Tag Archives: Brill Building

R.I.P. Don Kirshner

Don Kirshner, music impressario, died yesterday at 76.

Kirshner, who got his start (and a hell of a bankroll) through music publishing and plugging, was one of the true giants of the industry. He worked with everyone from Bobby Darin to Brill Building songwriters to rockers of three generations but was probably best known for his work with The Monkees and his iconic concert program.

The story of his tenure with The Monkees is well-known; Kirshner having been hired to provide the songs for the faux band to sing and delivering one chart-topping hit after another, thanks to the stable of songwriting legends like Neil Diamond, Goffin/King and Jeff Barry. But the band wanted to write and play their own material, fired Kirshner (even though he made them millionaires) and achieved their goal…albeit killing the cash cow in the process.

After working as a consultant for ABC’s In Concert, Kirshner broke off on his own to produce and syndicate Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. The first episode featured The Rolling Stones  – quite a coup since they hadn’t been on television in four years – and a new format featuring real live music instead of lip-synched stagings. Kirshner’s stiff persona and bad haircut (he resembled a thinner and less blustery George Steinbrenner) became a running joke, and his mannerisms were fodder for impressionists for years.

Video: Check out Don introducing Joe Walsh, who then dazzles with songs from Barnstorm backed by an all-star band.

Kirshner was painted as a villain because of the Monkee debacle, and there were those who thought of him as simply a scheming capitalist who was the antithesis of the music he was featuring on his show. But there’s no denying that he almost single-handedly brought rock’n’roll into your living room every week when television was merely three networks and PBS. The show ended just as cable television – and this new concept called MTV – was born.

If there’s a rock’n’roll heaven…well, Don is probably running the damned thing by now. R.I.P. to a true pioneer.

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New Albums From Old Friends

Al Jardine – A Postcard From California

Sure, a lot of this is older Beach Boys material, and yes, Alec Baldwin’s narration within “A California Saga” is a little off-putting, but the important things here are (1) Al Jardine released an album and (2) damn, he sounds really good! Guests on the album – in addition to most of the Beach Boys – include Glen Campbell, Flea, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Steve Miller.

And Beach Boy fans will plotz when they hear the harmonies (including Carl!) on “Don’t Fight The Sea”. Obviously this album has been years in the making, and in keeping with Jardine’s personality it’s a tribute to the natural beauty of California rather than the cars/girls/surfing themes. Fans might have had demos and boots of some of these songs over the years but the sound here is first-rate.

Micky Dolenz – King For A Day

Despite the enormous success of The Monkees, Micky Dolenz still doesn’t get his due as one of the best vocalists of the rock era. I’ve heard it all – the fallacy of The Prefab Four and the lunacy of a fake band cast for television becoming a real one; even Dolenz discounts his own legacy (“it’s like thinking Leonard Nimoy was really a Vulcan”). But they’re wrong.

The Monkees had the cream of Brill Building songwriters at their disposal, and as unlikable a guy as Don Kirschner was, he knew what he was doing when it came to picking hit records. Now Dolenz takes a page from the past by recording an album of Carole King songs (hence the album title). Like most good ideas, there’s probably not a radio station format to match it up with, but I wouldn’t sell him short.

Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin

I guess a punster would call this album Adult Symphonies To God. After years of wondering whether an overweight and practically comatose genius would simply curl up and die in his sandbox, Brian Wilson fans have to be happy that he’s been able to get on a stage and play, open up his musical legacy to people who could help him (read: The Wondermints) and even create new works in his latter days.

Rumors persist that the surviving Beach Boys are going to bury the hatchet (and not in each other’s skulls) and reform, but whether or not that ever happens it’s good to know that there is work done above and beyond Mike Love‘s traveling circus.

Add these to the plethora of new releases from stars of yesteryear – Peter Frampton, Peter Wolf, Foghat, Steve Miller, Burton Cummings – in addition to old reliables like Tom Petty who just keep on going. Maybe the arena gig is now a club show in a Hard Rock showroom, and perhaps the radio play is limited to rockers turned DJ like  Little Steven and Alice Cooper, but for those of us who want to look beyond the top of the charts, there are plenty of great efforts sailing under the radar.

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R.I.P. Ellie, Larry, Ted, Dominick…

I never intended R.I.P. to be a regular feature. Damned if life isn’t forcing my hand.

I’m not one who obsesses over calendars; I don’t have a list of who was born when and who died on any day, but I do have a couple of websites that are easily checked on occasion. The idea about the feature – and in fact the focus of some of the first columns – was to reminisce about artists who impacted my life greatly, like Rory Gallagher, Ronnie Lane and Frank Zappa. Being of a certain age, I sometimes take for granted that everyone is as familiar with these artists as I am, or at least has had the opportunity presented to them to be. Apparently nothing could be further from the truth.

And I guess because I did grow up following these artists and collecting their work, I shouldn’t be surprised that some of them are now leaving this mortal coil. Sure, we still lose too many too soon, but no one can say that Les Paul didn’t have a blue ticket ride on this Earth. But from my vantage point, late 60s is far from old age, and that’s when Larry Knechtel and Ellie Greenwich got the call.

Words plus music equals magic

Words plus music equals magic

Ellie Greenwich – where does one even start? As part of the Brill Building sound she – along with husband Jeff Barry –  gave us some of the greatest rock’n’roll songs ever written. Frankly, some of the bands you revere might not have been in your windshield without her. Hell, Brian Wilson admits that his entire being is merely a byproduct of “Be My Baby” (arguably the greatest pop song ever…and certainly in the upper echelon of anyone’s list). It’s sad that she doesn’t have the public recognition that some of the artists she helped make famous have. From The Ronnettes to The Ramones, from “Chapel Of Love” to “It’s My Party” to “I Can Hear Music”…Ellie Greenwich was rock royalty.

Larry Knechtel might not be a household name, but I’ll bet his handiwork is in your house. Own any albums by Simon & GarfunkelThe Beach Boys, The Doors or The Mamas & Papas? How about Elvis Presley’s famous ’68 special? Fan of Duane Eddy? You’ve at least heard of Bread, yes? Well, that’s musician extraordinaire Larry Knechtel on bass and/or keyboards; an intregal part of Phil Spector sessions that we now know as the Wall Of Sound as a member of the famous Wrecking Crew. Like Ellie, almost 70.

Of course I was saddened to hear about the passing of Ted Kennedy, although this is a date I thought I saw coming many times before. I don’t politicize in the Prescription, and certainly there are a thousand in-depth articles that you will be able to read about the man, so I won’t expound on his faults or his gifts. But for someone who grew up in the Kennedy Era, who cringed and wept and feared for our country when Jack, and later Bobby, were assassinated, this is truly the end of a political dynasty, at least at Camelot levels. Yes, children and grandchildren remain, and we may yet see another Kennedy aspire to the upper ranks of politics, but that will be a sequel, not another chapter.

In a related passing, Dominick Dunne was also familiar with loss – his daughter’s murder resulted in a career pivot that saw this social observer become a watchdog for justice, albeit from a sideline seat. Perhaps his wealth and celebrity standing gave him a pulpit others would never have gotten, but in a society where Nancy Grace is taken seriously I prefer to think of his endeavors as an attempt to hold the famous accountable for their actions. At least his motivation was not as blatantly myopic as that of the former prosecutor.

I Can Hear Music...and thanks to these musicians, I want to.

I Can Hear Music...and thanks to these musicians, I want to.

I should mention that although I was aware of Knetchel’s passing the day it occured, I did not want to make it the headline of the day. I figured I’d drop a relevant post-script into another piece during the week as a way of paying my respects. However, when the number of famous names passing in but a few short days skyrocketed and I decided to air another obituary, I certainly did not want to omit him. Please know he is not an afterthought; I have great respect for his work.

But keeping up with the bad news has been daunting. We’re not quite two-thirds of the way through 2009 and already the losses have been staggering. Many of us have suffered our own personal losses as well.

If nothing else, this week is another reminder that life is short and unpredictable. No grudge is worth keeping. No warm feelings toward someone are worth hiding. No card or letter or email or call is worth putting off. Don’t procrastinate. Because you can’t take your love and warmth and appreciation with you…you must share it.

Peace.

Ellie Greenwich website.

Larry Knechtel website

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