Before there was The Knack, there was Doug Fieger and Berton Averre. The former was a Detroit native and a member of the band Sky, the latter a working musician from the San Francisco Bay Area. They began collaborating in 1973, beginning an odyssey that would reach its first milestone six years later when the sensibly-titled Get the Knack on Capitol Records reportedly became the fastest-selling debut album since Meet the Beatles. But before “My Sharona” took Fieger, Averre, Bruce Gary and Prescott Niles to “the toppermost of the poppermost,” songwriter/bassist Fieger and guitarist Averre were writing and recording, sometimes as the duo “Douglust.” Sixteen demos recorded by the twosome in 1973 and 1975 have been excavated for The Knack’s Rock & Roll is Good for You: The Fieger/Averre Demos (Omnivore Recordings/Zen Records OVCD-39, 2012). This ground-floor look follows Omnivore’s Havin’ a Rave-Up! Live in Los Angeles 1978 in charting the early career of the power-pop hitmakers.
The major revelation of these stripped-down, raw demos is just how developed Doug Fieger was as a songwriter at an early age. In his liner notes, Lee Lodyga (who co-produced this collection with Cheryl Pawelski) takes pain to note, however, that Averre’s “orchestration by guitar…fleshed out the songs,” adding that “even though Fieger was the main ‘songwriter’ in name, it was Averre’s flourishes that built on and tied the music together, giving it a sense of consistency and continuity.” Fieger and Averre are certainly very much in tune on these tracks, creating a sound that would blossom into the familiar Knack style and avoids outright period pastiche. Still, Lodyga points out Averre’s admiration of the chord changes in songs like Mort Garson and Bob Hilliard’s “Our Day Will Come,” and that understanding of what made a classic pop tune served him well as guitarist and de facto arranger of these songs. (Averre is credited as co-writer of just one song: the catchy “Little Lies,” with its Beatlesque guitar riff and little vocal embellishments – “Uh-yay-yeah!”) Fieger and Averre knew when they had a winner; hence the new anthology contains two songs reworked for Get the Knack: a 1973 recording of “That’s What the Little Girls Do” and a 1975 take of “Good Girls Don’t.” Another ’75 song, “Corporation Shuffle (Daddy Turns the Volume Down),” reappeared many years later in 1998 as “Terry and Julie Step Out” on the album Zoom.
Truth to tell, these punchy demos have much in common with the primal performances on the Sunset Strip preserved on Omnivore’s 1978 live disc. Those had the frisson of an audience, but Fieger and Averre channeled a similar same energy and hunger when they entered the studio to record. Though by necessity spare, the demos often suggest what a fully-produced version might sound like; only occasionally is the sound actually more full, as with the drums on songs like “You’ll Never Know” and “Get on the Plane,” or the background harmonies on “That’s What the Little Girls Do.” The garage-ish demo recordings are a reminder that one can do a lot with just two voices, two guitars and a few good tunes!
There’s more Knack after the jump!
There are plenty of hidden gems here. With its jagged guitars and psychedelic flavor, the darkly-tinged “Flower My Fate” stands out, while “Weiss on Rye (Hold the Mayo)” boasts a melody that is greater than its novelty-style title might suggest. “Get on the Plane” has a more pronounced, chugging early-seventies vibe than the sixties homage many associate with The Knack, and it’s even a bit glam-rock around the edges! If “(Here on This) Lonely Night” sounds familiar to you, it’s because it was also heard on Havin’ a Rave-Up! earlier this year. Here, as there, it’s a warm, melodic and infectious pop nugget that should have spawned at least a few cover recordings! “Who’ll Set You Down” (“I wonder where do you go/When your fire’s burning low…”) has a folk-rock sound that for a second might recall “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” but stands apart with a unique and soulful bass line. “Mama, I Feel Your Sadness” is downright funky, and “Lazer Days” and the fuzzy “Have a Heart” are tougher, with Averre’s aggressive guitar. The slow-burning title song is actually moody and not all that rocking, but a fitting cap to the collection nonetheless.
The bounty of potent riffs and hooks (not to mention the unique vocal delivery of Fieger) marks these demos as the work of a team who were going places. Not that the songs are necessarily derivative, but you’ll hear a touch of McCartney in this melody, a dash of The Move in that vocal delivery, a pinch of the Beach Boys in a chord change. All of the songs are snappy, brisk and of-the-moment, and sure, some evaporate into the ether and escape the brain immediately after listening. But the best of them truly linger.
The package and design are up to Omnivore’s already high standard. With its shadowy, Meet the Beatles-inspired cover art, Rock & Roll is Good for You hints to The Knack’s past – or actually, The Knack’s future. Lee Lodyga provides good liner notes, and you’ll also find photographs and images of the actual tape boxes for two of the demos. Gavin Lurssen and Reuben Cohen have mastered the album, and if it’s not studio album quality (and one wishes the vocals were occasionally a bit more out front in the mix), it’s eminently listenable and utterly enjoyable.
Rock & Roll Is Good for You: the Fieger/Averre Demos is also available digitally and on vinyl. The 14-track vinyl LP includes a download card for the full 16-track CD/digital line-up. The initial LP run of 1,000 copies has been pressed on clear vinyl (with black vinyl to follow as the unlimited edition). Omnivore has also offered an exclusive LP/7-inch vinyl bundle limited to 500 units, with the seven-inch including two otherwise-unreleased tracks: “Midnight Misogynist,” recorded in 1975 b/w “Lucy Ride,” recorded in 1973. One hopes that these two songs might be available in the future, perhaps as download additions to the CD, once the 7-inch sells out. After all, there doesn’t seem to be too much of a good thing where The Knack is concerned. As a peek into the process that eventually led to one of the most beloved albums of the power-pop era, you likely won’t argue that Rock & Roll is, indeed, good for you.
The Knack, Rock & Roll is Good for You: The Fieger/Averre Demos (Omnivore Recordings/Zen Records OVCD-39, 2012)
- Have a Heart
- Corporation Shuffle (Daddy Turns the Volume Down)
- Good Girls Don’t
- Little Lies
- Flower My Fate
- Weiss on Rye (Hold the Mayo)
- You’ll Never Know
- That’s What the Little Girls Do
- Get on the Plane
- (Here on This) Lonely Night
- Lazer Days
- The Other Side (Of the Line)
- Who’ll Set You Down
- Mama, I Feel the Sadness
- What Ya Gonna Do Now?
- Rock & Roll is Good for You