Lately a lot’s been written about the Knack, in the wake of the passing of their vocalist/principal songwriter Doug Fieger. I was 11 when “My Sharona” hit the airwaves, and therefore you’d think it was part of the Soundtrack of My Life, but it isn’t really. I do remember a bunch of guys in my Catholic grade school singing it as “Pop a Boner,” but I’d hardly call that life-changing.
During this resurgence in the last month, I got my hands on one song that’s worthy of comment. It’s an outtake from their debut LP Get the Knack. It’s a really great First LP, meaning it has many tunes that were work-shopped for months (years?) in clubs and bars, and therefore the material is strong, strong, strong.
The 2002 reissue includes some bonus tracks, one of which is “Don’t Look Back,” written and donated to the band in November 1978. That will give you an idea what kind of industry hype these guys were getting before they had even recorded their first LP (that was done in early ’79). According to the Fieger’s liner notes, “we had to leave it off because Bruce’s manager, Jon Landau, refused us permission to include it. The reason he gave was that Bruce hadn’t recorded it yet.” (Nice, Jon.)
I read these liner notes before I heard the track and wondered just how would a Bruce song sound like if played by the Knack. Well, it sounds like…a Bruce song played by the Knack, but don’t take my word for it…
The count off is more like a Bruce impression, but the first crashing chords are totally Bruce; the brief background harmonies in the chorus have the Knack’s power pop touch, however that bridge at the one minute mark is crazy Bruce; and the chirping “Don’t look! Don’t look! Don’t look!” is mad Knack, but not before Feiger gives out a late 70s Bruce “Oh!” at 1:56. All in all, a great a 2:30 pop-rock marriage (so tight it comes in at 2:22). Shame Bruce’s manager was a tool about it; the fans had to wait until 1992 to hear it on a Knack compilation.
In 1979, the Knack played Carnegie Hall and filmed it; it was released on laser disc in Japan the following year. Here’s the link for their performance of “A Hard Day’s Night.” Feiger introduces it with a response to the criticisms that they were too “Beatlesque”; appropriately the band does a Beatles Bow at the end of the song.
(I need someone’s help with the date for this concert. I’ve been combing the interweb for info, and several places list the date as March 18, 1979. This is highly unlikely since the debut song and the world-changing “My Sharona” single came out in June 1979. The Knack’s website says the Carnegie Hall show came at the end of their summer tour to promote the LP, which makes perfect sense. So how come so many people in the audience are wearing long sleeve shirts and sweaters?)