Songmine: “The Knack” A 3rd Point of View by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…


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Songmine by John Braheny

Los Angeles Times Music Editor Robert Hilburn recently wrote an article applauding the Knack’s reintroduction of “the con-cept of blistering teenage rock’n’ roll to AM radio.” Hilburn was glad to see the change from the “tired soft-rock norm that has dominated AM radio so long.” I found myself saying, “Right on, Robert!”

“By speaking the language of street kids, the Knack has restored the teenage viewpoint to rock,” Hilburn continued. “The tunes, sometimes presented in the crude language of the locker room, or in the aroused passion of the drive-in back seat, range from the innocence of Your Name Or Your Number to the shy romanticism of Maybe Tonight to the frustration of [She’s So] Selfish. The highlight is Good Girls Don’t, an amazing recreation of agonizing teen desire and lust. The narrator is so excited by a dream girl that he fantasizes around the ‘good girls don’t’ protest to imagine she’s saying, ‘Good girls don’t — but I do.’ ” Hilburn concludes by saying that the blatant sexual imagery in some of the Knack’s songs may offend some listeners, but no more than other rock bands have over the years.

As I read the piece, I found myself agreeing. Sure, how about the stuff I grew up on, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis? They all had sexual imagery in their songs and talked about the way I felt as a teenager. Since those days, a general loosening-up of what is acceptable on records and on the radio had led to even more sexual candor in popular music. So what’s wrong with that?

In the same issue of Calendar (July 29), Kristine McKenna writes a commentary headlined “Knack: A Dissenting View.” She feels that “rock stars do have a moral respon-sibility not to be corrupt creeps, because people tend to believe what they say.” She adds a list of things that, through their music, the Knack is teaching their fans: “1)That the most important thing in life is to be a desirable sex object. 2)Having ferreted out these accept-able sex objects, the point is to score some kind of wierd victory over said object/victim.”

Says McKenna: “The ugly sex-ism in the Knack’s music is not just an affront to women. They’re re-inforcing repressive male stereo-types as well. They’re worse than the rest because they package their mind-rot as cute teenage fun and target it at malleable 14-year-olds.”

After reading both these artic-les, I discovered myself in a real quandry. I found myself saying, “Yeah, right on” to McKenna’s comments too. I’d love to see those old concepts of men and women as adversaries, conquerors, possess-ors and exploiters meet the same fate (and hopefully much faster) as the notion that “sex is dirty.” Both attitudes have been responsible for untold misery and wasted human potential. I believe, too, that music has a tremendous power to comm-unicate and reinforce attitudes and that young people who haven’t evolved a perspective and are form-ing their attitudes are particularly vulnerable. And anyone who mouths the words to a hit song hundreds of times is being pro-grammed.

So, what’s the answer? Aya-tollah Khomeini has offered one extreme solution by banning all music. Disaster! People need mu-sic, it’s good for the soul. It’s knowing that someone else feels as we do. It’s our individual and collective voice, our way of express-ing and showing our most basic emotions and our most sophis-ticated philosophies. The solution is not repression or censorship. Pop-ular music can’t help but reflect the attitudes prevalent in segments of society. songwriters should write songs about whatever they feel. All of us, as teenagers, have shared some of the attitudes that are drawing so much flack for the Knack, but should we say they shouldn’t write about it?

No! What we should do is to use all our songwriting craft, art-istic and business tools to give those impressionable people some alter-native, non-sexist or anti-sexist philosophies so they have a choice when forming their attitudes. We should offer the same alternatives in the music we write as McKenna gives in her dissenting view. It’s our moral responsibility.


Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.

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