Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Without Don There Is No Mel

Don Kirshner, perhaps best known as the host of the '70s and early '80s syndicated television show "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert," died earlier this week at the age of 76. I have to admit the best years of his program were a little bit before my time, but I have seen several clips from his program through the years, and I can attest to the impressive stable of stars he brought to America's living rooms, including (my favorites) the Police, Ramones, Sly and the Family Stone, Billy Preston, Lou Reed and Todd Rundgren.

Another reason why I have seen his name bandied about is because of my love for the Monkees, and he was a pivotal force behind that band's music. He brought together many of the best songwriters of the day, including Neil Diamond and the team of Boyce and Hart, to pen tunes for the group. Without the work of Kirshner, the Monkees's first two albums would have been much different.

If you have ever had the pleasure of witnessing Kirshner as host, you no doubt remember his wooden delivery made him seem like the least hip fella around rock and roll. This made him the perfect character to spoof, and nobody did it better (apologies to Paul Shaffer) than the incomparable Eugene Levy during his SCTV years. In fact, although I was quite young, I remember Levy as "Rockin'" Mel Slirrup on "Mel's Rock Pile" much more than Kirshner on "Rock Concert." If you get the chance, seek out Mel's "20th Anniversary Special" skit with guest Roy Orbison. You can find it pretty easily on YouTube. In the meantime, check out Dave Thomas as Richard Harris singing "MacArthur Park" from a 1981 episode of SCTV, as well as an introduction of the Ramones by the late Kirshner. Talk about hip to be square, and I mean that as a compliment.

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