NPR – by Tom Cole – Don Kirshner saw rock n’ roll born out of R&B, and he was there as the music grew into a self-indulgent young adult. Kirshner was a music publisher and a television producer. He had a hand in launching Bobby Darin’s career and he put the Ramones on network TV. He was sometimes called, “The Man With The Golden Ear.”
Kirshner died yesterday of heart failure in Boca Raton, Florida, where he lived. He was 76 years old.
He was born in the Bronx and, the story goes, met Robert Cassotto at a candy shop in Washington Heights. They wrote some songs together, including Cassotto’s first single, “My First Love,” which he recorded under the name Bobby Darin.
In 1958, Kirshner co-founded Aldon Music with publisher Al Nevins. That same year, Darin’s “Splish Splash” hit the Top 10. Aldon landed some of the top songwriting teams of the day, including Carole King and Gerry Goffin; Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil; and Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield. Their songs were recorded by the Drifters, the Shirelles, and Bobby Vee.
Kirshner launched a label, Dimension Records, that released such hits as Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion” (written by Goffin and King) in 1962. Kirshner and Nevins sold Aldon to Screen Gems/Columbia the following year, and Kirshner eventually became the company’s president.
It was there that Kirshner began to combine music and television. The result was the Monkees. Whatever you may think, they were hugely successful — but disputes over royalties and rights led to Kirshner’s departure from Screen Gems under a legal cloud.
He shot back with another music/TV effort that replaced ungrateful musicians with animated comic book characters — the Archies. Don’t laugh. The “band” (which featured lead vocals by the Cuff Links’ Ron Dante and guitar and bass by such session veterans as Hugh McCracken and Chuck Rainey, respectively) scored a number 1 hit with, “Sugar, Sugar,” selling more than 6 million records.
In the early ’70s, Kirshner became the executive producer for ABC-TV’s “In Concert” late night series, which featured performances by the Allman Brothers Band, Alice Cooper, and Curtis Mayfield, among many others. Kirshner then launched his own syndicated concert show, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, in September of 1973 with a performance by The Rolling Stones. Later guests included the Ramones, The Eagles, and Kansas, a band Kirshner is credited with helping to launch. The show ran through 1981 and became a staple for ’70s rock fans, despite Kirshner’s stiff stage presence.
Kirshner remained active in the music business right up until the end of his life, through music publishing and a new company called Rockrena which, according to a press release announcing Kirshner’s death is “an online global community where artists, bands, fans, rock stars, and industry professionals come together to find, judge, and enjoy the best undiscovered rock talent online, and at ROCK CITY CLUB shows worldwide.”