The Music World lost a legend on Monday with the passing of Don Kirshner. They called him "The Man With The Golden Ear". He was part of the song writing factory in the famous Brill Building in New York City, cranking out hit songs with other writers like Carol King and Gerry Goffin. He was instrumental in the successful carreers of Bobby Darin, Neil Diamond, and Kansas. He was the Brains andbehind The Archies and assembled the songwriting team behind the Monkees.
But it was his weekly television show, "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert" that influenced my taste in music the most. I never watched the original series when it was on in the seventies but I always caught the re-runs that aired after Saturday Night Live. It was on this show I first heard and watched bands like Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Devo, The Ramones, Santana, Cheap Trick, ACDC, Def Leppard, Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, Fleetwood Mac(pre- Buckingham/Nicks), and a young hot Pat Benatar. To a sixth grader in boring suburban Natick, this was portal to more exciting worlds of debauchery. Seeing Wendy O Williams from the Plasmatics take a chainsaw to a burning car while wearing nothing but shaving cream for a top was very eye opening. He dedicated an entire show to Devo, letting them explain their theory of De-Evolution through films and live performance. It was mind blowing to a kid who's house was the last to get cable.
Before MTV this as well as precious few others were the only way you could actually see Rock Stars short of going to the shows. In fact, MTV used alot of footage from the show in it's early days. While programs like Solid Gold and American Bandstand had the acts lip-sync their hit songs, Don Kirshner's Rock Concert had them play a live set on their sound stage with a live, and I'm sure lit up, audience. Or they would show concert footage from other locations. You could see Alice Cooper do his electric chair bit or the Ramones plow through 5 songs in 5 minutes. I would take it in fully every Saturday until 2am. Sometimes my Mother would com in and tell me to get to bed. Sometimes my Dad would sit with me and try to figure out what the appeal was. To his credit, he became a fan of the Pretenders and Lynyrd Skynyrd through that show. But he could never figure out why Blue Oyster Cult was so popular...back then.
Usually Don Kirshner himself would host the show, giving a hyped up introduction to the bands he believed were the next big thing. Explaining where he saw them first and what manager or lawyer helped him get them on the show. His delivery was monotone with a heavy New York accent with a deer in the headlights look on his face. He always had the bad "Skullet" going and wore the height of seventies music biz fashion with the platform shoes and the wide collared flowery shirts under the leather blazer. Yeah, this description makes him sound like a creepy lounge lizard, but he knew what was good. Rest In Peace Sir and thanks for all the lost sleep.