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.