Rock music icon Don Kirshner, who helped shepherd the careers of the Monkees, Carole King, Neil Diamond, Bobby Darin, and literally dozens upon dozens of others, died of heart failure on Monday (January 17th) in Boca Raton, Florida, at the age of 76.
Kirshner, who years before gaining mainstream fame as host and producer of the syndicated late night rock program, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, was among the prime movers and shakers of the late-’50s and 1960’s publishing empire in and around New York City’s legendary Brill and 1650 Broadway Buildings, employing such songwriting teams as Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Neil Sedaka & Howie Greenfield, and Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, through his and partner Al Nevins‘ publishing company Aldon Music.
Simply put, Kirshner’s vision and pulse for the Top 40 charts helped change the face of 1960’s pop music with such songs as “Be My Baby,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Stupid Cupid,” “Calendar Girl,” “Where The Boys Are,” “Who Put The Bomp,” “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen,” “Then He Kissed Me,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “This Magic Moment,” “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” “Save The Last Dance For Me,” “Teenager In Love,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Baby I Love You,” and hundreds of others.
Longtime friend and associate Neil Sedaka posted on his website (NeilSedaka.com): “I am shocked and saddened by the death of the great Don Kirshner, who discovered me at 18 years old. I walked into his office at 1650 Broadway, played a few songs for him, and he signed me to Aldon Music becoming my first music publisher and manager. It was Don’s introduction to Connie Francis, who would go on to record ‘Stupid Cupid’ and propel my songwriter career. Donny worked for many years promoting my songs. He was a great friend, a pioneer, and a father figure for many of us young songwriters. He will be missed. My heartfelt condolences and love to his wonderful wife of 50 years, Sheila, his children, and his grandchildren.”
Kirshner’s expertise spread into TV as the music supervisor of such ’60s sitcoms I Dream Of Jeanie and Bewitched. It was his work on The Monkees that gained him the most acclaim — and ultimately caused him the most heartache. Kirshner, who by then was the head of Screen Gems music, was hired as the show’s music supervisor and contracted the songwriters and musicians for the Monkees‘ shows and was single-handedly responsible for pairing the group with such hits as “Last Train To Clarksville,” “Valleri,” Neil Diamond’s “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” and “I’m A Believer,” and Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” among others.
A power struggle between the band and Kirshner ensued in 1967, which gave the group creative control of their music — with Kirshner still supplying them music for their approval.
We caught up with Kirshner the night he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 2007, and asked him if he regretted the way it all went down with the Monkees 40 years ago: “No regrets; I said I’d outsell the Beatles — and I did. But the only thing is, when I walked in with ‘Sugar, Sugar’ and they tuned it down, I said I’d do a group tat wouldn’t talk back and I created the Archies.”
We asked Kirshner that night about his good friend Phil Spector, who was then on trial for the murder of Lana Clarkson: “What can I tell you? He was a great talent. He lived on my couch, he lived in my office. His talent really has nothing to do with whatever comes out in the Lana Clarkson case.”
Funeral services for Kirshner in Florida are still pending. He is survived by his 50 years, Sheila, his children Ricky and Daryn and five grandchildren.