Many years ago, I got rid of one of the worst, most unappealing LPs I’ve ever bought. Lately, I have a weird yen to hear it again.
I know it still sucks, and still isn’t worth my time, but I still find myself thinking about it.
We’ll get to the why in a minute. First, for the non-pop-obsessives in the crowd, we’ll start with the who, and the what, and the when …
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The Knack came roaring out of Los Angeles’ clubs in the summer of 1979, riding the sudden, massive success of hit single “My Sharona” and the Get the Knack LP (six and five weeks at U.S. Number One, respectively).
The band was critically roasted, and still is, for the hormonal nastiness in songs like “My Sharona,” “(She’s So) Selfish” and “Good Girls Don’t” — the last of which ranks among the most noxious Top 40 hits of the Seventies, and must have made some high-school girls’ lives hellish as the decade turned.
(You could argue it’s a song about female empowerment, in which the female lead refuses to conform to social mores, but … naaaah. That’s not what it’s about.)
For all the (justified) complaints, though, Get the Knack delivered a truckload of simple, ringing power-pop hooks that were impossible to ignore. And the band showed it was capable of winning pop performances when it wanted to be:
All of which made the band’s second album at least a minor Rock n’ Roll Event. Could the four lads with the Fab Four fetish tone down the repellent aspects of their act, shine up the appealing ones, repeat at Number One and build themselves a lasting career?
The second Knack album, …but the little girls understand, came out 35 years ago this month and delivered resounding answers: No, nope, nuh-uh and nein.
For my fellow late-’80s types, this is a follow-up album on a par with G’n’R Lies … though that one was probably better, just because it was evident to anyone with a pulse that Lies was a holding action and not a conscious attempt at a follow-up.
The songs on …but the little girls understand were short, derivative, unmemorable and at least as nasty as those on Get the Knack. Lead single “Baby Talks Dirty” out-sleazed both of its predecessors, combining frontman Doug Fieger’s mock-sexual gasps with a rip of the “My Sharona” riff; it died an ignominious death at No. 38.
Follow-up “Can’t Put a Price On Love,” bashed by critics as a rip from “Beast of Burden,” stalled at No. 62. The album as a whole topped out at No. 15 and disappeared. And, after a third album that only reached No. 93, so did the Knack.
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I keep referring to “critics” as I write this. That’s something of a copout, as I can personally testify about both albums. I still own Get the Knack and, for a much briefer period, owned …but the little girls understand.
The latter album came into my orbit for a dollar and left it for 10 cents, and the resulting 90-cent budget deficit was the least of my losses.
Have I mentioned the packaging? Original copies of the second album came with a fold-out photo of the band members riding like kings in the back seat of a limo, with hordes of squealing girls pressing against it on the outside. So massively annoying and unnecessary. Did someone actually put this up on their wall?
Oh, and did I mention the album title? …but the little girls understand, capitalization aside, is an aggravating title on two levels. First, the Knack are worlds apart from Willie Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf. Second, the title posits “little girls” as the main source of the Knack’s popularity — i.e., “the little girls understand why we moved so many records” — and I have trouble imagining that young women were the ones snapping up all those copies of “Good Girls Don’t.”
And did I mention the music? Yeah, I guess I did, but I’ll mention it again. It’s poor.
So anyway, I bought the album years ago from a used bin; I hated it; I ditched it with extreme prejudice.
And yet, now, I have a warped desire to hear it again.
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– I’ve gotten back into playing my old vinyl lately. Maybe I subconsciously wish I had all my old albums back, and out of my discard pile, this happens to be the one my mind has seized on. (Better this one than Uriah Heep Live. I think.)
– Maybe I want to scoff at it again. I’m not sure why that would be — I’m learning that life is short, and time is not worth wasting on stuff you don’t like. But, it’s possible.
– Maybe I think I’d find some value or quality in the record that I didn’t find when I was 17. (I find this theory only slightly more plausible than the one about “Good Girls Don’t” being a female empowerment anthem.)
– It’s not an album that’s been torn to bits, re-analyzed and re-assessed by the blogosphere — at least not the blogs I read — and maybe I’ve just developed a bias toward any artistic product that hasn’t already gotten a 70-inch thinkpiece from somebody who can outwrite me.
– The kitsch and tack of the late ’70s and early ’80s is always entertaining — remember, I’ve seen the Sgt. Pepper’s movie multiple times — and …but the little girls understand is kitsch and tack for the truly hardcore devotee. Anyone can sing “My Sharona,” but if you can sing “Mr. Handleman,” you’ve done some digging and put in some time.
Even though the ghostly (scratch: ghastly) presence of …but the little girls understand keeps working its way into my transom, I have faith I can fend it off.
I have made it clear to myself that, if I pay for this wretched album twice, that will make me the dumbest, most brain-dead sheep in all of American consumerdom.
So I think I can hold it off.
I’m pretty sure.