Friday, November 7, 2008

'Knuke The Knack' Takes Hold - The Fallout & Re-Birth

For all the commercial success and hordes of screaming girls, The Knack soon attracted more than their share of critics and detractors, who riled against what they perceived as being the manufactured look and feel of the band. A lot of criticism was levelled at The Knack for what was seen as a contrived innocence (the whole playing down the members considerable experience in the music biz), and they were even labelled as manipulative and cynical fakes, a perception fuelled in part by the band’s reticence at times to engage with the press, for periods shunning interviews altogether. Originating in San Francisco, certain disgruntled elements of the L.A. club scene got behind an anti-Knack movement under the very catchy slogan ‘Knuke The Knack’, going so far as to produce their own ‘Knuke The Knack’ kits. The cracks were beginning to appear already in The Knack edifice, from without and within.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, whatever single(s) The Knack came up with post-‘My Sharona’ would necessarily flounder in the wake of the instant pop classic. ‘Good Girls Don’t’ was a solid pop-rock song but it was no ‘My Sharona’, and to be fair its sales Stateside (#11) were more a reflection of the residual popularity of The Knack, than of the quality of the song itself. The quality of the song was more accurately mirrored in the British chart performance (#66), and in fact the song didn’t chart at all in Australia.

To The Knack’s credit they didn’t overindulge in the recording of their sophomore album ‘…But The Little Girls Understand’ (US#15/OZ#32), but arguably were too hasty and frugal (spending one week and $10,000) in producing their follow up effort, which hit the stores just eight months after their first album. The lead out single ‘Baby Talks Dirty’ sputtered its way to #38 on the U.S. charts in early 1980. The follow up ‘Can’t Put A Price On Love’ fared even more poorly (US#62), and it was obvious that The Knack were not the new Beatles, merely only another pretender to the title. The press had well and truly turned sour on The Knack, and the predictable pitfalls of instant fame and fortune started to manifest within the band’s internal dynamic, which was increasingly fractious. Their third album, though produced by Jack Douglas (who oversaw Lennon’s ‘Double Fantasy’) and favourably reviewed, continued the rapid slide in fortunes for The Knack, with ‘Round Trip’ (US#93) signalling the end of the band’s round trip in and out of the big time. The Knack’s final foray into the U.S. Hot 100 (with a new song) was late in 1981 with ‘Pay The Devil (Ooo, Baby, Ooo)’ (#67). Following a poorly received tour, the strain of such a calamitous fall from grace took its toll on the band, and The Knack split up on New Year’s Day 1982.

For a brief period Averre, Niles and Gary continued playing together under the banner of the Game, but soon went their separate ways. Bruce Gary became quite the drummer in high demand, working with such music legends as Bob Dylan, Jack Bruce, Robbie Krieger and Bette Midler. Averre also toured with Midler’s band for a time, whilst bassist Niles was a member of singer Josie Cotton’s band, and recorded with the likes of George Harrison and ex-Sex Pistol Steve Jones. The trio regrouped in the mid 80s with a new vocalist Steve Bauer, and called themselves the Front. In the interim Fieger had battled with depression and substance abuse, but attempted to keep his career going with the band Doug Fieger’s Taking Chances, which though it may have taken a chance or two, missed out on any commercial payoff.

By 1987 Doug Fieger had recovered his health and sobriety, and joined up with Berton Averre and Prescott Niles once more as The Knack. Drummer Bill Ward came on board to replace Bruce Gary, who was in great demand as a session player (Rod Stewart, Mick Taylor, Sheryl Crow to name a few). This time around The Knack set their sights on re-establishing themselves on the club circuit. Before long new material was being written and performed and by 1991 The Knack re-entered the studio to lay down the tracks for the album ‘Serious Fun’ (featuring the US#9 Mainstream Rock Track ‘Rocket O’Love’. The album’s title reflected the reinvented mindset of The Knack’s members, less intent on world domination than just being a good solid pop-rock outfit. The album didn’t chart, and was inexplicably pulled by the label before a second single was released. Soon after the members of The Knack once more went their separate ways. It’s probably fair to say that after only a decade since their unceremonious fall from grace, it was too soon for The Knack to be welcomed back by waves of nostalgia washing away any perceived indiscretions post ‘My Sharona’. Fieger tried his hand at acting for a time, and recorded a solo album with producer Don Was (see earlier Was Not Was post). That wave of nostalgia (albeit a small one) arrived just a few years later in 1994, via a remixed version of ‘My Sharona’ being featured in the box office hit ‘Reality Bites’. A new version of the promotional video was cut, featuring footage of the original Knack intercut with footage from the film, and suddenly people were reminded of what all the fuss had been about fifteen years previous. The remixed ‘My Sharona’ crept into the U.S. Hot 100 at #91 in mid ‘94, and encouraged Fieger and his cohorts (this time with Bruce Gary) to once more hit the stage and revisit the vibrant energy of a bygone era.

In the decade following the rejuvenated Knack continued to deliver knock out live shows to a whole new generation of power-pop fans. In 1998 they issued the new album ‘Zoom’ (repackaged and re-issued as ‘Re-Zoom’ in 2003) with ‘Normal As The Next Guy’ following in 2001. Ex-Missing Persons (see earlier post) drummer Terry Bozzio played with The Knack briefly during this period. In 2002 Capitol Records re-issued the entire back catalogue of The Knack, remastered on CD. In April 2002 the band’s performance energy was captured on the DVD/CD set ‘Live From The Rock And Roll Fun House’, and in June 2004 The Knack wowed everyone on the NBC show ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’. The band members were shocked to learn of the death of ex-drummer Bruce Gary in August 2006, and soon after singer/guitarist Doug Fieger was confronted with the news he had two brain tumours. The tumours were successfully removed and by August 2007 Fieger’s cancer was in remission (Fieger performed ‘My Sharona’ for the Countdown Spectacular 2 series of concerts during August/September 2007). In October 2008 the band’s official website reported that Doug Fieger’s cancer had flared again, but in a statement posted by the singer himself, the outlook was reported as positive. After thirty years of rollercoaster-like ups and downs The Knack are still going strong, touring regularly across the U.S. and Europe in recent years (most recently with ex-Mr. Big drummer Pat Torpey).

It’s a testament to just how much impact The Knack, or to be more accurate ‘My Sharona’ had on the music scene at the time of its release, that the ‘The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll’ dedicated more print space on The Knack than it did the likes of Iron Maiden or Herman’s Hermits (strange random combination I know, but just to cite a couple of examples). Though the rest of their output wouldn’t rate much of a mention in the scheme of things, the fact that the single ‘My Sharona’, and album ‘Get The Knack’, racked up combined sales of over 15 million worldwide, means The Knack will always hold a place in the power pop hall of fame.

Update (long overdue) - In February 2010, lead singer Doug Fieger lost his long battle with cancer. His band, The Knack, may not have dominated the charts for a long time, but they have, and will remain, one of the best remember acts of their era.

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