Don Kirshner was born in the Bronx, New York in 1934. He received a B.A. in Business Administration from New York’s City College. One of Kirshner’s acquaintances, at that time, was a struggling singer-songwriter named Bobby Darin. Kirshner had, himself, tried writing a song or two. Don and Bobby teamed up in 1956, writing songs and commercial jingles together. One of the first songs produced by the collaboration was “My First Real Love”, recorded by Connie Francis. It didn’t hit the charts, but it did result in a legendary, if short lived, romance between Francis and Darin.
Very soon thereafter, Kirshner and Darin wrote a “cash-in” record for Marlene Paula (aka Debbie Dabney), “I Want To Spend Christmas With Elvis (Heartbreak Noel)”. The song was covered that same year by Atco recording artist Little Lambsie Penn. Atco was impressed enough by Darin that they proceeded to drop Penn from the roster and sign Darin. Above, we streamed the Paula/Dabney version, here’s a video (not a performance video, sadly) of Penn’s version, giving the song a bit more hiccup.
About that time, Kirshner met singer-songwriter Al Nevins who, among other things, had been a member of The Three Sons, a trio that had scored a number of hits in the 40s (and one with many Christmas recordings, FYI). Kirshner convinced Nevins that the teenage record market was where the money was and, together in 1958, they founded Aldon Music. Among the songwriters signed to Aldon were Neil Sedaka, Barry Greenfield, Carol King, Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Later, the stable of writers expanded to include Jeff Barry, Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart, Ron Dante, Ellie Greenwich, Toni Wine and Neil Diamond. This was the “Brill Building”. It featured cubicles of talented songwriters and singers who would, for less than $150 a week, write songs, play them for each other soliciting comments and criticisms, compare notes, cut demos and churn out hit after hit. Kirshner got very, very rich and, ultimately, sold Aldon to Columbia records.
Kirshner determined that the formula had existed for much greater success but had been made problematic by the actual artists. If only you could create such a band where the music was the star and the musicians were incidental. Thus were born The Archies, a musical group based on the popular comic. Again, Kirshner turned to his Brill Building team. Many of the Archies’ songs were written by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim and lead vocals for all but one of the Archies’ songs were provided by Ron Dante. Backing vocals were contributed, at one time or another, by many of the other songwriters Kirshner had previously hired—from Toni Wine to Ellie Greenwich to Bobby Bloom.
Kirshner took his earnings from The Archies and formed the Kirshner Entertainment Corporation whose divisions included Don Kirshner Productions. For a brief time in 1973, Kirshner served as impresario for ABC’s In Concert. But, proclaiming that ABC didn’t know the difference between the Allman Brothers and the Osmond Brothers, Kirshner spun off to his own syndicated program, “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert”. By the second season, Kirshner was also serving as host for the program which ran for nearly 10 years.
After that, Don Kirshner went into a self-imposed retirement, surfacing only rarely. The Man With The Golden Ear, as he was called, was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame in 2007.