear the fading lyric “I need it, I want it” behind a band banging its way through a loose garage-rock throwaway. A perfect ending.

I will call “Get the Knack” a classic. You arguing?  Listen to it before you do that.  Music worthy of a template called power pop.  And they nearly killed the genre by being so successful. And most of this album (especially side one through “My Sharona”) is as great as that kind of music would get. It was essentially the same sound as Tom Petty was making at the time, until he hit another gear with Damn the Torpedoes, and songs like “Refugee” and “Don’t Do Me Like That” toughened up the sound to make the sound inviting to radio again…

Do the Knack deserve slings and arrows?  Were they poison or worthy of Rock Hall of Fame love?   I’d say certainly much closer to the hall (though they will never get in) than the arrow, if only because of side one of this record.

“Good Girls Don’t”

“My Sharona” (Live 2005)

read Doug Fieger NY TIMES obit

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