Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Don Kirshner's Rock Concert

Rest in peace, Don.

The Brill Building age of pop, named after the Manhattan building where many of its songwriters labored, lasted from the mid-1950s to the mid-’60s and is celebrated for the people behind its innocently aching music: producers like Phil Spector, writing teams like Carole King and Gerry Goffin (“The Loco-Motion”).

But the guiding force behind many of those people was Mr. Kirshner, whose hustle, hit-trained ear and good timing helped shape pop in the days when Tin Pan Alley’s song-craft traditions were being mingled with the rhythms of rock.

As a pioneering musical matchmaker, Mr. Kirshner discovered many of the era’s best songwriters, prodded them for hits and shopped the results to top artists. Later in the 1960s he married bubblegum to television with two manufactured, semifictitious bands: the Monkees and the cartoon Archies.

“He had a great sense of commerciality and song, the ability to hear a song and know it’s a hit,” said Charles Koppelman, a veteran music executive who began his career in Mr. Kirshner’s company, Aldon.

Yet to music fans who came of age in the 1970s and ’80s, Mr. Kirshner is best known as the leisure-suited, monotonous host of the syndicated “Rock Concert,” which from 1973 to 1982 presented live performances by Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Sex Pistols, David Bowie and Ted Nugent, among many others.

Unlike “American Bandstand” and other early TV rock shows, on which performers lip-synched their music or played a song or two in a sterile studio, “Rock Concert” featured full, loud performances in an arena or club setting. In his spoken introductions, however, Mr. Kirshner often seemed strangely out of place, as if he barely knew the acts he was introducing — which was sometimes the case.

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