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Monday, April 04, 2005

“Came a long way from the Valley / Aim so high / Shot so true…”

When it comes to spectacular pop flame-outs, it’s still tough to match the Knack, even 25 years after the phenomenal success of “My Sharona” and their debut album, “Get the Knack.” While that debut sold millions upon millions, their second album, “…but the little girls understand” did just okay, topping out at double platinum.

That third album, though…

Round Trip

“Round Trip” was released in 1981, just three years after “Get the Knack”. In that short amount of time, the group had alienated the rock press and even their fanbase so much that it peaked at a partly #93 on the Billboard Top 200. The Knack were actively despised. “Knuke the Knack” buttons and t-shirts were sold at Spencer’s Gifts nationwide. “Round Trip,” a sort of head-hung-low apology of an album, was dead before it was born.

As a junior high school student, I can remember seeing copy after copy stacked in our local Camelot Music’s cutout bin, a place I haunted like clockwork for buried treasure (Fred Schneider and the Shake Society for only 99¢!?? Sold!). Of course, I had some earlier familiarity with the Knack, thanks to their massive hit and the fact that I regularly checked out “Get the Knack” from the Elyria Public Library and quite liked it.

I have distinctly vivid memories of G-98, our local Top 40 outlet, playing “Round Trip’s” first single “Pay the Devil (Ooo Baby Ooo)” during the nightly Smash It or Trash It call-in show I taped every night. In fact, I saved that tape for months and months, playing that song again and again.

It got a 78% “Trash It” rating. Well, I liked it.

You have to give Capitol Records credit for releasing a country-ish waltz as the first single from the album. Either it was a bold statement that the Knack was expanding its sound and moving away from horny teen anthems or it was a horrible blunder. Take a pick.

Soon after, I heard another song from “Round Trip” on Smash It or Trash It called “Boys Go Crazy”. Now this…this was the Knack. “The boys go crazy when the girls say ‘no.” Back to speaking from the dick, a complete retreat from “Pay the Devil’s” experimentation.

It got a 64% “Smash It” rating. It didn’t even warrant a release, Capitol pulling it from the schedule when the Knack broke up, a scant three weeks after “Round Trip” hit the stores. Had the group stuck it out, leadoff track “Radiating Love” would have made a great single.

I made the 99¢ investment in “Round Trip” several times. At one point, I owned it on vinyl, cassette and even 8-track, just to have them. It’s a decent album, sort of all over the place and it betrays Doug Feiger’s drug problem at the time in certain moments. I came back to it now and then, especially to “Pay the Devil,” which with maturity, I posited might have been written about the Knack themselves:

You got it made
And you made it your way
Life’s looking great
Now you found the right games to play

Came a long way from the Valley
Aim so high, shot so true

Ooo baby ooo ooo baby ooo
Everybody got to read the review
Ooo baby ooo ooo baby ooo even you
Got to learn to give the devil his due

Contrition only gets you so far. In this case, it got the Knack in the mid-60s of the Billboard Hot 100. 21 years later, I bought “Round Trip” one more time…this time on a lushly remastered CD, complete with demos and bonus tracks.

Got to give the devils their due. Eventually.

Download “Pay the Devil (Ooo Baby Ooo)”.
Download “Boys Go Crazy”.

”Pay the Devil (Ooo Baby Ooo)” peaked at #67 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Boys Go Crazy” was pulled from release.
posted by John, 4:45 PM