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Biographies: The Knack

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Reviewer: Greenway88

Even with the hindsight and clarity of nearly two decades, it is difficult to describe the impact the Knack had on radio, fashion and rock and roll. The story of the Knack was all too familiar. An overnight success that was several years in the making. Songs that would ultimately find their way onto their multi-platinum debut had been turned down by a host of record labels in the early and mid seventies. But the Knack found their time.

The record buying public and the music industry have always longed for the next big thing. In 1979 they found it. During the summer of 1979, culminating with a riotous sold out performance in New Yorkís legendary Carnegie Hall, the Knack was unavoidable. It seemed as if every stereo and car radio reverberated with the thunderous hook of their number one smash "My Sharona". It took rock icons Led Zepplin to finally relieve them of the number one album position in the fall of Ď79.

During the late seventies, disco had a virtual hammerlock on the charts and radio airplay. Spearheaded by such artists as the Bee Gees (who delivered six chart toppers in less than eighteen months), Donna Summer (the queen of disco) and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack (which sold 25 million copies world-wide), discoís dominance was so absolute that twenty-five of the first thirty-three weeks of 1979 saw a disco dance number perched atop the Billboard charts. It seemed as if rock and roll was dead. Radio formats had changed to accommodate disco music. Billboard even added a disco chart in deference to massive record sales. But all that would change. The world was about to get The Knack.

Founding members Doug Fieger, Berton Averre, Bruce Gary and Prescott Niles sculptured a sound which was irresistibly familiar but at the same time unlike anything else which was playing on the radio. Their tightly woven musical craftsmanship earned them many rave reviews in the local press.

A huge draw in the LA club scene, the Knack played incessantly throughout California 1978 and early 1979. They revitalized live music in many of the older establishments which had been converted to disco dance halls, such as the Troubadour and Starwood with sellout crowds. Rolling Stone magazine followed the still unsigned band through several high profile performance jams with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, The Doorsí Ray Manzerak, Stephen Stills, and Eddie Money. Energetic sets featuring hard driving original music scattered with chestnuts from Buddy Holly, The Kinks and The Doors won them a loyal and enthusiastic following.

By November of 1978, thirteen record companies engaged in a fierce bidding war for the bandís services which was eventually won by Capital Records. The selection of a record producer was the source of much speculation. Even "Wall of Sound" architect Phil Spector was anxious to participate. However, the job went to someone the band hadnít even considered, Mike Chapman. A songwriter and member of the hitmaking band Sweet, Mike Chapman had enjoyed a successful career behind the board as a producer, racking up an impressive run of number one records for Exile, Nick Gilder, and Blondie. Chapman read an article the LA Times which identified the producers the band most wanted to work with. His name wasnít on the list. Sensing a blockbuster, Chapman convinced the band to allow him to produce and signed on.

With a team now firmly in place, The Knack and Chapman entered the studio, eager to capture the energy of their live performances. While artists such as The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac were spending more than a year and a million dollars to produce an album, "Get The Knack" was recorded in just eleven days for a miserly $18,000. The Knack performed the songs "live" with minimal overdubs. Chapman, basically hit the record button and let the band play. Originally, a double album was considered, but the final track listing focused on the mainstays of their stage show.

Capitol Records introduced the record with the kind of fanfare not seen since the first wave of the British Invasion. With marketing support from Capitol and a cadre of infectious pop tunes, the record flew off the shelves. Rolling Stone magazine heralded them as "the new fab four", an obvious reference to The Beatles. Gold certification took 13 days. Platinum certification came in less than seven weeks, making "Get The Knack" one of the fastest to gold / platinum debut albums of all time. "My Sharona" entered the Hot 100 on June 23, 1979 and reached number one nine weeks later on August 25, 1979 where it remained for six weeks. Billboard named "Sharona" as the number one single of 1979. Today, it still ranks as one of the biggest selling singles of the rock era.

A sold out world tour followed the albumís release, but the lines of demarcation were already being drawn. Where the Knack was concerned, either you "got it" or you didnít. Critics of the band fixated on the stark, black and white photo of the albumís cover and performance photo on the back as obvious send ups of The Beatles first album "Meet The Beatles". Dissenters labeled the songs as derivative even though the albums sound nothing like the Beatles. Yet the album continued to sell, finally moving in excess of six million copies. The bandís second single "Good Girlís Donít" sold respectfully, reaching number 17 on the Billboard charts. In spite of a growing backlash from critics for their "instant" fame, the public still demanded more product from The Knack. However, instead of harvesting another single from "Get The Knack" the band returned to the studio to record a follow-up pausing briefly for a rousing homecoming performance at a capacity filled L.A. Forum.

The bandís second effort, "But The Little Girls Understand" (released less than eight months after their debut) was recorded in two weeks, immediately went gold and sported a top 40 single "Baby Talks Dirty". Even as a "Knuke The Knack" campaign sprung up by an enterprising profiteer from San Francisco, industry peers nominated the boys for two Grammy awards. The band carried on, released another single "Canít Put A Price On Love" and continued to tour into the spring of 1980, before taking a much needed break.

A year passed before the band returned to the studio in late 1981 for their third album. "Round Trip" was directed by veteran producer Jack Douglass, fresh from his work on John Lennonís "Double Fantasy". This record was a much more polished effort than The Knackís first two outings and clearly showcased a wide variety of songwriting styles without straying from The Knack "sound". The initial single "Pay The Devil" was supported by a media blitz and a club tour designed to take the band back to their roots. The Knack disposed of their no interview policy which had been adopted for the first album and were profiled in a CNN interview and appeared on a variety of magazine covers. But it was too late. As quickly as they burst into the public conscience they were gone. Three weekís into the tour, on New Yearís Day, the band broke up. The constant drubbing from some quarters of the musical press and self styled opinion makers had taken their toll on the band. The energy which had introduced the band to the world had been depleted as the band had to defend their success to a press corp wary of their "instant" fame. Fieger, Averre, Gary and Niles went their separate ways. Fieger went on to act (Rosanne), produce and contributed songs for the Manhatten Transferís Grammy award winning effort "Brazil". Averre played with Bette Midler. Gary drumed behind Bob Dylan, Jack Bruce and Bette Midler as well as producing with Alan Douglas a series of albums from guitar legend Jimi Hendrix. Niles worked with Josie Cotton ("Johnny Are You Queerí) and continued with session and performance work.

The band regrouped in 1986 / 87 for a tour but failed to release an album despite enthusiastic reactions from fans to their new material. In 1991, a revised lineup (Billy Ward replaced Bruce Gary on drums) released the Don Was produced album "Serious Fun". The first single "Rocket Of Love" was Top 10 AOR and the band received significant media attention but the label unexpectantly shelved the record and promotion for the album disappeared even as a second single "One Day At A Time" was being pressed for release.

In 1994, "My Sharonaís" popularity was reaffirmed when the song re-entered the Hot 100 after appearing on the soundtrack for the hit movie "Reality Bites". One of only twelve songs in chart history to do so. A successful promotional tour exposed the band to a whole new generation of fans.

In 1997, the band surfaced on two tribute albums. "Come And Get It: A Tribute To Badfinger", brought the original four members back into the studio to record "No Matter What". This Badfinger classic had been a staple of The Knack's live show for years and was a natural for inclusion. The bands firey rendition was a highlight of the disc and garnered radio airplay in selected markets. Capital Records released a two disc record of Bruce Springsteen covers. The Knack gladly offered up their version of "Don't Look Back" which had previously only been available on the band's "Retrospective".

In April of last year, the band performed to a capacity crowd at Hollywood's Viper Room. Among the audience was Harold Bronson, President of Rhino Records. The set included expected Knack standards, along with a handful of new songs. The audience reponse to both the old and new material was overwhelmingly positive. Bronson, a long time fan of the band's music, immediately brought the band to Rhino and commenced recording of a new CD. The result of this effort is "Zoom". The fourteen soon to be classic compositions were produced by Richard Bosworth (Don Henley, Steve Perry) and features the drumming of newest Knack member, Terry Bozzio (Frank Zappa, Missing Persons). Demonstrating their commitment to the band, Rhino has also issued "Proof: The Very Best Of The Knack". This CD contains remastered versions of Knack classics and four new tracks not available on any other release. A solo record by Doug Fieger was released to greet the new millenium.

The final chapter of The Knackís history has yet to be written.

Get The Knack Again

"Iíll be the first to admit that weíre the Ď90s version of Cheap Trick or The Knack but the last to admit that it hasnít been rewarding" {Kurt Cobain, liner notes to Incesticide (1992)}

Seven years after itís last album, four years after itís first tour following the resurrection of "My Sharona" in the film Reality Bites, The Knack is back. The band that had burned hotter than a comet, influencing an entire generation of rockers, but disappearing nearly as fast, has returned.

"Weíve already had the success you dream about," says lead singer Doug Fieger. "But weíve never played our music for that. We play it because this is the only worthwhile pop music to make Ė fun and sad, silly and smart, explosive but sweet, snide but vulnerable. Itís not about being cool but about being goofy and having a great time. We didnít invent this, but itís what we do. I get the feeling that sense of fun isnít seen by most people who go to concerts these days."

What goes around surely comes around. In the audience in April 1997 at the Viper Room on LAís Sunset Strip for The Knackís surprise return performance was Harold Bronson, who as a music journalist 20 years earlier introduced the band to itís then-producer. Bronson was so excited by what he saw and heard, he invited the band to record a new album for Rhino Records, the label he cofounded. "Itís not that he isnít used to seeing Rhino acts live, itís that heís not used to seeing them alive at all," quips guitarist Berton Averre. "We didnít stick a finger in the wind and say the time is right again. But with all the dark colors in music today, the Ďwho gives a shití angst and post-modern depression, we strike a chord. Having fun and sometimes grabbing someoneís heart enough that they say, ĎMe too,í is a noble pursuit."

