The Song That Sounded Disco’s Death Knell

The disco era reached a fever pitch in the mid-1970s; the charts were crowded with hits by KC and the Sunshine Band, Gloria Gaynor, the Village People, Donna Summer and Chic. The 1977 film Saturday Night Fever featured five hits by the Bee Gees; their success encouraged rockers like Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones to release disco tracks.record companies

But in the summer of 1979 a straight-out rocker reminiscent of the British Invasion was released that would introduce “new wave” to America; its sound was so addictive that it became the most popular record of the year… and would break disco’s stranglehold on the charts. That song was “My Sharona” by the Knack.

The band was assembled in Los Angeles in 1977-1978 by singer Doug Fieger: lead guitarist Berton Averre, Bruce Gary on drums and bassist Prescott Niles. The group’s name came from a film by A Hard Day’s Night director Richard Lester called The Knack… and How To Get It.

The Knack recorded a series of demos but got zero interest from record companies. But the band played everywhere, often for free, and established a local reputation, packing LA clubs like the Troubadour. The turning point came when the rock elite began to show up at their performances.

First to come was keyboardist Ray Manzarek of the Doors, who asked to sit in for a few shows, followed by Eddie Money, Tom Petty and Stephen Stills, But it was an appearance by Bruce Springsteen that changed the band’s fortunes.

“Bruce got up with us on a Friday night at the Troubadour and on Monday we suddenly had fourteen offers!” said Fieger. “I’m not sure but I think it was the fact that Bruce Springsteen got up with us that suddenly made all these record companies think we were cool.”

One of the demos turned down by so many record companies was “My Sharona.” The song’s inspiration was a beautiful 17-year-old high school senior, Sharona Alperin. Fieger, then 26, first saw Sharona at the clothing store where she worked. It was love at first sight, but only for Fieger.

Turned down at first by Sharona, Fieger wrote his most successful song for her in fifteen minutes; the lyrics were crafted around a riff that guitarist Averre had written years before. Fieger and Sharona became a couple; that’s Sharona on the picture sleeve of the single.

Capitol Records won a bidding war for the Knack and put the group together with producer Mike Chapman, who’d had hits with Blondie and Nick Gilder. The Knack’s debut album, Get The Knack, was recorded at MCA Whitney in Glendale, a suburb of Los Angeles. The production of “My Sharona” and the rest of the album was quick; seven days to record and four days for mixing.

“My Sharona” would go platinum in seven weeks and became Billboard’s number one record of 1979; the group was the template for power pop bands like Cheap Trick and the Romantics in the 1980s. The Knack had some chart action with a follow-up single, “Good Girls Don’t” and a second album, but the group was never able to repeat the success of “My Sharona.”