DON KIRSHNER HAS LEFT THE BRILL BUILDING (Part One)

Don Kirshner, legendary music publisher and host of Rock Concert, has passed away from heart failure.  He was 76 years old.

If my life was a patchwork quilt, Don Kirshner would be responsible for a lot of the music related squares in it, as he had a hand in propelling the careers of many of my favorite music legends.  In the seventies, he hosted his own late-night show called Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, and it was one of my favorite things to watch on television back then.  It didn’t air on any particular night, so I would flip through the TV Guide and mark down when the show was coming on.  The great thing about the program was that it showcased up and coming artists in live performances, as opposed to appearances that were lip-synched.  It had vintage clips and comedy stars, but mostly it served up course after course of live music.   This memorable show was where I got my first glimpse at rock stars as they were just starting out – – including the Ramones, Kansas, Pat Benatar, Prince, the Sex Pistols, Devo, and Electric Light Orchestra.

Mr. Kirshner certainly left his mark in the world of music, and he was known by not only one nickname, but several.  Robin Leach called him “The Father of Rock and Roll” and also “The Supreme Starmaker.”  I remember the L.A. Times calling him “Mr. Music,” and Time magazine knighting him as “The Man With the Golden Ear” because he had an uncanny ability to know a hit song when he heard it.  But among those in the entertainment universe, he was dubbed affectionately as “The Ed Sullivan Of Rock.”  His late-night show alone proved that.  He even had Ed Sullivan’s stiff, piece-of-wood delivery which was parodied by Paul Shaffer on Saturday Night Live and by Dave Thomas on SCTV.  Paul Shaffer said of Kirshner, “He was such a character, so colorful.  If he loved a record, he’d call people from the studio and hold up the phone to the speaker!”

He was the music supervisor for many television programs in the sixties.  Go look at the credits for shows like Bewitched, I Dream Of Jeannie, and The Monkees, to name a few.  And there he is, creative control and all.  One time, he was bringing in refreshments to the set of The Monkees, as he liked to do once in a while.  Mickey Dolenz and Davy Jones mistakenly thought Don was one of the gofers on the show.  Oops.  Another Monkees story I remember was regarding their music career.  Don picked good solid hits for them…until they started to disagree.  It was Mike Nesmith who refused to swallow that “Sugar, Sugar” would be their next big song and emphatically passed on it.  He wanted a more mature sound and said the song was cheesy, “It’s a piece of junk – I’m not doing it!”  The Monkees’ run of hits slowed down after that, and Don gave the tune to his newly created group, The Archie’s.  It became their signature song and hit number one.

More in part two, but here are two clips I remember watching when the episode aired in 1980. Not the best performance by the Police (because Sting’s voice was strained from screaming in previous shows) but it was one of the first times I saw them play a live song.

More later,

Dean