40 Years Ago: ‘Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert’ Debuts
From his days at New York’s famed Brill Building, through the behind-the-scenes power struggle with the Monkees and on through the years, Don Kirshner’s position in the world or pop music in unquestionable. “The Man with the Golden Ear,” as he was commonly known, built his legend as a maverick with his hands in music publishing as well as finding new talent. In late-1972, he embarked on a new venture, bringing live rock and roll music into living rooms across America with a show called ‘In Concert’ on ABC.
Though his involvement with this show would last less than a year, it made clear that the idea of this type of music television brought in the viewers was a winner. He would soon leave for NBC and start up the now-legendary ‘Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert,’ a show that showed everyone from 60s holdovers like the Byrds and Joan Baez to 70s hitmakers like Abba and Fleetwood Mac. In and among the big names like the Rolling Stones were new bands such as the Ramones and New York Dolls, who gained entrance into middle America through this program. Kirshner himself would often host the show despite his deadpan, lifeless style of delivery that Paul Shaffer parodied brilliantly on ‘Saturday Night Live’ in the mid-70s.
The show ran from September 1973 through the end of the decade, with its final episode airing in early 1981, shortly before this thing called MTV launched. It’s easy to forget but at the time, shows like ‘Rock Concert’ were the only way to see many of these artists on television.
Kirshner dedicated his life to his love of music. Sadly, he passed away in 2011. He long said his biggest disappointment was not having been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. The list of acts that appeared on the show is pretty incredible. A DVD box set is said to be forthcoming. From the array of readily available clips out there, we give you a handful of the best, presented chronologically.
Although Marc Bolan and T. Rex were starting to fall from their pedestal atop the U.K. music scene, this 1974 performance shows Bolan was not fading away quietly. Raw and rocking versions of ‘Jeepster,’ ‘Zip Gun Boogie,’ and ‘Get It On (Bang A Gong)’ among others are thrust out on this rare U.S. television appearance.
New York Dolls
The New York Dolls remain unsung heroes in rock and roll’s back pages. They were a major influence on everyone from Guns N Roses to the Ramones, but they never scored big themselves. They are captured in this raw and exciting clip with guitarist Johnny Thunders taking the lead vocal on the classic ‘Chatterbox.’ A very pure and raw rock and roll television moment.
The Sensational Alex Harvey Band
Though hardly a household name, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band were one incredible rock and roll band. Harvey was one of the most engaging front men ever, and the band were always rock solid. This clip features the band doing the ‘Vambo’ section of the highly theatrical ‘Hot City Symphony.’
Fresh from the release of their classic ‘Sabotage’ album, Black Sabbath make a rare TV appearance. As Kirshner mentions in the intro, the appearance of Sabbath stemmed from constant requests from their fans to see them on the show, and they tore through a handful of their classics.
Rush hit the airwaves in this 1975 clip, shortly after the acquisition of Mr. Neil Peart behind the drum kit. They dish out a totally rocked out version of ‘Finding My Way’ from their self-titled debut here.
The Electric Light Orchestra were arguably at their creative peak with their 1975 album ‘Face The Music,’ and their performance here shows off one of that album’s biggest hits, ‘Evil Woman.’ Everything gelled for the band at this juncture and this is classic ELO.
Kirshner can hardly contain his excitement during his intro to Kiss. This “exclusive performance” was, in fact, not live, but rather staged promotional videos from their then current ‘Rock And Roll Over’ album. Regardless, it shows off the band in their prime.
When Kirshner played host to the Ramones in early-1977, it was one of the first times America got a glimpse of what had been bubbling up in New York City for a couple years. The band rip through a blistering ‘Loudmouth’ in this clip that surely rattled more than a few TV sets along the way.
Devo first jumped into American living rooms via ‘Saturday Night Live’ in 1978, but this 1979 appearance added fuel to their fire. Take-no-prisoners renditions of ‘Mongoloid,’ ‘Uncontrollable Urge’ and others put on full display why these guys were so incredible and unique.