Raging hormones and unrequited young love can be a combustible combination. And for The Knack, they provided the spark for their first number one, and the biggest single of 1979, My Sharona.
Though lead singer Doug Fieger was twenty-five at the time, he purposefully cast himself in the role of a sex-crazed adolescent for the song. “It was a conscious effort for both me and Berton [Averre, lead guitarist and co-writer] to come at it from the point of view of our remembered teenage selves,” Fieger told me in 2008. “We wanted to tell the story from that place where it's more raw and direct.”
Averre came up with the famous intro guitar riff. “He'd been listening to Elvis Costello's This Year's Model album, especially the song Pump It Up,” Fieger said. “And the drum beat that went with it was a nod to Smokey Robinson & The Miracles' Going To A Go-Go.”
But the real inspiration for the song was one Sharona Alperin. In 1978, when The Knack (named after the British comedy film The Knack . . . and How To Get It), were a band on the rise in the Los Angeles pop scene, Fieger's then-girlfriend Judy casually introduced him to her friend Sharona. A dark-haired beauty, Alperin was a 17-year old clerk at a clothing shop. Fieger said, “It was love at first sight. Literally. I broke up with Judy shortly after and chased Sharona for a year.”
Though Alperin was in a relationship and put Fieger off, it didn't stop him from writing several songs about her (Frustrated and She's So Selfish were two others). “Doug made it very clear he was in love with me,” Alperin said. “It wasn't like my boyfriend and the world didn't know. I always say that he was my groupie, I wasn't his.”
Indeed, it was a strange dynamic, part flattery, part torture, to see Alperin at Knack gigs dancing to her namesake song. Eventually, when it was too much for Fieger, she was temporarily banned from attending their shows.
Meanwhile, by late 1978, the buzz on The Knack had whipped up a major label bidding war. They signed with Capitol, home of their favourite band The Beatles. It was producer Mike Chapman who had the ear for the album's first single. “Mike thought My Sharona was a huge hit,” Fieger said. “But Capitol wanted to release Oh Tara, for some reason. That's why the album went to number one before the single. My Sharona wasn't released until a few weeks after.”
The song took over the airwaves in 1979 and has remained a staple at classic rock radio. It's also appeared in several movies, including Reality Bites and Super 8. Fieger and Alperin finally did get together, and had a four year run as a couple. They remained friendly, and even thirty years on, Fieger called her “the love of my life.” Fieger died from brain cancer in 2010. He was 57. Alperin is a now a successful real estate agent in Beverly Hills. Her website's welcome page (mysharona.com (opens in new tab), of course) features the familiar drum beat and guitar riff.
Of the song, she has said, “Michelle, Yoko, Roxanne – there's maybe forty or fifty great songs named after women in the history of a billion songs written. I feel incredibly fortunate that I've had this experience. It's a really exciting adventure that never leaves me."