Born Donald Kirshner, 17 April 1934, The Bronx, New York City, NY
Don Kirshner was quite possibly one of the ten most successful and wealthiest men in the entertainment industry for much of the '60s and '70s. As the head of first Aldon Music, then Screen Gems Publishing, Kirshner employed some of the best writers in the business. Kirshner attended New York's City College for a time before earning a B.A. in business administration. He was a friend of Bobby Darin, then a struggling singer-songwriter. Darin and Kirshner had already written songs separately before they decided to team up in 1956, writing songs and jingles for commer- cials. One of the first fruits of their collaboration was "My First Real Love", which became Connie Francis's fourth single ; Kirshner would soon become Connie's manager. Other songs they wrote together include "Love Me Right" (recorded by LaVern Baker), "Wait A Minute" (for the Coasters, recorded in late 1957, but not released until 1961), "Wear My Ring" (Bobby Darin, Gene Vincent) and several other pre-"Splish Splash" Atco recordings by Bobby. In 1958, Kirshner met Al Nevins, a successful composer, guitarist and recording artist, who had many pre-rock era hits as a member of The Three Suns, a trio that had recorded the original version of "Twilight Time" (1944) and had a # 1 hit with "Peg'O My Heart" in 1947.
Kirshner sold Nevins on the idea that publishing new material for teenage record buyers could be an extremely profitable venture. In May 1958, Aldon Music was born, originally located at 1650 Broadway, later at the famous Brill Building across the street. Among the first writers to be signed by Aldon were Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield. The duo wrote Aldon's first big hit, "Stupid Cupid" by Connie Francis (# 14 in the US, # 1 in the UK). Soon Aldon signed Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Jack Keller and several other writers. Most had some experience to one degree or another, but what they really had in common : they were extremely young. By 1962 Aldon had on staff eighteen writers, aged nineteen to twenty-six. Contrary to what most believe, most of the writers were not brought in as teams. Eventually teams did form based on personal ties as much as by professional or artistic merits. After six months, Aldon Music was well established. Now Kirshner began working on his long-term goal, catering to the growing market for teenage songs, through building a group of first class songwriters and making affiliations with the hundreds of record labels. Aldon Music was constantly adding more cubicles, each with a standup piano, and filling them with young songwriters willing to work for $150 a week or less. They would compose, cut demos, and play them for each other at the end of the day, making comments, suggestions and criticisms as they went along. Kirshner who had a good ear and commercial pop sensibility, usually had the final say. The songwriters he hired prove today to be some of the biggest legends of the time. Apart from Sedaka/Greenfield, King/Goffin and Mann/Weil, they included Neil Diamond, Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart, Andy Kim, Ritchie Adams, Ron Dante, Gene Allan, Toni Wise and many others. "The Brill Building Period" is the term used for the incredible catalog of hit after hit that Kirshner published in the pre-Beatle years of the 60's. Kirshner's catalog includes hits by the Shirelles, Little Eva (who died last Friday), the Drifters, the Ronettes, the Crystals and the Shangri-Las, with songs such as "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "On Broadway", "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" and "The Locomotion". In a smart move, Kirshner also set up his own label, Dimension Records, to feature songs that his own publishing company controlled. By the time Columbia Pictures bought Aldon Music, Kirshner was rich enough to retire, yet he stayed on at Columbia, becoming president of Screen Gems, the prestigious song publishing wing of Columbia Pictures. At Columbia Kirshner ran Screen Gems while overseeing both Dimension and Colpix, a label created specifically for Columbia artists in 1958. Dimension was renamed Calendar Records in 1965.
Kirshner was instrumental in the creation of the Monkees (1966) and the Archies (1969), both highly manufactured, but hugely successful groups, both on record and on TV. It was the success of the Archies that gave Kirshner enough capital to launch Kirshner Entertainment Corporation. After the Archies ran their course, Kirshner formed Don Kirshner Productions in 1972 to produce "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert". Unhappy with his association with RCA, Kirshner struck a deal with CBS to distribute his productions. Closing out the decade, Kirshner began selling off the licensing end of his publishing catalog and went into self-elected retirement where he has remained ever since.
More info: http://www.history-of-rock.com/kirshner.htm CD: The Colpix - Dimension Story (Sequel NED CD 271). 2 CD-set, issued in 1994. Artists include Carole King, The Cookies, The Marcels, Shelley Fabares, James Darren, Big Dee Irwin and Duane Eddy.
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