Thursday, January 20, 2011

RIP Don Kirshner

The other night I heard Paul Shaffer mention on the David Letterman show that Don Kirshner had died of a heart attack at Boca Raton, Florida hospital. Kirshner was 76. His early musical success began with song publishing out of the famous Brill Building in New York where he worked with a stable of writers such as Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka, and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. He also was responsible for launching the careers of artists like Bobby Darin, Carole King, Neil Diamond, and Kansas.

One of the acts associated with Kirshner is The Monkees. Kirsher was hired by Screen Gems to be their musical producer. Launching their careers was the Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart composition “Last Train to Clarksville” which was released to coincide with the first episode of The Monkees’ TV show.

It is one of those songs I remember hearing for the first time. It was in September 1966 and I was staying with my two brothers who were attending Kentucky Christian College in Grayson, KY. We had gone out that evening to record my oldest brother’s radio show at WGOH on Radio Hill out past the end of town. After leaving the station and piling into my brother’s 65 Ford Mustang we headed back to campus listening to some distant AM radio station.

As we came down the hill to Route 60, “Last Train to Clarksville” came on the radio and I asked a question that a 10 year old in 1966 might ask, “Is that a new song by the Beatles?” One of the other students in the car replied, “No, that’s a new group called The Monkees.” None of us had seen the TV show as of yet, but the antics of Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork, Davy Jones, and Mike Nesmith became a weekly favorite of mine.

Don Kirshner made this possible with the selection of songs for their initial hit records. When I returned to campus as a student seven years later, the students in Jones Hall would huddle around the TV in the common area to watch Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert which played twice a week on a local TV station. Don brought live acts to the living rooms of America and probably best known for this. In honor of his later TV work, here’s The Guess Who from a 1974 episode of Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.

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