Tuesday, February 16, 2010

R.I.P. Doug Fieger: He Had The Knack

The Knack, led by Doug Fieger, who passed away a couple days ago at age 57, was to New Wave what Creed was to Grunge - a cynically marketed imitation that outsold the real thing, proving that perhaps the cynicism of the record execs wasn't so cynical after all.

Unlike Creed, however, and more like The Monkees, The Knack actually had a few good songs. Everyone knows "My Sharona," one of the monster hits of the late 70s/early 80s, with one of the most memorable riffs in rock.

The song was so big it spawned the musical parody "Ayatollah," an homage to the Iranian leader who was enjoying his 15 minutes as a brutally old-school dictator and American hostage-taker, and whose name happened to scan perfectly with "My Sharona."

The Knack's look and sound was a clear homage to the British Invasion - their look was Ed Sullivan Beatles (only 15 years prior), but their sound was more like The Kinks. They also threw in a bit of the New Wave anger that was in vogue thanks to Elvis Costello, Pretenders, The Jam and The Clash. But for whatever reason, The Knack didn't ring true. As I recall, the band began refusing to do interviews, and The Knack soon found themselves the victim of a critical and commercial backlash.

But in the early 90s, as Generation X invaded the mainstream media and revisited their LP collections, The Knack enjoyed a brief resurgence. "My Sharona" was prominently featured in the film Reality Bites, starring sticky-fingered Gen-X pinup Winona Ryder.

More importantly to the hipster crowd, they received the Kurt Cobain Seal of Approval. Nirvana cited "My Sharona" as an early influence on their blend of hard rock and power pop, and the band even covered it live, as this incredibly poorly recorded clip demonstrates.

Their smash debut Get the Knack featured another big hit: "Good Girls Don't," a nugget that would have been right at home on Nick Lowe's Pure Pop for Now People, despite Fieger's blatantly Lennonesque mannerisms with his "I Should Have Known Better" harmonica and way of leaning into the mike.

Rather than becoming the next Beatles, The Knack went down in history as one of the greatest two-hit wonders of all time, right up there with Steppenwolf. How did this make him feel? We'll never know for certain now, but I'm guessing he felt pretty frustrated.

R.I.P. Doug. Thanks for contributing to my junior high soundtrack.

Get the Knack on iTunes here.