But in the popular mindset, Kirshner will be remembered in the popular mindset less for any of those accomplishments than... that monotone. Not since Ed Sullivan had there been such a disconnect between the wild, world-changing rockers on the tube and the old-before-his-time nerd introducing them.
Watch the above clip of Kirshner introducing Queen on his television series, and you'll see all the hallmarks that Shaffer was able to hilariously (and affectionately) spoof in the early years of SNL: the flatness of voice, the looking off-camera toward cue cards, and the completely incomprehensible recitation of an act's record label, management, agents, and/or promoters, as if America gave a rat's behind about who the suits behind the band were.
"When I did him on Saturday Night Live," Shaffer said in a 2004 interview, "I would just make up names of promoters and managers. (But) the guy on Rock Concert was nothing like the real Don Kirshner. He's actually a really funny guy."
Indeed, if Kirshner could seem stilted and even a little tone-deaf on-camera, he was more than sharp enough off-camera, when he stopped looking like a deer caught in the headlights and got back to business.
Although Kirshner was left out of Beyond the Sea, Kevin Spacey's Bobby Darin biopic, he was a crucial figure in Darin's early career, having met the future star at age 20, when they began writing songs together. Their partnership as manager and client was close enough that Darin married fellow star Sandra Dee in Kirshner's apartment. The two fell out as Darin's celebrity grew, but Kirshner found another great partner in entrepreneur Al Nevons, with whom he formed Aldon Music. They were responsible for teaming up some of the greatest songwriters of the early '60s and publishing such indelible hits as "Walkin' in the Rain," "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," "On Broadway," and "The Locomotion."
Columbia Music bought the company in the mid-'60s but installed Kirshner as the head of Screen Gems, where he was the music consultant for shows including Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. More historically, however, he was the guy in charge of music for TV's answer to the Beatles, the Monkees, and he had the faux four record smashes like "Daydream Believer" and "I'm a Believer."
The show ran into the punk era; in the above clips, you can see Kirshner hedging with some "maybe it'll work, maybe it won't" uncertainty over the Ramones and "judge for yourself" faint praise for the New York Dolls. Mid-'70s staples like Black Oak Arkansas, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, and Mountain gave way to the likes of the Police before Kirshner hung up his hosting duties in '82.
Not to worry, Don. In the hall of fame that exists in baby boomers' and early Gen-X-ers' hearts, you're well-enshrined, thanks to your show's 180-episode run. You were the delivery system for glam-rock, punk, and other outre subgenres at a time when we had to wait seven days for another shot at seeing just what these brilliant clowns looked and acted like. And all that was worth sitting through a few superfluous names of promoters and managers—and even the sight of those horrendous wide collars—for.
If you want to see Shaffer's amazing vintage take on Kirshner, here's a link to a prime example from a 1978 episode, wherein the future Letterman band leader opened the show as the eminently spoofable Rock Concert host:
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- Don Kirshner
- Paul Shaffer