Go Ahead, Ask Sharona Again About ‘My Sharona’
Sharona Alperin, at home in Los Angles, moved from being a rock muse to a real estate agent but hasn’t escaped the hit 1979 song ‘My Sharona.” Jennifer Roberts for the Wall Street Journal
By Don Steinberg
April 24, 2019 9:52 a.m. ET
Even now, approaching the 40th anniversary of the biggest single of 1979, Sharona Alperin can’t escape it.
“Oh my God, almost daily, almost anytime someone hears my name,” Ms. Alperin says. “They say ‘Oh, like ‘My Sharona?’ And then they say, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. You probably hear that all the time.’ ”
They have no idea. She’s not just a Sharona. She’s the Sharona, the object of the Knack’s bopping 1979 hit “My Sharona.” The band’s lead singer, Doug Fieger, wrote the song’s lustful lyrics about her when she was 17 and he was 26.
“Half the time I’ll say that’s me, and most of them don’t believe it,” says Ms. Alperin, who today sells high-end real estate around Los Angeles. She tells people that was her in the revealing white undershirt on the sleeve of the “My Sharona” 45. The single sold 500,000 copies, going gold within weeks of its June 1979 release.
“My Sharona” has never gone away. Ben Stiller built a memorable scene around the song in his 1994 directorial debut, “Reality Bites,” claiming it for Generation X. Nirvana did a grunge version. The tune was reported to be on President George W. Bush’s iPod in 2005. These days hipster bands like Royal Blood play covers of the song. It still has life on classic rock radio stations, terrestrial and satellite, streaming services and with college pep bands and party DJs.
It’s an odd kind of fame, being the person in the song.
The Knack put Sharona Alperin on the picture sleeve of the ‘My Sharona’ single and the cover of their second album, ‘…But the Little Girls Understand.’ Photos: Jennifer Roberts for The Wall Street Journal(2)
“There was a time where if I met anybody younger whose name was Sharona, I’d say, ‘I just want you to know: You were named after me. It’s no big deal, I just want you to know,’ ” Ms. Alperin says. “And they’re like, ‘Oh, my God, I totally was named after you.’ ”
Capitol Records released the single “My Sharona,” along with “Get the Knack,” the debut LP from the Los Angeles-based band. The photo on the back showed the four skinny-tied Knack members posed in front of old-school TV cameras, as if ready to perform for Ed Sullivan, in a nod to the Beatles, another Capitol act.
Rock critics mostly forgave the Beatles comparison. Billboard was among the publications praising the energy of the music at a time when crisp-sounding new-wave rock was on the rise.
“It was just a great, utterly radio-friendly pop song that called back to the classic tunes of the British invasion,” says Simon Glickman, managing editor of music industry publication HITS magazine. “The energy, that guitar attack.”
The Knack’s lead guitarist, Berton Averre, came up with the choppy riff that has made listeners pogo for decades. “I was listening to Elvis Costello’s second album, ‘This Year’s Model,’ and the drum break in ‘Pump It Up’ was so primal,” says Mr. Averre, whose soaring guitar solo also fills most of the song’s second half. “I picked up the guitar and played something as simplistic and staccato as I could.”
“My Sharona” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart by August and stayed for six weeks.
“It was on every minute,” Ms. Alperin recalls. “It was on the airplane. I’d get off the airplane, and it was in the cab. I’d get to the hotel, and the top 40 band in the lounge would be playing it.”
“Get the Knack” separately went platinum, with a million copies sold.
The Knack on stage in Chicago in 1979. Their song ‘My Sharona’ became the No. 1 song of the year. Photo: Paul Natkin/Getty Images
Mr. Fieger had a mad crush on Ms. Alperin, who’d started attending Knack performances at L.A. clubs like the Troubadour and the Starwood before the band had a record deal. She says he chased her for a year, but she was happily in another relationship when the song came out.
