Just a word here about the passing of a giant, Mr. Don Kirshner, who died today at the age of 76.
Now, some of us who were around back in “the day” might appreciate a bit of context-putting-in for Kirshner, because we remember the enormous impact this man had on our daily lives. In fact, the very shape of our existence was arguably engineered by this particular showman's gut instincts, or brainy showbiz savvy or even something called pretty good taste.
It could've been a mix of all three of the latter, in Kirshner's case: he was responsible for getting to our ears and minds and hearts some of the best and most relevant music going down anywhere from the late '50s to early '80s — well, at least the music that dominated the charts and airwaves at the time, much of which, looking at it now, has stood the test of time.
Kirshner, born in 1934, got his start in the '50s as a manager (Connie Francis) then as a music publisher and promoter, writing commercial jingles with Bobby Darin, and founding his Aldon company, which published songs by a lot of your Brill Building greats (Neil Sedaka, Goffin & King, Mann-Weil, etc.); Kirshner also co-wrote a major load of hit singles for groups like the Drifters and the Ronettes. Which is cool and great, but: You see, Kirshner is credited for having invented the Archies, and apparently he co-wrote the “band”'s “Sugar Sugar”; he was also partly responsible for creating the concept and putting together the songs for the Monkees.
All of which should've earned Kirshner the right to rest on his laurels in comfy retirement in Florida. But Don didn't stop there. He went on to produce the live-performance (no lip-syncing) series Don Kirshner's Rock Concert circa '73-'81, for which he curated, seriously, a wild and woolly assortment of musics related to rock and pop and jazz, even, in such an open-minded and imaginative way that we all benefited in little and maybe large ways. For me, these were some of the most valuable and formative experiences of my young life, perhaps mainly because I got to witness in-person many of the tapings for the show, courtesy free tix that Kirshner supplied at a lot of local record stores like The Wherehouse and Licorice Pizza. Most of these shows were taped in the back room of the old Long Beach Auditorium next to the Long Beach Arena; sadly, it's been demolished.
The lineups for Don Kirshner's Rock Concert epitomized a lot of the absolute primest stuff struttin' the rock & pop boards of the day; a lot of it was horse pucky, sure — but it was our horse pucky! The Rolling Stones launched the series, David Bowie played, too, and the list of other artists is mind-bogglin', if only for the variety and scope of their inclusion: they include the New York Dolls, the Ramones, Queen, T Rex, Kiss, ABBA, Captain and Tennille, Black Sabbath, Cheap Trick, Weather Report, Kansas, Foghat, Return to Forever, Uriah Heep, Bad Company, Cameo, BTO, Sly & the Family Stone, Earth Wind & Fire, Rush, Lady Marmalade, Fanny, Maria Muldaur, LaBelle, Mahogany Rush, the Guess Who, Molly Hatchet, Tower of Power, Chaka Khan, Joe Walsh, UFO (“Rock Bottom”!), Todd Rundgren, LaBelle, Steve Miller, Linda Ronstadt, Rory Gallagher, Suzi Quatro, Hues Corporation, Jim Croce, Kool and the Gang, Brownsville Station, The Commodores, the Eagles, the O'Jays…
It's too late now, but I always wanted to shake Don Kirshner's hand for gifting this particular young American pinhead with two defining and real educational moments: The Sensational Alex Harvey Band performing their mini-rock-opera “Vambo” (the single greatest rock performance of all time, don't argue with me, just check it out on YouTube); and that moment when everything crystallized and I realized that I knew, finally, the difference between right and wrong – that moment came when I witnessed Bob Welch fronting Fleetwood Mac, who ended their Rock Concert set with a “blues” medley that saw Welch attempting to lead the crowd in a chant of “Shake your moneymaker! Shake your moneymaker!” It was excruciating, but invaluable.
Thank you and big props to Don Kirshner.