Remembering Don Kirshner: Video highlights from an illustrious musical career
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Don Kirshner, rock impresario, music publishing powerhouse, television host and behind-the-scenes music supervisor (before there was such a job title) and song-picker for the Archies and the Monkees, died Monday in Boca Raton, Fla., at age 76. Over the course of half a century in the music business, he served as a bridge connecting songwriters with opportunity, and provided a televised stage in the 1970s and early ‘80s on which some of the rock era’s most important bands performed. Here are a few highlights.
Kirshner worked with ace songwriters to pen songs for the Archies, and oversaw the music component of the cartoon band’s sound. As the co-owner, with Al Nevins, of Aldon Songs, Kirshner worked with Brill Building geniuses Neil Sedaka, Carole King and Neil Diamond, among others.
He also worked with writers to craft songs for the Monkees, a made-for-TV band. When the band -- some of whose members had backgrounds as musicians -- achieved fame, it broke from Kirshner to start penning its own songs, though with much less commercial success.
With his syndicated late night show ‘Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert,’ which ran from 1973-1981, he delivered to America some of the world’s biggest bands, which performed for way below their usual fees because of the publicity the broadcast generated.
His taste in booking crossed boundaries, and was influential in the 1970s for highlighting budding hard rock bands such as Black Sabbath, Rush, Montrose and Kansas. For rock fans away from major metropolitan areas, the show served as a lifeline to musicians they might not have otherwise seen.
At the same time, he televised some of the first national broadcasts of the first wave of punk rockers such as the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and Devo.
Kirshner had the guts and foresight to book Sparks on his show in 1974 -- and have Keith Moon and Ringo Starr introduce the performance. It’s this kind of magic that the impresario helped conjure. Though he was lampooned by a young Paul Shaffer on early broadcasts of ‘Saturday Night Live’ (sorry, we couldn’t find a good clip), his power behind the scenes was enormous.
Randy Lewis has written a more formal remembrance over at the Times’ Afterword blog. You can read that here.
-- Randall Roberts