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Happy birthday, Neil Sedaka!

Neil Sedaka, whose long list of chart-topping hits includes “Calendar Girl,” “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen,” and “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” turns 75 today.  In his book, Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear, Rich Podolsky describes the moment Don and his partner at Alson Records, Al Nevins, first met Neil.  The rest, you could say, is music history.

The chill of being rejected by Hill and Range still stung but Neil and Howie were desperate for a chance, and so they headed right down to Aldon Music. When they opened the door, they saw a closet-size office with boxes all over the floor and two desks pushed together in the middle of the room. Shoved against the wall was an upright piano. To Neil, Aldon looked to have been in business only a couple of days, and the office wasn’t ready yet for walk-ins.

“We’d like to see the publisher,” Neil asked a young guy with his sleeves rolled up. He was sweeping the floor.

The guy leaned on his broom. “We’re in conference. Come back in an hour.”

They agreed, and as they walked down the hallway Neil muttered to Howie, “I think the conference is, ‘How are we going to pay for this office.'”

Don put the broom in a small closet and rolled down his sleeves. “They should be back soon,” he told Al, and buttoned his cuffs. A little while later there was a knock at the door.

“It’s open,” Don called, and the two kids came inside.

Words rushed from the short one’s mouth as if he were a door-to-door salesman who might get the boot any second.

“I’m Neil Sedaka and this is Howard Greenfield. I study at Juilliard. We’ve been writing together for five years and have had several songs published and recorded.”

“Like what?” Al wanted to know.

“Well, we’ve sold several R & B songs to Atlantic for Clyde McPhatter, Laverne Baker, and the Clovers,” Neil replied.

“And just recently Dinah Washington came out with our song ‘Never Again,'” Howie added.

Al shot a look at Don that said, I find that hard to believe. “Really?” he asked. Don jumped in. They’d find out in a minute whether the boys had something to offer. He pointed to the upright in the corner. “Okay, let’s hear what you’ve got.”

Neil took his place behind the piano and positioned the chair so he was half sitting, half standing. It reminded Don of how Bobby [Darin] had played the first time they were at Natalie [Twersky]’s place.

Neil played a few songs, which Don thought were good. When the kid was a few bars into the next one, “Stupid Cupid,” the bell went off in Don’s head. Neil banged out the notes in a rousing rendition of a song Don instantly knew teenagers would love. And he knew just the person to record it. 

Stupid Cupid you’re a real mean guy,

I’d like to clip your wings so you can’t fly . . .

Hey, hey, set me free,

Stupid Cupid stop pickin’ on me.

Don looked at Al to see his reaction, but his parter did not look happy.

“Where’d you get those songs?” Al demanded.

“What do you mean?” Neil asked. He looked shocked as he turned to face the challenge. “We wrote them, that’s where. We’ve written over five hundred songs in the last three years. If you don’t believe me, you can ask Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler.”

“Excuse us for a moment,” Don said. He was totally blown away. Ertegun was a founder of Atlantic Records and Wexler was one of his partners.

While Neil and Howie waited by the piano, Don pulled Al aside. “Did you hear that song, Al?” Don whispered. That song’s a hit! This is exactly the kind of talent I knew was out there. Did you ever see such talent? I can’t believe nobody’s signed them.”

“Even if they did write those songs,” Nevins said, then paused and glanced over. “Just look at them. They look like pishers.”

“I don’t care what they look like,” Don whispered urgently. “We need to sign them.”

Al’s eyes narrowed for a moment. He was silent. “Okay,” he said at last, “but this is your deal, not mine.”

“Fine. This is what I told you I’d do for you. You won’t be sorry.”

They strolled back to the boys standing beside the piano.

“We think you’ve really got something,” Don said, “and we want to sign you to write exclusively for Aldon Music. We’ll give you each fifty dollars a week against future royalties. We’ll publish your songs and help get them placed.”

Howie was about to say something, but Neil put a hand on his friend’s arm and looked around at the boxes and the dust. Don could see the kid was skeptical.

“You get us a hit and then we’ll sign.”

“I’ll get you that hit,” Don promised. “Come back here in a couple of days. I want to introduce you to an old friend of mine. Her name is Connie Francis.”

