Reviewer Dr. Wesley Britton: Dr. Britton is the author of four non-fiction books on espionage in literature and the media. Starting in fall 2015, his new six-book science fiction series, The Beta-Earth Chronicles, debuted via BearManor Media. For seven years, he was co-host of online radio’s Dave White Presents where he contributed interviews with a host of entertainment insiders. Before his retirement in 2016, Dr. Britton taught English at Harrisburg Area Community College. Learn more about Dr. Britton at his WEBSITE
Publisher: Hal Leonard
Publisher: Hal Leonard
Most music lovers associate the name Don Kirshner with his involvement with The Monkees, The Archies, and his long-running TV show, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. However, what Rich Podolsky has accomplished in his new book is demonstrate how a young New Yorker changed the course of rock history long before all that.
Back in 1958, Don Kirshner had a bright but simple idea: teenage rock and roll fans didn’t want the music of their parents and grandparents. They wanted hits written by their contemporaries. With no capital of his own, Kirshner sold this idea to Al Nevins, who’d been in the business for some time. Putting their names together for a company name, Aldon Music set up shop on the sixth floor at 1650 Broadway. After helping launch the career of Bobby Darin, Kirshner signed up the “Magnificent Seven” line-up of songwriters Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, and the under-appreciated Jack Keller. Aldon had much to do with the success of performers like Connie Francis, Ron Dante, and Tony Orlando. Aldon was responsible for over 200 hits for its five year run including "On Broadway", "Will You Love Me Tomorrow", "Up on the Roof", "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do", "I Love How You Love Me", "Who Put the Bomp", and 'The Locomotion." Their reach went beyond rock—crooners Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme had their biggest hits from Aldon writers, “Go Away Little Girl” for Lawrence and “Blame It on the Bossa Nova” for Gourme.
Relying on extensive
interviews with those who were there, Podolsky captures the spirit of
those five years, which were magical and happy times for nearly
everyone involved. Kirshner and Nevins nurtured a creative and warm
atmosphere at Aldon which inspired a friendly competitiveness among
the writers. Aldon was willing to take risks with unknown talent and
were generous with their checkbooks. Then came 1963 when Kirshner
decided to sell the business, and everything changed.
Rich Podolsky hasn’t written the definitive biography of Don Kirshner, but rather a much over-due overview and appreciation of what Kirshner contributed at Aldon. Kirshner is the central character in a series of stories about how so many hits were made, careers shaped, and how he really did change how the business operated. For but a few examples, Kirshner’s use of demos and then packaging albums led to what became known as “independent production” which remains a standard modus operandi to this day.
Of course, no history is
perfect, and there are a few blemishes. Podolsky often inserts
himself into the narrative, offering digressions with the author
telling stories about how his interviews were, or weren’t,
arranged. The Who’s first U.S. TV appearance wasn’t on Rock
Concert but rather The Smothers Brothers in 1967, seven years before
Kirshner’s syndicated series. When discussing the careers of Aldon
alumni, Podolsky notes producer Lou Adler did well with The Rocky
Horror Picture Show without mentioning Adler’s Dunhill and Ode
record labels featuring such folks as the Mamas and papas, The
Grassroots, Steppenwolf etc.
But such hiccups are minor indeed in this engaging, lively look back into rock’s innocent era. While the author is clearly a fan of Kirshner, he’s balanced. For example, Podolsky rightfully questions Kirshner’s claim that he couldn’t get The Monkees to record “Sugar Sugar,” a song that hit the charts two years later. In the end, it’s hard to imagine a fan of this music who wouldn’t learn from and even treasure this book. It’s chock-full of the anecdotes and behind-the-scenes accounts rock fans look for. Better, it sheds light on a time and place not examined in quite this way before. With any justice, it should help elevate the reputation of a man whose legacy well deserves renewed attention.