Mr. Fieger also wrote “Frustrated,” “(She’s So) Selfish,” and other songs on the debut album with her on his mind, Mr. Averre says. His lyrics were so suggestive that some of the lines feel inappropriate even to Google today. Mr. Fieger, who died in 2010, said he was writing from the perspective of a 14-year-old boy.
“Lyrically, it was a truly hormonal record,” Mr. Glickman says.
Mr. Fieger eventually did woo Sharona. They were together for three or four years, she says. The Knack issued a second album in 1980, and others later, but remained famous mostly for just one song.
Ms. Alperin posed for the “My Sharona” single, and a photo of her became the cover of the Knack’s second album, titled “…But the Little Girls Understand.”
“I literally am a girl who went to yeshiva—and then was plastered everywhere,” she says. “That was when a music store like Tower Records would have gigantic albums hung on the outside.”
Her parents, she says, were cool about it. “And the band was accessible. They came over for Shabbat dinner.”
She enjoyed her time in the rock world. “I remember being at dinner with Cher and the Kiss guy [Gene Simmons]. I spoke Hebrew with him.” But she looks back with open eyes on those years dating an older rock star.
“Is there a more possessive word than ‘my’?” she says now. “I mean, calling somebody ‘mine?’ ”
She married someone else. Terri Nunn of the band Berlin sang “Take My Breath Away” at her wedding. Now Ms. Alperin is a single mom with a daughter, Eden, in college and a son, Adam, in high school. (Sharona is her middle name. Her given first name, which she never really used, is Eve.)
She’s also a cancer survivor who kept working through 36 rounds of chemotherapy. “I didn’t want people to feel bad for me,” she says. “I live and breathe real estate, no joke, seven days a week. Of course people want to see a house on a Saturday. Of course there are Sunday open houses.”
In 2002, she set up her real estate website at mysharona.com. Her office receives a steady flow of fan mail, ranging from flattering to creepy. While she was showing a house the other day, a package arrived containing a six-page letter plus three versions of her famous photo and a white tank-top undershirt to autograph. She signed it all.
She hasn’t really tried to escape the song, just take control of what it means.
“I remember people used to say, like, ‘Why are you breaking up with Doug?’ ” Ms. Alperin says. “I’d tell them, because I want to be my Sharona now.”
The Women Behind the Songs
Thousands of songs have been inspired by women, and dozens have had their names right in the title. Just a handful have become iconic. What women inspired some of the classics?
Mr. Sedaka said he wrote his first top 10 hit “for my first girlfriend, Carole King, ” while they both were teenagers. The Carole King biographical musical “Beautiful” features a Neil Sedaka character as her old boyfriend. The two singer-songwriters went their separate ways romantically after high school.
Mr. Diamond confessed in a 2007 interview with the Guardian that Caroline was Caroline Kennedy. He’d seen President Kennedy’s then-9-year-old daughter riding a horse on the cover of a 1962 Life magazine. “It was such an innocent, wonderful picture, I immediately felt there was a song in there,” he said. It peaked at No. 4, Mr. Diamond performed it at an event for Ms. Kennedy’s 50th birthday, and it somehow became a Boston Red Sox anthem.
The Boss wrote in his 2016 autobiography “Born to Run” that “as a teenager I’d had a girlfriend whose mother had threatened to get a court injunction against me to keep me away from her daughter.…I wrote ‘Rosalita’ as a kiss-off to everybody who counted you out, put you down, or decided you weren’t good enough.”
The band, and actress Rosanna Arquette, have often been coy about whether the song was written about her, or just borrowed her name. She’d been dating keyboard player Steve Porcaro, and her name worked when songwriter/keyboardist David Paich was penning this gushy ode that reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Journey’s vocalist had written other songs inspired by devotion to his girlfriend, Sherrie Swafford, and he kept it going with “Oh Sherrie” on his first solo album, “Street Talk.” Ms. Swafford appears in the video for the song, Mr. Perry’s biggest solo hit.