So too is ZOOM (Rhino Records), produced by Richard Bosworth (Don Henley, Steve Perry) and The Knack. On songs such as "Can I Borrow a Kiss," "Harder On You," and "Pop Is Dead" (with the next line being "bring your shovel"), The Knack shows it hasnít lost, well, itís knack for penning pop songs.

Itís often said that the most difficult achievement is simplicity. Beneath the ease of The Knack is the musicianship of Averre, who can rip a one-not guitar harangue as well as an amazingly fast flurry of perfect notes, and the storytelling of Fieger. "Can I Borrow A Kiss," for instance, refers to when he was 14 visiting a friend in Santa Clara, California, and spent the summer as a hippie in Haight-Ashbury. At a Be-In, a girl said to him, "Can I borrow a kiss?" Says Fieger with a laugh, "This does not happen in Oak Park, Michigan."

With Fieger, Averre, and Prescott Niles on bass, The Knack lineup also not includes drummer Terry Bozzio (replacing Bruce Gary). Bozzio played with Frank Zappa, was a member of Missing Persons, and is enormously respected in both rock and jazz circles. Says Averre, "One of the heartening things thatís happened is that a Terry Bozzio says he likes what we do and wants to be a member. That says something to us and maybe to other people too." When Fieger first called Bozzio about that possibility, the drummer replied, "That sounds like fun." It was the sort of answer Fieger hoped for: We have not done this band when it hasnít been fun to do. We want to enjoy ourselves. Terryís a great musician and a great guy. Heís kicked us in the ass and made this a better band."

The Knack most recently resurfaced in 1994 after "My Sharona" was heard on the Reality Bites soundtrack. The band had been offered two films in one day and had to choose between them. "One was for this hip comedy starring Winona Ryder," says Averre, "and the other was for the homosexual rape scene in Pulp Fiction. Hmmm, thatís a tough choice." Suddenly, teenagers too young to remember the song the first time around fell in love with it and "My Sharona" became only the 10th former #1 hit to chart again. It also prompted a tour of 32 cities. Despite no new songs to offer, the response was phenomenal.

A couple of years later, with a handful of new songs at the ready, Fieger broached the idea of truly reviving The Knack. Averre recalls that when the band gathered together, their creative impulses "kicked into a gear reminiscent of our earlier partnership. The tunes felt more and more like Knack songs, and each one made us more confident about our values of fun, immediacy, aggression and melody, and an unabashed celebration of the music we love the most."

The Knack initially formed in May 1978. Fieger had arrived in L.A. in 1971 with the band Sky and began writing with Averre a few years later. Its first performance, June 1, 1978, at the Whisky-A-Go-Go, was a sensation. Amid the heyday of disco, here was a melodic rock band that could knock your socks off. Being a Knack fan was a sign of true hipness and allegiance to the rock Ďní roll dream. Subsequent shows at clubs such as the Troubadour found The Knack jamming with Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Ray Manzarek, and Eddie Money. Courted by 13 record labels, The Knack signed to Capitol.

Producer Mike Chapman (Blondie) recorded and mixed its debut album in 13 days on a $17,000 budget. The album was largely recorded live, one take, with overdubs on the occasional background vocal and lead guitar (not so coincidentally, just how ZOOM was recorded). Though its music was the antithesis of punk, the band itself embraced the punk ethic of D.I.Y. and a self-admitted "snot-nose attitude."

Get The Knack (1979) had one of the biggest commercial debuts in rock history. It rocketed to #1 for six weeks, went gold, and sold 10 million worldwide. "Good Girls Donít" reached #11.

But while once praised for its combination of ballsy rock and classic pop, such enormous success instigated a backlash. Some critics opined that musicians who were this smart and this good couldnít possibly be serious about pop music and therefore were insincere and manipulative. With the "hip factor" eroding, the bandís sophomore album, Öbut the little girls understand (1980), peaked at #15, with "Baby Talks Dirty" barely Top 40 and "Canít Put A Price On Love" just Top 100 Ė though the album went gold and sold two-and-a-half million copies worldwide. Round Trip (1981) and its "Pay The Devil (Ooo Baby, Ooo)" were only Top 100. The Knack disbanded a few weeks later.

Now back in the spotlight once more, the band is grateful for itís audience, both old and new. Says Averre, "I always thought the audience was more important than the artist. After all, the audience is why weíre here." In a way, thatís precisely why The Knack is back Ė not just that they care about their music and the craft of pop songwriting, but so do others. Itís also why rock bands who found pop success in the Ď90s, such as Nirvana, publicly admired what The Knack had accomplished. Says Fieger, "We refuse to go away. There are musicians who say they donít want to do this when theyíre 40. Iíve always said I hoped I was still doing this when I was 40. We love this music."

Rhino has also released a greatest hits compilation, PROOF: THE VERY BEST OF THE KNACK. But for The Knack, as ZOOM proves, the best is back Ė and thereís more to come.

reprinted from Rhino Records press release

SOURCE: Knack.com

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