Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 17 April 1934, The Bronx; d 17 January 2011, Boca Raton FL) Songwriter, music publisher, artist manager, one of the most successful executives in pop music. He went to college and got a business degree, but had already tried writing songs and teamed up in 1956 with Bobby Darin, a struggling singer and writer, to write songs and jingles for commercials. One of their first hits was 'My First Real Love', which became Connie Francis's fourth single; Kirshner soon became her manager. Other songs they wrote together include 'Love Me Right' (recorded by LaVern Baker), 'Wait A Minute' (for the Coasters, recorded in late 1957, but not released until 1961), 'Wear My Ring' (recorded by Darin and Gene Vincent).

Darin split and wrote his own 'Splish Splash', a big hit which made him a star. Kirshner then had a taste for making hits, and a knack for finding talent in an era when the Tin Pan Alley business model was being combined with a teen-pop style of rock'n'roll. He talked Al Nevins (see The Three Suns) into going into business with him as Aldon Music, and they soon moved to the Brill Building, which became the name of a whole era in American pop. Their first employees were Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield; by 1962 they had 18 songwriters on the staff. The list of Aldon alumni includes Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Neil Diamond, Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman, Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart and many more. To some degree the company operated as an assembly line: teams of writers in piano cubicles churned out songs that would be recorded immediately, as demos or sometimes as finished productions. In 1963 they sold Aldon to Screen Gems, a Columbia Pictures subsidiary.

Next Kirshner invented the Monkees, but his fabricated pop group had talent of their own, and Kirshner was too much of a control freak. His next venture was the Archies, an anonymous studio group that made the music for an animated cartoon series ('I want a group that won't talk back,' he said) and helped define the bubblegum genre.

From 1973 to 1982 Kirshner was the host and the presenter of Rock Concert, a TV show which presented live acts, unlike the earlier bandstand type of programs, where the artists lip-synced top their own records. Kirshner presented acts like Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Sex Pistols, David Bowie and Ted Nugent, but he himself always seemed strangely out of place, as though his time was passing, as indeed it was. In the 1980s MTV took over pop and rock on TV and Kirshner retired to Florida, where he lost all his money in a series of bad business deals. In an interview in 2004 he told a story on himself: during the Rock Concert era, somebody told him he should have Alice Cooper on the show, and he said, 'Well, is she any good?' (Cooper's birth name was Vincent Furnier.) But Kirshner also said that he thought he should have been one of the first people inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame.

KIrshner's name has always been associated with the Brill Building era of pop, but his obituaries assumed that younger people would know him as the stiff TV presenter. How the times keep changing.