The Knack blessed by Cobain
The Knack blessed by Cobain

The Knack doesn't need VH-1, Rolling Stone or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to secure its place in history.

It has a ringing endorsement from Nirvana's Kurt Cobain.

In Cobain's recently released journals, The Knack's "Get the Knack" was listed among the late rocker's favorite albums. Nirvana drummer (and now Foo Fighter braintrust) Dave Grohl "came to see us in 1998," says lead singer Doug Fieger. "He confirmed that Kurt and Courtney (Love) and he were huge Knack fans.

"Some people are invested in this idea that we were not cool, so that somebody so cool (Cobain) would believe we were cool" had to be tongue-in-cheek. Not so, says Fieger. "(Cobain) was a huge fan. He thought we were the real deal."

To second the motion, VH-1 recently tabbed "My Sharona" as No. 64 of the Top 100 songs of the past 25 years. When it was released in 1979, the stuttering pop song spent seven weeks at No. 1 and finished as the best-selling song of the year.

Although the band had three albums released in as many years, The Knack was included in Rolling Stone's "Where Are They Now?" series in 1986. Its fourth album didn't come out until 1991 and, then, was met with indifference.

To complicate matters, the "50 Worst Rock and Roll Songs of All-Time" included two Knack songs: "Baby Talks Dirty" and "Good Girls Don't" (which had the refrain "...but I do").

Promoters didn't do the band any favors, either. When Capitol Records execs dared to invoke The Beatles in their Knack publicity, critics were put off. Others lambasted the sexist slant to the group's lyrics.

All that, though, is ancient history, says Fieger, who also was the band's lyricist. "I am proud of every single song we ever put on record and every show we've ever done. I don't look at it from where we fit in history. I know what we did."

Besides, good music has a way of resurfacing, no matter what the outcry. In 1994, "My Sharona" was featured in the Gen-X film "Reality Bites." It recharted and was on the soundtrack that sold three million copies.

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Today, The Knack is celebrating 25 years as a group. The rockers will appear Thursday in Le Mars as part of Ice Cream Days. Later in July they'll join A Flock of Seagulls and Modern English in Las Vegas. This isn't one of those classic bands that has but one remaining member touring under the original name. Three of the original four Knack members are together, with bassist Prescott Niles and guitarist Berton Averre; missing only the initial drummer. "We have had five different drummers, so we are like Spinal Tap in that regard. In fact, we are like Spinal Tap in a lot of ways," Fieger says with a chuckle.

In the late 1970s, most music was corporate rock or disco or punk, so in spite of being nothing more than two guitars, a bass and drums, The Knack was novel.

"There was nothing going on when we came along. We were fresh and new," Fieger says. Plus the band had "good songs and good musicianship" in contrast to the punk of the time. "We took a lot of (expletive) because we could really play."

So while "garage bands" like the White Stripes and the Strokes were hailed in 2002 as the hot thing, it was just rock music again. "Everything old is new again, every 10 years or so," Fieger offers. "When The Beatles did it, it was nothing new."

Ah, The Beatles. Fieger notes that when "suddenly we had Beatles-like record sales," a backlash kicked in. Since the Capitol label was in the doldrums, "they needed something. So when we came along and sold the kind of records we did, they hyped us." That The Knack did "a tongue-in-cheek" photo shoot for "Get the Knack" that drew on The Beatles didn't help.

"I learned a lot about human nature at that time," Fieger says. "It seems, sadly, that it is human nature to build people up, but to tear them down, too. The kind of criticism we received for stuff like that was just vicious and stupid.

"We are of the lineage" of great rock, listing down from Buddy Holly, The Who, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Steely Dan, Sex Pistols and, from his era, The Cars and Blondie. Fieger confesses he's stopped getting into rock since Nirvana.

All of The Knack's albums were re-mastered and re-released in 2002. There is no current plan for a new album, although its most recent disc, "Zoom," was just reworked as "Re-Zoom" in January. "We record when we get a chance to, when somebody is asking us to," Fieger says. The band now tours spring through fall, although "it is more fallow than in years past. We would like to work more."

So how are tours compared to the heyday? "The response is the same," Fieger says. "Obviously, the numbers were bigger then. Now we are a nostalgia or oldies act. We are still having fun and will keep doing it as long as people want us. ... If they come down and see our show, it will be hard to wipe the smile off their faces."

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