Last summer an album was recorded and mixed in less than two weeks that was hyped as the modern equivalent to "Meet the Beatles." Indeed, "Get the Knack" seemed to have been designed to capitalize on the Beatles' American debut on Capitol (a similar informal black-and-white cover photo, an identical rainbow label). But where-as the popular emergence of the Beatles in the early '60s was an unsettling surprise, the merchanidsing and packaging of the Knack has, almost overnight, become a predictable snooze.
Imitating the Beatles is not a particularly unique strategy. While the repercussions from the shock of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" were still being felt on these shores, albums by obscure charlatans like the Liverpool Beats or the Buggs plagued the record racks (presumably to foul unenlightened parents). In '65, the Knickerbockers on their hit "Lies" went a step further -- they perfectly echoed the sound of the Fab Four. After that, countless carbon-copy bands (Badfinger, the Raspberries) gradually forged a new genre -- Beatlesque rock.
Yet the only element that links the Fab Four with the Prefabricated Four (ahem, the Knack) is their mutual record company. There is nothing inherently wrong with a Capitol's media blitz on behalf of the Knack; many immortal rock 'n' roll bands (the Monkees, Gary Lewis and the Playboys) were ready-made. The Knack, however, seems to lack an identity, even the heel-kicking spark of the dozens of homogenized bands that have materialized in their wake (the Beat, the Pop, the Shoes).
Every cut on "Get the Knack" sounds remotely like rock songs already rumbling in the distant past. "My Sharona," for example, employs the panting of Jimmy Page, Led Zepplin's vocalist, to such an obvious extent that it has become a hit solely by virtue of its point of reference.
Actually the music on "Get the Knack" and the Knack's second album, " . . . But the Little Girls Understand" (Capitol S00-12045), is enjoyable and harmless pop, as tasty as an M&M. but as for originality, the Knack could be 12 different band blended into one glop. "Can't Put a Price On Love" lifts chords directly from the "Beast of Burden," while "The Feelings I Get" is nothing more than the Crystals' "Then He Kissed Me" with new lyrics. "Hold On Tight" borrows from Buddy Holly, "The Hard Way" from the Who, "(Havin' A) Rave Up" from Gene Vincent via the early Beatles, and so forth. Without a doubt, the Knack remains unsurpassed in the growing field of mimetic rock.
The Knack, of course, borrows even its name from the Beatles, albeit indirectly. "The Knack . . . and How to Get It" was a film directed by Richard Lester when he was between working with the Beatles on "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" But even the almighty Beatles practically stole their name (from Buddy Holly's Crickets), usurping their rebellious stance from the rockabilly image. Hence, there is no evil in petty theft if it can be transformed into an ingenious caper.
The genius of the Beatles is exemplified on a new album, "Rarities" (Capitol SHAL-12060), that initially appears to be a grab bag of throwaway material. Like the Knack's current album, it is a hodgepodge of stylistically varied songs (both records even conclude with a few seconds of conversational gibberish). What distiguishes it from the Knack's record, however, is that the styles represented are distinctly the Beatles' own.
From the endearing innocence of "Love Me Do" to the demented drunkenness of "You Know My Name (look Up My Number)" a bow to the Bonzo Dog Band), "Rarities" is a well-chosen, carefully selected collection of obscure Beatle tidbits. It has been packaged with such care that it can be appreciated by those who do not have a collector's sensibility. All 15 songs offer either an intricate game for the dedicated fan or a repeatedly playable puzzle for the average listener.
With a list price of $8.98, "Rarities" may very well be the bargain of the year. Capitol has always been quite conscientious about preserving the recorded legacy of the Beatles (consider "The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl" or the "Rock 'n' Roll Music anthology.
The significance of "Rarities" is that it serves as a reminder of an era when rock groups (especially four moptops from Liverpool) were primarily motivated by the desire to be innovative and unconventional.