Wednesday, October 14, 2015

TMFW 110 - The Real Estate Agent Who Inspired a #1 Hit

Using a woman's name as the title (and subject) of a song has long been a good shortcut to songwriting success.  The '70s and '80s spawned a number of hits using that formula: TMFW 72 subjects Boston's "Amanda,"  TMFW 23 subjects Toto's "Rosanna," and TMFW 32 Bonus Fact subjects Hall & Oates' "Sara Smile" are three good examples out of dozens.  
Today's TMFW is about a famous "name" tune of the early '80s: The Knack's "My Sharona."  I love that song.  The track was the debut single for The Knack, and was released in 1979.  It was a big hit, spending six weeks at number 1 and topping the year-end chart.  Being a young(ish) person, I only really came to appreciate the song when it made a "comeback" of sorts following its appearance in the 1994 movie Reality Bites.  (In fact, the song was released as a single off the movie soundtrack, and charted at 91.)  
Like the Blues Traveler song "Hook" in TMFW 20, I often sang the lyrics to "My Sharona" without ever really paying any attention to them.  But if you really listen, they are pretty suggestive.  Actually, they are straightforwardly and aggressively suggestive.  The whole song is a come-on by the singer to Ms. Sharona, asking repeatedly when she will finally give in and hook up with him.  The lead-in to the refrain has the singer offering "never gonna stop, give it up, such a dirty mind, I always get it up for the touch of the younger kind."  Classy stuff.
As it turns out, there was a real Sharona, and the song was pretty much autobiographical.  Doug Fieger, the lead singer of The Knack, was 26 years old and living with his girlfriend of several years when he met Sharona Alperin.  Ms. Alperin was only 17 years old, and was still in high school at the time, but Fieger was smitten.  He asked her out several times, but she said no, and though she continued to be a fan and friend of the band she was steadfast in her refusals.  Frustrated, Fieger wrote "My Sharona" as a sort of plea.  (Sharona inspired at least two other songs on The Knack's debut album, too - "Frustrated" and "(She's So) Selfish.") 
Alperin was flattered/impressed by the song, and is the cover model for the "My Sharona" single (you can see it at the top of this post).  The song, in addition to being a giant hit, worked as intended.  Fieger and Alperin dated for several years, with Alperin traveling the world with the band during their heyday.  
Alperin and Fieger remained friends after their breakup.  Today, Alperin is a real estate agent in Los Angeles.  You can see her current listings (and hear the song that she inspired) at  Fieger died of lung cancer in 2010, at the age of 57.  Sharona was with him during his last days, and spoke at his funeral.
When you place it in the context of a 26-year-old begging a high school girl to "give it up," with lines like "keeping it a mystery, it gets to me, running down the length of my thigh," "My Sharona" is a front-runner for creepiest #1 song of all time.  But it's freaking great, too.
BONUS FACT:  One of my favorite "name" songs of the '70s is 1977's "Ariel," by Dean Friedman.  It peaked only at 26, and I discovered it only a few years ago (thanks, XM!), but it is just about a perfect specimen of '70s post-hippie AM Gold.  
BONUS FACT 2:  "Ariel" is from Paramus, New Jersey, where everything is still closed on Sunday (and they are proud of it, thankyouverymuch).
BONUS FACT 3:  I did not discover this until doing research for today's entry, but Friedman also wrote the 1981 song "McDonald's Girl," a fun song about a crush he has on "an angel is a polyester uniform."  That is of particular interest because TMFW-favorite Barenaked Ladies frequently covered "McDonald's Girl", and radio play of that song helped them secure their first record deal.  But the song did not appear on any of their commercial releases.  In my youth, it was a sort of shibboleth to identify fellow "real" Barenaked Ladies fans.  


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