Remembering Don Kirshner, “The Man with the Golden Ear”

Thursday, April 17, 2014
Remembering Don Kirshner, “The Man with the Golden Ear”

Today would’ve been Don Kirshner’s 80th birthday, a fellow who was often called “The Man with the Golden Ear” for his ability to hear a hit, and while he could be as fallible as the next guy on that front, there’s a mountain of evidence available – or certainly a jukebox’s worth, anyway – to support the validity of his nickname.

Born in the Bronx in 1934, Kirshner’s career found him bouncing through different aspects of the music business, including management, production, and songwriting, even hosting his own TV series (Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert), but it was his work as a publisher that gained him the most fame over the years, thanks to the part he played in the so-called Brill Building scene. Granted, the company he founded with Al Nevins, Aldon Music, actually started out a block away and across the street from the building in question, but with songwriters like Neil Sedaka, Howard Greenfield, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Neil Diamon, Paul Simon, Phil Spector, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, and Jack Keller all part of the mix at some point or other, there’s no question that Kirshner recognized talent.

Kirshner had a hand in a trio of record labels over the years (Chairman, Calendar, and Dimension) and also spent time as president of COLGEMS as well, but – to use that as a tie-in – here at Rhino, he’ll always be most fondly remembered for his part in the story of the Monkees, namely helping to provide the material that started them on the road to chart success.

Okay, so there ended up being some pretty substantial head-butting – and wall-punching by Mike Nesmith, an incident so famous that it’s cited in Kirshner’s bio for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – over the band’s lack of musical involvement that it ultimately led to Kirshner and the group parting ways. When Kirshner passed away, however, Nesmith issued a statement describing the publisher as “a formidable foe” before offering his condolences to Kirshner’s family and adding, “Donny, where ever you are -- I want you to know I put my fist thru the wall just for dramatic effect. Apparently it worked. It is all behind us now, and we wrote what we wrote. Rest in peace.”

(It’s also worth noting that the next big act Kirshner had a hand in putting together was the Archies, a move he reportedly made because the group was animated and wouldn’t be nearly as much trouble to deal with.)

To celebrate Kirshner, we’ve put together a collection of songs that he either wrote or had a hand in publishing over the years…and the fact that this isn’t even remotely all of them should give you more of a frame of reference to why he got that nickname we mentioned.