Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Feb 15th 2010 2:18PM by Steve Baltin
There are lots of ways to put 'My Sharona' in historical context: the number of artists who have covered it, from Veruca Salt and Yo La Tengo to the Chipmunks and Pearl Jam; the song's occasional reentry into pop culture, like on the soundtrack to 1994's 'Reality Bites,' or when President George W. Bush listed the song on his iPod in 2005; and the sampling of it by acts like Run-DMC on 'It's Tricky' and Madonna during her 2006 'Sticky and Sweet' tour.' And then, of course, there are the parodies: from Cheech and Chong turning the song into 'My Scrotum' in 'Cheech & Chong's Next Movie' to the Dead Kennedys singing 'My Payola.' The most famous of these parodies is 'Weird' Al Yankovic's 'My Bologna' -- the song that started Yankovic's career. After hearing of Fieger's passing, Yankovik tweeted, "RIP my dear friend Doug Fieger (lead singer of the Knack and the first artist to ever approve one of my parodies)."
But to really understand the song's impact, think of this: the rock era officially began in 1955, meaning that as of now, only 55 songs in all of rock history have earned the right to be the number one song of the year. Think of all the great songs in rock history. The typical music fan would have a hard time limiting it to just their top 100. But only 55 -- from Elvis Presley's 'Heartbreak Hotel' in 1956 to 'Boom Boom Pow' by the Black Eyed Peas in 2009 -- have earned the right to stand in history as the soundtrack to a year.
Some of the songs are obvious, like the Police's 'Every Breath You Take' (1983), Whitney Houston's 'I Will Always Love You' (1993), Simon and Garfunkel's 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' (1970), the Beatles' 'Hey Jude' (1968), and Santana and Rob Thomas' 'Smooth' (2000). Every person who lived during those years can recall hearing the song in stores, radios, restaurants, clubs, everywhere and anywhere there was music. And all of those artists have earned their place in history.
Others however, like Los Del Rio's 'Macarena (Bayside Boy Mix)' (1996) or, going way back, Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs' 'Sugar Shack' (1963), might look like a misprint, an embarrassment, or prompt a simple "Who the hell is that?" reaction.
'My Sharona' might seem to fall into the latter category. Though the Los Angeles-based scored other hit singles with 'Good Girls Don't,' 'Baby Talks Dirty' and even 1991's 'Rock O' Love' -- which hit No. 9 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart -- none came close to the lightning-in-a-bottle phenomenon of 'My Sharona.' It was the Knack's debut single and the No. 1 track of 1979, having spent six weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, from August 25 through September 29.
'My Sharona' was the song equivalent of Boston's first album, or Peter Frampton's 'Frampton Comes Alive' -- an out-of-nowhere smash that changed the pop landscape. Yeah, to some they've become a pop joke, a one-hit wonder famous for their "dirty mind" (which Feiger wrote of in the 'My Sharona' lyrics). But think of this for a second: the other No. 1 singles of 1979 included Donna Summer's 'Hot Stuff' and 'Bad Girls,' Rod Stewart's disco anthem, 'Do Ya Think I'm Sexy' and the Bee Gees' 'Tragedy' (which was arguably a soundtrack of the disco era).
With its power-pop hooks, instantly recognizable riff and new wave attitude, 'My Sharona' was only the second song -- along with Blondie's dance-friendly, new wave hit 'Heart of Glass' -- to break disco's two-year stranglehold on the top of the pop charts. In '78 and '79, the Bee Gees spent a combined 27 weeks at the top. And the queen of disco, Donna Summer, had the top spot for a combined 12 weeks. That's 39 out of 104 weeks dominated by three acts, all of whom are synonymous with disco.
Now, this isn't a "disco sucks" manifesto, a la burning a bunch of disco albums in the middle of Comiskey Field in 1979 on Disco Demolition Night. But it does help place Fieger's impact on rock in context. By 1980, the singles charts would open up again for rock, with Pink Floyd's 'Another Brick In the Wall (Part II),' Queen's 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love' and 'Another One Bites the Dust,' Blondie's 'Call Me' and John Lennon's '(Just Like) Starting Over' among the songs to reclaim the land of 45's for rock.
Fieger and his Knack bandmates received the love and respect from their rock peers, with Pete Townshend talking up the band on TV, Paul McCartney calling them a "good little band" and legends including Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty joining them on stage. When you earn the respect of rock royalty -- and all of those acts are on rock's Mt. Rushmore -- it has to be for more than one hit. And Fieger -- who started his career singing lead for the band Sky -- was a gifted pop craftsman, as he showed throughout the years.
Still, even he knew that song -- which he called "the golden albatross" in a 2001 interview with ABC, for both the success it brought and the way it defined the band's career -- was his legacy. So who better to sum that up than Sharona Alperin, the muse that inspired 'My Sharona?' Upon hearing news of his passing, she said, "Doug changed my life forever. He left on Valentine's Day, a day of heart and love, and that was Doug -- all heart and love."