Not every album lives up to its title, but The Knack’s Havin’ a Rave-Up! certainly does! The group – Doug Fieger on vocals and rhythm guitar, Berton Averre on lead guitar, keyboards and vocals, Prescott Niles on bass, and Bruce Gary on drums – had quite a number of rave-ups on Los Angeles’ famed Sunset Strip in 1978, and made quite a big noise. The quartet was suddenly being deemed the American answer to The Beatles. Musicians the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Ray Manzarek were taking turns sitting in with The Knack. (Manzarek could have been said to be passing the torch, as The Doors made quite a splash at the Whisky a Go-Go themselves!) The Beatles comparisons continued when the band signed to Capitol Records. In fact, 1979’s Get the Knack became the fastest-selling debut album since Meet the Beatles. When “My Sharona” became the biggest-selling single of 1979, the rest of the U.S. caught wind of what denizens of Los Angeles already knew: The Knack had the goods. Those pre-fame days are vividly captured on Omnivore Recordings’ new Havin’ a Rave-Up! Live in Los Angeles, 1978 (Zen/Omnivore OVCD-18, 2012).
If you’re looking for pristine sound quality, you might have to look elsewhere. These performances, culled from the late Doug Fieger’s own archives, aim for “authorized bootleg quality,” according to a booklet note. Though there aren’t specific recording dates included, all tracks come from The Whisky a Go-Go and Doug Weston’s Troubadour circa 1978 when The Knack was filling the clubs of the Sunset Strip with stardom just around the corner. Six songs would be introduced to a wide audience when Get the Knack spent five weeks atop the Billboard chart, and are performed here at their highest possible energy levels. That energy came from punk; the songs, though, were firmly in the pop tradition. The “New Wave” label has often been hung on The Knack, perhaps to differentiate them from the harder-edged, more outré acts we think of as “post-punk.” But whatever you call their music, it was insistently catchy, played with a primal urgency and just a hell of a lot of fun. It was a respite from both punk and disco, and made it clear that there was still a place for pure pop, before that word had a pejorative connotation.
Hit the jump for a trip to the Whisky!
The band earned some measure of controversy with lyrics that could be misogynistic and were often aimed squarely at adolescents. But hadn’t a certain trashy element long been a part of rock and roll, from rockabilly to glam to punk? The power pop of “That’s What the Little Girls Do” (“She’s the virgin queen, dancing in your dreams/Yeah, she plays her part/If you let her though, she will break your ego and your heart/That’s what the little girls do to you!”) is infectiously sung and dedicated to one Sharona Alperin (more on her soon). The profanity-laced “(She’s So) Selfish” – about a girl who “don’t give a sh-t about anybody else but herself” – is introduced with the question of “How many selfish girls are there out there?” It’s answered with appreciative screams from the selfish girls – and probably some guys, too – in the audience! It would be hard not to take The Knack’s music as all in good fun. (The Knack even earned some high coin from onetime Capitol recording artists The Chipmunks, when three of the band’s songs including “Good Girls Don’t” and “My Sharona” appeared on Alvin, Simon and Theodore’s gold-selling “comeback” album, Chipmunk Punk! Go figure.)
“My Sharona,” the Knack’s debut single and also included on Get the Knack, is the penultimate track on this set. Fieger and Averre’s ode to Fieger’s then-girlfriend Sharona Alperin was already fully-formed, from the powerful drums to the insistent bass to the thunderous guitar, all layered on a simple but forceful melody. The iconic stuttering lead vocal might well have sealed its place in the pop pantheon. It clocks in at over six minutes in length here, extended by an instrumental workout and some rather euphoric lead vocals! (It should be noted that Jimmy Haymer is credited with additional keyboards on the concerts that form this release.)
In addition to the six tracks from Get the Knack, other songs heard here were featured on the band’s next two albums. “End of the Game” and rockabilly throwback “(Havin’ a) Rave-Up” both appeared on sophomore effort But the Little Girls Understand, and “Daughter of the Law” appeared as a CD bonus track when that disc was reissued. The aggressive “Art War” (“No, I don’t give a shit about Warhol, and Oldenberg’s really gone soft in the brain/Now Dali just wants to be cornholed with one of those crutches he sold to Man Ray/Yes, Calder was hung up on mobiles/And Rauchenberg gives a particular pain!”) made it onto an album in 1981, but Round Trip proved to be the last Knack album until 1991.
“Evil Lies” and “Here on this Lonely Night” have never appeared until now on any Knack album, and both are to be savored. The latter, in particular, is an insistently melodic gem. Two cover versions also demonstrate the band’s versatility within the muscular guitar-pop framework. There’s a furious attack on “It’s Alright,” a 1964 Adam Faith hit penned by Chris Andrews (also responsible for Sandie Shaw’s sublime “Girl, Don’t Come”). In The Knack’s hands, it’s even more frenetic than Faith’s rocking original. Even better is “Come a Little Bit Closer,” the Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart/Wes Farrell tune that hit No. 3 in 1964 for Jay and the Americans. The band dedicated “Come a Little Bit Closer” to Jay Black and the team of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker; both Steely Dan men had played with the Americans in their youth.
There’s not a lot of onstage chatter on Havin’ a Rave-Up! but the music of this influential band is front and center. Brief notes are provided by Lee Lodyga, bassist Prescott Niles, and Bruce Ravid, who signed The Knack to Capitol Records. Gavin Lurssen and Reuben Cohen have remastered. If you’re looking for hook-laden guitar-pop of the highest order, look no further than this CD to take you back to Los Angeles, circa 1978. The Knack may not have incited a riot on the Sunset Strip, but the band’s sound of youthful fervor has far from waned.
You can order Havin’ a Rave-Up! here!