Damn right, “My Sharona.” The Knack’s one monster hit, co-written by lead guitarist Berton Averre and singer Doug Fieger, has kept my heart pumping and my hands pounding on steering wheels, tabletops, and drum sets for nearly 30 years. While some may write it off as slick corporate new wave rock, the drive and sexuality of that song has always been appealing to me. Even as a prepubescent kid growing up in northeast Ohio during the late ’70s, something about this song felt… primal. I’m sure it had something to do with Fieger’s panting and moaning. And then there’s the drum part:
“Dum dum thunk, dumdum thunk, dum thunk, dum dum thunk, dum dum dum thunk, dumdum thunk…”
The moment you hear Bruce Gary’s drums and the Prescott Niles bass line, this infectious song gets into your head and under the sheets. Is it any wonder I listened to this song over and over again downstairs in my parents’ basement, and later, in the musky basement bedroom I called home in college?
Like so many, I first heard “My Sharona” when it was a radio staple back in 1979. I loved the melody and had no clue what Feiger was singing about. I never caught the line “runnin’ down the length of my thigh, Sharona”; apparently my parents never caught on either, because they never switched the station when we were on a long-ass cross country vacation and the song began playing. Among the disco beats and soft rock ballads of that time period, Averre’s masterpiece was a breath of fresh air, even if it felt like derivative bubblegum (albeit soft-core) pop rock. The song was so huge, it even propelled the follow-up (and dirtier) single, “Good Girls Don’t,” into the top 20 and made The Knack’s debut album, Get the Knack, a smash success, spending five weeks at Number One. This band was destined for greatness. Or not.
By 1981, The Knack spiraled into self-destruction with internal fighting and drug addictions, and the world pretty much forgot about them. In many ways, The Knack were the Jet of their day, only “My Sharona” has way more staying power than “Are You Gonna Be My Girl.” In my teens, (aka, the mid ’80s), this song seemed to lurk around in the shadows of my mind, whether it was on some friend’s borrowed K-Tel record (I believe it was Power Play) or hearing the song sampled by Jam Master Jay in Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky.” The Knack didn’t want me to forget them. Even if I was the only kid in town still humming their song every now and then, maybe, just maybe, there’d be a Knack revival someday. Doug Feiger and Berton Averre, you owe me money, dudes.
During my freshman year at BGSU, there was a place uptown called Finders Records. Like any good record store, they had a massive catalog from which any interested party could order old LPs or 45s. Yes, 45s. For an audiophile like me, this was like discovering a Baskin Robbins that sold Pink Bubblegum ice cream year round. Anything I could think of, it was there at my fingertips. Of course, the moment I opened the enormous first volume, with every title written in a four-sized font, the task of choosing a single song, let alone an album, became so daunting, I stood at the counter just leafing through the pages in a daze. And then I wound up in the “K” section and stopped on The Knack.
Weeks passed as I waited patiently for seven inches of round black nostalgia to show up. When it finally arrived and I heard that drumbeat playing over my crummy Radio Shack speakers, I wasn’t some pimple-faced kid in college anymore, I was a goofy young kid with strange body hair and big glasses. My mind flashed to summer days spent in our front yard, with my father mowing the grass in the background and my brother washing the family blue Ford Torino. I started to sweat as the thought of the thick humidity and those dreaded Cleveland summers came to mind. Hearing “My Sharona” all the way through for the first time in years was heaven; it was Pink Bubblegum ice cream. Through the rest of my freshman year and into the summer of ’89, I came to appreciate the greatness of “My Sharona,” not just as a song full of double entendres and a killer hook, but the musicianship by all of the band members and the craftsmanship of the production. I recall one night, in particular, trying to convince my friend Brett, of the song’s merits, playing it for him two or three times in a row, even accompanying the stereo on my drums. It was Music Theory 101 in the Malchus basement. Poor Brett, he thought we were just going to drink some beers that night.
Later that fall, while slugging drinks at some get together, I was thumbing through this guy Drew’s record collection. I was elated to find that he owned a copy of Get the Knack. I immediately asked to borrow it. “No need to borrow,” he said, “you can have it for a buck.” A buck! That night, high on alcohol and the giddiness of my purchase, I slapped on some headphones and listened to “My Sharona,” only to discover that “My Sharona” is actually 4 minutes and 55 seconds long, nearly a minute longer than the single version! My entire life had been a lie. A lie, I tell you! All of these years I’d been missing Averre’s long-ass, over-the-top guitar solo that not only must have driven girls crazy, but must have driven drummer Gary close to the edge with having to keep up. At that moment, “My Sharona” became a basement classic, one that would follow me all the way to California. And now, whenever I hear the truncated version of the song, I quickly turn the radio station. How dare they?
When “My Sharona” had a revival in the early ’90s thanks to the film Reality Bites, I was thrilled, though a little disappointed. I thought that I would be the one to remind the world of all things The Knack. I also dreaded hearing the song in countless movies, much in the way George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” saturated the market. But guess what, that didn’t happen. As soon as Reality Bites disappeared, the only place I heard the song was occasionally on the radio, or, primarily, blasting in our apartment. It’s 2008, nearly 30 years after this song became a sensation, and it still makes my head bob, my fingers snap and makes me unconsciously sing “My-y-y-y-y-y Wooo!” Is this song a profound declaration setting the world on fire with depth and wisdom? Hell no! This is just plain old rock ‘n roll, baby. This is “My Sharona.” Damn right.