The 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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”