Primarily known for their hit single “My Sharona”, four-piece new wave band The Knack were particularly active in the late 1970s up to mid-80s music scene. Singer-guitarist-songwriter and Michigan native Doug Fieger (who had moved to California to make a fresh start) formed the Knack in 1977. After their demos were rejected by several record labels, they were signed to Capitol Records which released their 1978 debut album Get The Knack. The LP eventually went #1 on the US Billboard Hot 200 album chart, becoming a multimillion seller. It also included their most famous track, “My Sharona”.
Their follow-up releases …But The Little Girls Understand also did well, though it never reached the level of commercial success of their first album. Their third, Round Trip, was a chart disappointment. Because of their dwindling chart success, internal strife and antagonism towards them from the critics, they split up in 1982. They reunited four years later and continued recording (1990’s Serious Fun would be their last studio album) and touring for many years until the the early 21st century, mostly rocked by the deaths of drummer Bruce Gary in 2006 and of frontman Fieger in 2010.
On the way to making it big
The would-be lead singer of The Knack was Doug Fieger, an Oak Park, Michigan native. He used to be a member of rock bands Sky as well as the Sunset Bombers. With his previous bands, Fieger had tried to achieve chart success but failed.
In 1977, Fieger moved to Los Angeles, California in hopes of making it big and formed another band. In LA, he met three other musicians: guitarist/keyboardist Berton Averre, bassist Prescott Niles and drummer Bruce Gary. They would form the original lineup of The Knack in 1978.
A spectacular debut with “My Sharona”
After plying their material to different record labels, The Knack was finally signed by Capitol Records. Their debut album, Get The Knack, was released in 1979. Its leadoff single “My Sharona,” was inspired by a girl named Sharona Alperin, who would become Fieger’s girlfriend. The single zoomed to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and it stayed at that position for six weeks.
“My Sharona” was the fastest debut single at Capitol and the fastest to reach gold status since the Beatles’ 1964 single “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” something for which the Knack were, unjustifiably, compared to the Fab Four. More so, the song was obviously reminiscent of The Who’s “My Generation,” especially with Fieger’s deliberately stuttering singing style evoking of Roger Daltrey’s.
“My Sharona” went gold in the US (platinum in Canada), while its album Get The Knack received double platinum certification (quadruple platinum in Canada). The single also went to #1 in Canada, Australia, and Italy. The follow-up single to “My Sharona” was “Good Girls Don’t” which went to #11 on the Hot 100.
Because of the success of their debut album, The Knack immediately gained wide commercial acceptance. They also helped revive the power pop scene.
Critical reaction to the band’s career
The unfavorable comparisons between the Knack and the Beatles still persisted — from the songs down to the band’s retro look and debut album’s cover art (which had a perceived similarity to the Beatles’ LP Meet The Beatles). This was something that the band and Capitol itself had denied.
Despite (or probably because of) their nascent success and popularity coupled with the band’s refusal to do interviews (which was actually instructed to them by their manager),Tthe Knack began to receive negative backlash from the critics. This perception led to the “Knuke the Knack” campaign against them.
The Knack released their second LP …But the Little Girls Understand in 1980. It went gold in the US although it failed to duplicate the success of their first album. Its single “Baby Talks Dirty” only managed to go at #38 on the Hot 100, while the follow-up “Can’t Put a Price On Love” only became a minor hit. Now The Knack seemed to be really feeling the backlash.
From there The Knack’s career headed toward a downturn from which they would never recover. The band’s third and last album in their initial existence, Round Trip, received generally negative critical reviews but managed to make it barely on the Billboard 200’s top 100 albums (at #93). Still, it was a commercial disappointment despite heavy promotion.
Because of their fading chart success, internal squabbles, and growing critical reaction against them, Fieger left the band on New Year’s Eve 1981, just months after the release of Round Trip. The Knack tried to resurrect themselves with a new lead singer, but it didn’t work. In 1982, the band split for good.
Popularity in the underground circuit, and mini-career revival
Their underground popularity, however, was too hard for them to ignore, leading to their 1986 reunion. They played regularly at several clubs for the next number of years. Gary left in 1989 and was replaced by new drummer Billy Ward. A couple of years later, the band released their fourth LP Serious Fun on Charisma label. Its single “Rocket of Love” went to #9 on the Billboard rock charts. Things seemed to look up for them, but the band split up once more in 1992.
Thanks to the hit 1994 film Reality Bites where it included “My Sharona” on its soundtrack, this led to the band’s career revival of sorts. The Knack continued recording and touring throughout the 1990s and 2000s, along with some personnel shifts. They released their fourth compilation album The Best Of The Knack: Ten Best Series in 1999, and two years later a studio album Normal as the Next Guy was issued. In 2004 a documentary DVD, Getting The Knack, was released.
End of the Knack
The Knack was about to re-embrace their old fans as well as find a new generation of audience. However, tragedy struck when former drummer Bruce Gary died in 2006 of lymphoma, and lead singer Doug Fieger succumbed to brain and lung cancer in 2010. Fieger’s death ultimately led to the end for the band.