Tag Archives: Capitol Records

I Got The Knack

R.I.P. Doug Fieger

R.I.P. Doug Fieger of The Knack.

The best-selling album of 1978 was Saturday Night Fever, the zenith of popularity for guys in satin shirts (open to the waist so that the gold medallions could bounce within the prominent clump of chest hair, of course). Women were no better, focused upon inane dances with said hairy men, hopefully rendered impotent after bathing in strobe lights under satanic mirror balls and shaking what booty they thought they had to beat-pulsing stage lamps flashing primary colors like an amoral heartbeat. Surely the world had gone to Hell in a handbasket, although that handbasket now had a designer name and cost more than a week’s wages.

Sadly, 1979 was no better. Those of us buying Blondie and Ramones and Sex Pistols records could not help but wonder what the hell happened to rock’n’roll, since all the attention and the money and the shelf-rack space in the record stores – our record stores, dammit! – were being glommed by Donna Summer and Chic and Andy Gibb. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, this simplest of rock songs, this most basic beat, blasted its way to the top of the charts like a lung full of oxygen in a coal mine…”My Sharona“.

Video: “My Sharona

No, it wasn’t the best pop song ever written and The Knack were certainly not The Beatles despite the great pains the Capitol Records marketing department went through (the black and white cover photo and the Meet The Beatles cadence of the title Get The Knack). Nor did the bizarre decision to not do any interviews play out well; what initially inspired mystery in a band holding the Number One Single hostage for six weeks soon turned into resentment and an attitude of animosity towards four guys who were just trying to sell pop music.

But “My Sharona” did serve notice to the industry that despite disco and punk and prog and that god-awful corporate rock that Columbia Records kept spewing out its sewage pipe, there was an audience for what we refer to as powerpop music. Good melody. Great hook. Big beat. Maybe it wouldn’t dominate the charts like it did in the 60s, but when given a chance, people respond to it. Sure, you might gloss a sheen of hair metal over it, maybe even countrify it, but at its core a great pop song is a great pop song.

Of course The Knack didn’t last long; maybe these things aren’t supposed to, although their next couple of albums weren’t bad. One knock on the group was that the girls being sung about might be a tad on the younger side, which could explain the occasional leering expressions from the band members. (I’m not certain where these prudential critics were when Gary Puckett and The Union Gap were prowling school yards in the 60’s in military gear, but so be it.) In subsequnet years The Knack would occasionally reform sans retired drummer Bruce Gary (who passed in 2006) with ringers like Terry Bozzio standing in alongside Fieger, guitarist Berton Averre and bassist Prescott Niles.

The Knack will never have the cred that Big Star or Badfinger or even The Romantics have earned, but “My Sharona“, the biggest pop single of 1979, was the right song at the right time. Thanks, Doug (and co-writer Averre), for that lifeboat you dropped into The Sea of Disco. Rest in peace.

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And R.I.P.  Dale Hawkins, the rock and roll tornado

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Blast From The Past – The Beach Boys

The Sun Is Up...

The Sun Is Up...

Almost a decade ago, Capitol Records started reissuing the Beach Boys titles in two-fer packages, and it was a great opportunity to remember what an incredible run this band had. Like most of the acts that were huge in the 60’s, it was all about pumping out the next hit single ninety days after the last one, so your hits would pass each other on the Top 40 charts and keep up that pulse of dominance.

But like most of those 60’s acts, their zenith came in a short period of time, and as they kept pounding the boards the hits slowed down or dried up, and the albums stopped charting as high – if they charted at all. The live shows, for those who could still muster them, revolved around the legacy of oldies rather than a current, vital presence. And for those who were able to keep the engine running, creativity transformed into sustenance and the compromises that it brings to art.

Sure, The Rolling Stones are still around, but look at their studio output of the past twenty years and you’ll find four albums, only one released in the last twelve years. Even my beloved Kinks haven’t release an album in sixteen years, but at least the band isn’t out there milking it.  With Dennis and Carl sadly gone, The Beach Boys are now splintered, with Brian Wilson trying to patch the holes in his legacy, Al trying to make a living, and Mike doing what he does best – being an assclown. But this release was all about then, not now.

I loved all the releases, but this set held a special place in my heart, because I believe these two were a critical turning point in the band’s history and possibly the reason for their survival. Having grown up on their classic singles, I remember delving into Surf’s Up as a DJ and fielding calls from fans, some of whom were distraught at the direction the band was taking, some (like me) watching a band progress… like an adolescent grows into adulthood.

I wrote the following review for PopMatters in 1990…

Brother Records logo

Two of the more overlooked records in the Beach Boys canon (well, at least to those who swear by either Pet Sounds or the surf/car singles) get their due as part of the reissue of the Brother Records catalogue. Sunflower and Surf’s Up mark the point in time where Brian Wilson’s influence started to shift aside and the other band members began to assert themselves in the studio. Not that Brian is mis-represented; he’s credited on 10 of the 22 tracks, and his “This Whole World” and “Til I Die” might be the best track on each album, respectively (although I’d make a strong case for “Long Promised Road”).

Dennis Wilson is well represented on Sunflower, earning the leadoff track with the rocking “Slip on Through”. “Got to Know the Woman” takes a Jerry Lee Lewis template and slows it to a shuffle, adding doo-wop harmonies, and of course it’s about Dennis’ favorite sport. But “Forever” is simply beautiful, and probably surprised even his brothers. “Our Sweet Love” is a great showcase for Carl’svoice, and the sunny feeling of “Add Some Music to Your Day” and “At My Window” is irresistible. “Cool Cool Water” might be the strongest tie to Pet Sounds or Smile; ending the record with a reminder of just how much Brian has left in the well.

Bruce Johnston’ssongs have always sounded out of place to me—they’re pleasant but always seem to stick out thematically; Sunflower’s “Tears in the Morning” probably more so than “Disney Girls” from Surf’s Up. The ironic placement of “Disney Girls” beside Mike Love’s “Student Demonstration Time” (a lyrical adaptation of “Riot in Cell Block #9”) mirrored the emotions of the band as well as the rapidly-changing American culture as well. Johnston’s ode to the sweetly innocent neighborhood lifestyle of the post-war era was wistful remembrance; Love’s biting lyrics about getting your head cracked open was a bucket of ice water splashing across your face. (Although the band rocks, Brian Wilson stated that he never liked this song; Love probably enjoyed this moment as much as any other.) Al Jardine’s contributions are both child-like and psychedelic. “A Day in the Life of a Tree” still sounds like a funeral march, which in a way, it is. But Carl’s sweet “Feel Flows” and Brian’s introspective “Til I Die” dominate the second half of the record, capped off by the eloquent title track.

The packaging and liner notes are superb—lots of great photos, an informative essay by Timothy White, and faithful reproduction of the original cover art. Why Capitol decided to use the horrible green and purple logo for the CD instead of the superior Brother Records logo (or even the famous Capitol swirl!) is beyond me, but considering how much time this CD will spend inside my player, I guess it really doesn’t matter.

...And So Is The Surf

...And So Is The Surf

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