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Don Kirshner, Late-Night Rock TV Mogul, Dies At 76

Don Kirshner, the music-business impresario responsible for hits by the Monkees and the Archies, as well as introducing scores of pre-MTV American youth to rock via his late-night network program Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, died Monday.

Kirshner, a songwriter, producer and publisher, was 76 and died at his home in Boca Raton, Fla. The cause was heart failure, The Hollywood Reporter said.

A native of the Bronx, Kirshner co-wrote several songs with his friend Bobby Darin, including "My First Real Love," which was recorded by Connie Francis. (Kirshner eventually became Francis' manager.) In 1958, Kirshner and musician Al Nevins founded the Aldon publishing company, which was headquartered in the legendary Brill Building and eventually saw songwriting immortals such as Neil Sedaka, Howard Greenfield, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Neil Diamond, Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Jack Keller.

In the '60s, Columbia pictures bought Aldon, but kept Kirshner on as head of its Screen Gems music-publishing wing. He helped create both The Monkees and The Archies, and wrote many of those faux groups' songs that became very real hits.

Kirshner is perhaps best-known outside the music business, though, for creating Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, a late-night music program that ran on ABC from 1973 to 1981. Along with Midnight Special, Rock Concert brought rock and roll to America's living rooms long before MTV and even Saturday Night Live, where Kirshner was parodied by Paul Shaffer.

Premiering with the Rolling Stones' first televised appearance in four years, Rock Concert spanned the heart of the album-rock era (Led Zeppelin, Eagles, KISS, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Steve Miller Band, Billy Joel, Journey) through the first twitchings of punk and New Wave (Devo, The Police, Sex Pistols, Ramones).

R&B artists such as Stevie Wonder, Prince, Ike & Tina Turner, B.B. King and War also appeared, as did Brits including Rory Gallagher, Marc Bolan & T. Rex and Slade, and disco stars like ABBA, Rose Royce and the Village People.

At a time when most network talk shows shunned such acts, Rock Concert and Midnight Special were often the only place to see them outside an actual concert. Later generations got a taste of Rock Concert when many clips from the shows were used in extended advertisements for the VHS and then DVD collections, commercials that likewise usually aired long into the wee hours.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray