Last week, power pop music lost a legend. Doug Fieger was the lead singer, rhythm guitarist and vocalist for the Knack. This group epitomized the “skinny-tie” sound that dominated the new wave/early alternative musical arena for a short while thanks to their monster #1 chart smash “My Sharona” and its attendant hit album, Get The Knack. The group fell from grace as quickly as it rose to prominence but still managed to create a short, sweet legacy of hook-laden tunes that continue to charm those who can appreciate the magic of a well-constructed pop song.
Like most “overnight successes,” Doug Fieger walked a long road to reach his moment of instant glory. He started playing in rock bands at the age of 11 in his native Michigan, graduating to the pros in a group called Sky (produced by Jimmy Miller of Traffic and Rolling Stones fame) at the dawn of the 1970’s. He soldiered on in relative anonymity until he created the Knack near the decade’s end with co-writer and friend Berton Averre.
And what this duo devised was magnificent. At a time when punk and disco were battling for the souls of the average music lover, the Knack felt like a daydream inspired by our collective memories of 1960’s beat-pop. They took the instantly-accessible hooks and the judicious songcraft we loved in countless Beatles, Who and Kinks oldies and added late-1970’s levels of energy, caustic wit and lusty lyrics. The resulting sound was classic yet bracingly modern, a duality best embodied in “My Sharona”: this lust-ode to a teenage girl punched away at a barrage of hooks with sledgehammer power but the arrangement had the laser-sharp precision of the best pop tunes.
The rest of Get The Knack proved they weren’t just a one-song wonder: each song delivered the same mixture of energy, finesse and sheer love for pop music, with tunes like “Your Number Or Your Name” and the surprisingly delicate ballad “Maybe Tonight” becoming enduring power-pop fan faves. “Good Girls Don’t” made for an endearingly raunchy follow-up hit with its spot-on marriage of teenage-horniness lyrics and high-octane Merseybeat melodicism. Get The Knack ultimately spent five consecutive weeks at #1 on the charts. They had the pop music zeitgeist in the palm of their hand.
Sadly, their reign ended as quickly as it began. In two years, the Knack would implode due to a variety of factors: their “no interviews” policy caused the music press to turn on them, Capitol Records’ heavy hyping of the band led to a “Knuke The Knack” backlash and ego and drug-fueled inter-band strife caused the group to implode shortly after releasing their third album. The former kings were reduced to instant punchlines, never again to scale the platinum heights again.
But that wasn’t the end for the Knack. They reunited in the late 1980’s, with Fieger continuing to lead the group. To his credit, he never allowed bitterness or a sense of loss to cloud his love for music. He continued to devote his energies to quality songwriting and sang each new song with the power and passion that sold people on “My Sharona” so many years ago. The Knack even managed a late-period gem with 1996’s underrated Zoom album.
Six years ago, Fieger was diagnosed with cancer. He handled the bad news with a graceful attitude, perhaps because he became used to staying positive in the face of adversity long ago. In a interview conducted shortly before his passing, Fieger said he’d led “ten great lives” and added “I don’t feel cheated in any way, shape or form.” His stardom might have faded long ago but he exited this world like a star, with all the grace and good cheer that defines a star’s persona. Your Humble Reviewer hopes he can be that much of a class act when his time comes.
Luckily for us, Fieger’s star quality will continue to live on between the grooves of those classic Knack recordings. Get The Knack remains a must-listen album for anyone interested in power-pop as do Zoom and Round Trip (the classic-that-never-was of the Knack catalog). It is recommended that you jump around the room with youthful abandon when you play them. Somewhere in the great beyond, Doug Fieger will smile down on you.
Here’s a selection of Schlockmania’s favorite Doug Fieger/Knack recordings — if you’re into MP3’s, any and all are worth downloading: