Don Kirshner: Music publisher and producer behind a wealth of Sixties hits

The music publisher Don Kirshner managed a team of New York songwriters who wrote such hit songs as "Will You Love Me Tomorrow", "Oh! Carol" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'". He was the key publisher in the early 1960s and knew how to spot talent; more than anyone else, he turned writing teenage songs into a profession.

Don Kirshner was born in the Bronx in April 1934. He graduated from college in business administration and learned about organisation through his captaincy of the college basketball team.

On a holiday job at a club in Long Island, he heard a younger boy playing the piano and he offered to write lyrics for his composition. Kirshner made a demonstration record for $50 and, being an excellent hustler, sold the song to a publisher in the Brill Building on Broadway.

Kirshner met Robert Cassotto, who wanted to be as big as Sinatra. They wrote jingles and songs including "Wear My Ring", which was recorded by Gene Vincent, "My First Real Love" by Connie Francis and "I Want To Spend Christmas With Elvis" by Little Lambsie Penn. Cassotto changed his name to Bobby Darin and, in 1958, won a gold disc for "Splish Splash", which Kirshner didn't write. Kirshner, however, was pleased: Darin's success demonstrated his ability to spot talent.

To ingratiate himself to music publishers in the Brill Building, Kirshner would take on menial jobs such as collecting lead sheets and taking them to record sessions, but an experienced songwriter, Doc Pomus, told him that he did not have enough talent to write hit songs and recommended that he become a publisher.

Al Nevins, who played for a successful lounge act, The Three Suns, was suffering from heart trouble and wanted a sedentary job. He started Aldon Music with Kirshner in 1650 Broadway. Nevins had the musical knowledge, while Kirshner knew about rock'n'roll and was hungry for success.

They were impressed by the teenage writing team of Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield. The pair told Aldon they would sign an exclusive contract if Aldon could place a song with a major artist within three months. Connie Francis recorded their song "Stupid Cupid", which made the US Top 20 and topped the UK charts.

Nevins secured a performing contract for Sedaka with RCA, with himself and Kirshner as producers. When Kirshner told Sedaka and Greenfield to write something like The Diamonds' "Little Darlin'", they wrote "Oh! Carol" and Sedaka developed into a major recording artist.

The husband-and-wife team Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote for Aldon, and in 1960 they wrote the US No 1 "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" for The Shirelles.

The rise in New York girl groups (The Shirelles, The Chiffons, The Cookies) in the early Sixties was largely due to the strength of Aldon's songs. Unlike the nonsensical lyrics of many rock'n'roll songs, they often explored the dilemmas in teenage relationships. The vulnerability exposed in Bobby Vee's hits "Take Good Care of My Baby" and "Run to Him", or Steve Lawrence's "Go Away Little Girl" was true to life.

Kirshner encouraged the young singers who were making the demonstration records. Tony Orlando was given Goffin and King's "Halfway to Paradise" and also "Bless You", a song by another young couple who wrote for Aldon, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Little Eva scored with Goffin and King's dance song "The Loco-Motion". It was followed by Carole King's own hit record, "It Might As Well Rain until September".

By 1962, Kirshner had 18 writers working for him, from home or in cubicles in his office. He liked setting assignments – "Today I want a song for The Shirelles" – and he had impressive results.

Kirshner enjoyed mixing his writers. Greenfield and Jack Keller wrote a US No 1 for Connie Francis, "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" (1960), while Greenfield teamed with Carole King on "Crying in the Rain" (1962) for the Everly Brothers. Mann and Goffin wrote "Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)", a 1961 hit for Mann himself.

In 1963, Nevins and Kirshner sold out to Screen Gems, a subsidiary of Columbia Pictures, for $2m. The sale was good timing as the British invasion meant that beat groups were writing their own material. In 1964, Mann and Weil wrote "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" with Phil Spector for The Righteous Brothers, but mostly Screen Gems songwriters were writing for lightweight TV series.

Nevins died in 1965, shortly before Kirshner was asked to supply the music for a TV series about a manufactured band, The Monkees. Their Screen Gems hits included "I'm a Believer" and "Daydream Believer". To speed production, the band did not play their own instruments at first. When Michael Nesmith complained, Kirshner said, "Why don't you just shut up and cash the cheques?"

Kirshner jokingly said that he wanted "a band that wouldn't talk back"; he found one with the cartoon series The Archies. "Sugar Sugar" (1969), performed by session musicians, was an international hit.

In the 1970s, Kirshner was a wooden host for the series Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, which featured The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Kiss. He retired in the mid-1980s.

Spencer Leigh

Donald Kirshner, music publisher: born New York 17 April 1924; married (one son, one daughter); died Boca Raton, Florida 17 January 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing