Don Kirshner: The late music biz legend's five greatest pop culture contributions

Don-KirshnerImage Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty ImagesThe history of music over the past half century would have been very different without Don Kirshner, the so-called “Man with the Golden Ear,” who died yesterday from heart failure in Boca Raton, Fla. Below, you’ll find the rock impresario’s five greatest contributions to pop culture.

1. Bobby Darin
While still in his early ’20s, Kirshner started writing songs with, and managing, Darin. The future music biz impresario first met the future singing superstar at a Manhattan candy store. “He was disheveled,” Kirshner would recall to a journalist in 2001. “He was down-and-out, cleaning latrines. And his name was Walden Robert Cassotto. And he eventually became, after I discovered him, Bobby Darin. I couldn’t believe all his talent. I said to him, ‘Let’s team up, and we’ll be the biggest thing in entertainment.’ I couldn’t even get arrested at the time.” By 1959, Darin really was one of the biggest things in entertainment thanks to his hit, “Mack the Knife.”

2. “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”
In the ’50s and ’60s, Kirshner represented many of the great Brill Building songwriters through his Aldon Music publishing company. Kirshner’s stable of talent included the young Neil Sedaka, whose tune “Stupid Cupid” became a hit for Connie Francis in 1958 and the team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King who penned the Shirelles‘ smash “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.”

3. The Monkees
As musical supervisor of The Monkees TV show, Kirshner played a crucial role in establishing the success of the “Prefab Four.” The band’s hits included Goffin and King’s “Pleasant Valley Sunday”—which was inspired by a trip the couple took to Kirshner’s house in the suburbs—and “I’m A Believer,” by another Brill Building songsmith, Neil Diamond.

4. The Archies
In January 1967, Kirshner met with the Monkees at the Beverly Hill Hotel and suggested they record “Sugar, Sugar.” The band disagreed. “I said, ‘Screw the Monkees, I want a band that won’t talk back,” Kirshner recalled in 2004. The impresario got his wish by creating cartoon pop act The Archies, who scored a number one hit in 1969. The name of the song? “Sugar, Sugar.”

5. Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert
This Kirshner-fronted TV show debuted in 1973 and ran for almost a decade. Over the years, an incredible lineup of artists performed on Rock Concert, from the Rolling Stones to Black Sabbath to to Joe Walsh (see below) to Blue Oyster Cult, who featured Kirshner on their track, “The Marshall Plan”. Kirshner’s stiff presenting style was lampooned on Saturday Night Live by Paul Shaffer, who had previously acted in the sitcom A Year At the Top, which was created by Kirshner and Norman Lear. “The guy on Rock Concert was nothing like the real Don Kirshner,” Shaffer told the Washington Post in 2004. “He’s actually a really funny guy.”

Comments (16 total) Add your comment
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  • JR

    I am sad to hear of the passing of Don Kirshner. He was the original Man with the Golden Ear. His tenure with The Monkees may have been controversial, but there is no doubt that he had a knack for finding the best songs and the chart hits he had a hand in finding, this list but is a small sample. For instance, the rock band Kansas (still going strong today) was discovered and signed by Don to his record label. My condolences to his family, friends, and many associates who are going to miss him.

  • JLC

    Glad you mentioned Paul Shaffer. I still remember those bits on SNL. RIP, Don.

  • Casey

    This guy was a b@stard but man he knew a hit when he saw one.

  • heej

    So that’s the basis of the “Rock Pile” skits from SCTV.

  • JoeC

    Quite the pioneer in music; no question. RIP

  • RoeLuv

    I hope Paul does a tribute on Letterman tonight

  • glenn

    I can’t believe you didn’t mention The Midnight Special, to me that was his greatest contribution to pop culture. I watched it faithfully every Friday night and got to see some of my favorite singers perform live for the first time.

  • jason

    I really like The Monkees even though they broke up before I was even born, but Don’s selection of their material was very very good. Now had he let them do their own thing like they wanted, they would have lasted longer. Goodbye Don.

  • JRWolfe

    Kirshner’s involvement with the Monkees has been blown out of proportion. Boyce & Hart had already produced the bulk of the Monkees debut before Kirshner came aboard and Kirshner was fired right after the Monkees second lp was released. That said,yes Don Kirshner was heavily involved with the music industry as a record company owner,music publisher,composer and tv show host.

  • KC

    DK Rock Concert = COOL

  • Joni

    Lunch room chatter at my Junior High and then High School on Monday morning was always about “DK’s Rock Concert” and “Midnight Special”.

  • TJ. Church

    Monkees were fine after him, & (far as I know) continue to be.

  • PN

    I still think that Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert was his best contribution back in the ’70s. The live concert feel of a lot of the artists was excellent. I wish that a show like that would happen today without the lip synching or Autotune approach of some artists. Hear themselves perform live for a change with a live band! My condolences go out to Don Kirshner’s family.

  • Dave

    Is that the great Don Felder trading solos with Joe Walsh in the DKRC video above? Classic.

  • Roekest

    To Don:

    Thanks for all the manufactured pop and plastic musicians. Burn in Hell you bastard!

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