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A video tribute to North Jersey’s Don Kirshner, dead at 76

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Video Credit: YouTube
Video Credit: YouTube
Video Credit: YouTube
Video Credit: YouTube
Video Credit: YouTube
Video Credit: YouTube

Who WASN’T on “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert”? The Man With the Golden Ear brought an array of musical talent to the nation — including the Ramones, the Allmans, Pat Benatar, Jimmy Cliff and the New York Dolls, among others, many featured in video clips here. North Jersey’s own died of heart failure at a hospital in Boca Raton. He was 76.

Anyone old enough to remember phonograph records knows the name. The roster of guests on “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” is staggering: Billy Joel, the Police, the Ramones, Pat Benatar, David Letterman, and Billy Crystal.

Besides hosting the weekly show, Kirshner was a driving force behind the Monkees, the Archies, and several other acts.

Few TV viewers knew that Kirshner, who grew up in East Orange and attended Upsala, was responsible for ABC’s “Rock Concert” — which brought audiences the first quadrophonic sound television performance, by Emerson, Lake & Palmer — before producing his own show on NBC.

The Ramones, circa 1977, on “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert”:

They also might not have known that he started out as a bellhop in the Catskills, where singer Frankie Laine turned down a song Don wrote for him — but taught the aspiring young entrepreneur how to get published.

Then, in 1957, Kirshner met a talented young singer named Robert Casotto — Bobby Darin. The pair later discovered another New Jersey native, Concetta Franconero — Connie Francis.

Kirshner brought the New York Dolls — with David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain, and Johnny Thunders — to a national audience:

And speaking of New York artists, here’s a rare look at a “Rock Concert” rehearsal of Lou Reed and band funking up “Walk on the Wild Side”:

He eventually acquired New York-based publishing company Aldon Music, which once had under contract members of the “Brill Building”: Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka, Barry Mann, and Cynthia Weil, among them. He literally moved into the building across the street and began producing their acts.

Still, it’s “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” that he’ll most be known for among mass audiences. Instead of what had been a series of lip-synched songs, Kirshner had the artists perform “live” for the rolling cameras.

The incomparable Jimmy Cliff: “The Harder They Come”:



Unfortunately, what some will also remember is the wooden way in which he introduced the acts — a style that would be parodied by, among others, Paul Schaffer.

The Allmans (1973), with Chuck Leavell twinkling through a lively solo and Dickey Betts playin’ the slide-guitar blues, Gregg on vocals, on “Statesboro Blues”:

But his influence couldn’t be denied, especially when it came to the music produced by the legendary Brill Building artists.

“I believe that after I’m gone, my grandchildren will be whistling these tunes,” he once said. “Whether they know that I published them or not – they will be whistling these tunes the same as they do songs from ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘Camelot,’ and these tunes will be part of American culture – they’ll be used in movies and so on.

“Of all the legacies that I have given, personally to me it’s very important that I was able to come out of the streets of Harlem, out of my dad’s tailor shop, and have the ability to create an environment where this sound will be part of American and international culture forever.”

Jim Croce on “Rock Concert”:



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