Don Kirshner died yesterday. People of a certain age will feel a twinge of sadness at the news. But for those of you who don’t recognize the name…
Back in the pre-MTV days… check that, MTV doesn’t play music videos much anymore. But before music videos were all online, they were on MTV. And before MTV, you got your rock and pop and R&B music on TV wherever you could. That’s where “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” came in. Late on weekend nights (the time and day depended on where you were; it was syndicated), from the Fall of 1973 through 1981, you got “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert,” an hour-and-a-half of music hosted by a balding, nasal, ill-at-ease producer in a polyester suit with big lapels and no tie. That’s where a lot of people first saw acts like Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, the New York Dolls, and plenty more. The Ramones appeared; so did Gladys Knight and the Pips. Helen Reddy and KISS. You get the idea. And it was all hosted by a guy like, well, your dad, proclaiming superlatives about each act in a monotone.
Better yet, here’s a chunk of the show itself, featuring Black Sabbath with a characteristically stiff intro by Kirshner:
And the Ramones, in 1977:
He was so familiar back then, “Saturday Night Live” parodied him with Paul Shaffer doing a dead-on impression. But if he was so ill-equipped to be a host on TV, why did he get a show? Here’s why: He was a producer and label chief, a Svengali behind the Archies, the Monkees, and many others. He was a big shot in music publishing, too, working with the legends of early 60’s pop songwriting like Carole King, Neil Sedaka, and Neil Diamond. He had a lot of power in the music industry, and if he wanted a show and wanted an act to be on it, he got it done. That’s how he got a show.
But most people remember the high forehead, the leisure suits, the splayed collars, and the nasal Bronx monotone. You wanted to see rock ‘n’ roll on TV, he was your guy. Man, have things changed.