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Davy Jones and Mike Nesmith

Both members of The Monkees have their birthdays today! Happy birthday to Davy Jones and Mike Nesmith. Below is an excerpt from Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear, by Rich Podolsky.

With all the publicity he had received, Kirshner was getting quite a requtation, and his ego swelled a little more once he began guiding the musical career of the Monkees.

In 1965, producer Bob Rafelson approached Bert Schneider with an idea. Rafelson was inspired by the Beatles’ first film, A Hard Day’s Night, which not only featured the group’s songs but showed their happy-go-lucky wackiness as well. He wanted to do a TV series with four actors who would play a wacky American foursome. Schneider agreed and the two formed their own company, Raybert Productions, and sold the show to Screen Gems.

Screen Gems put out a wide casting call and finally settled on Americans Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork, and Englishman Davy Jones. The company planned a weekly TV show, which would feature the group’s slapstick antics and a song or two.

For the music, the company relied heavily on Kirshner. And he delivered. He selected and executive-produced all of their songs, several of which were written by Jeff Barry and Neil Diamond, two of the decade’s greatest songwriters. For their first single, Kirschner carefully picked “Last Train to Clarksville,” which was written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who were new in the Kirschner stable.

After “Clarksville” went to No. 1, Kirshner somehow talked Neil Diamond into giving the Monkees “I’m a Believer,” even though he wanted to record it himself. At the time, Diamond was already a successful performer, having struck with “Solitary Man” and “Cherry, Cherry,” the latter reaching No. 6. Talking him into giving up “I’m a Believer” may have been Kirshner’s greatest accomplishment for Screen Gems.

Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear

In 1958, long before he created and hosted Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, the most dynamic rock-and-roll series in television history, before he developed the Monkees and created the Archies, Don Kirshner was a 23-year-old kid with just a dream in his pocket. Five years later he was the prince of pop music. He did it by building Aldon Music, a song publishing firm, from scratch. This is about how he did it – with teenage discoveries Bobby Darin, Carole King, Neil Sedaka, and more.

By 1960, at the ripe old age of 25, Kirshner had built the most powerful publishing house in the business, leading Time magazine to call him “the Man with the Golden Ear.” In five short years he coaxed and guided his teenage prodigies to write more than 200 hits. And they weren’t just hits, as it turned out, but standards – 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” – songs that have become the soundtrack of a generation. “We weren’t trying to write standards,” said one songwriter. “We were just trying to please Donnie.”

Don Kirshner’s Birthday

Guest Blogger:  Rich Podolsky, the author of Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Earwrites in with a piece in celebration of Don Kirshner’s birthday today.

Don Kirshner Got His Wish

A year ago, just before what would have been his 78th birthday, Don Kirshner got his wish and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, what should have been a slam dunk didn’t come so easily.

You’d think that discovering and developing three of the greatest songwriting teams of all time—Neil Sedaka & Howard Greenfield, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and Barry Mann and Cythia Weil—would have been enough to get him there in one of the first years the Hall opened its doors.

Or the fact that he developed the Monkees, created the Archies and also discovered and Kansas—the band not the state—would have put him on the Hall’s doorstep.

Or at least if anyone took into consideration that he created and hosted the most successful and dynamic rock ’n’ roll show in television history, he should have been able to walk into the Hall of Fame. Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, which ran for nearly a decade and presented more than 500 of the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll acts, ran from 1973 to ’82 and in the 30 years since it still hasn’t been surpassed.

But Don Kirshner was the bitter enemy of Ahmet Ertegun, the man who founded the Hall of Fame along with his partner Gerry Wexler, and until Ertegun passed away Kirshner had no chance for admittance. Even after his passing Kirshner was ignored by the insiders who comprise the Hall’s nominating committee.

Unfortunately Don Kirshner had to die to get in. After dying of heart failure early in 2011, Carole King campaigned vigorously and got her former boss in the Hall’s back door last April. His wife, Sheila, accepted the award, ironically named the Ahmet Ertegun Non-Performer Award.

After King made a passionate speech in his behalf she handed the award to Sheila, who hoisted it over her head in victory and proclaimed, “Donnie, you made it, babe.”

Somewhere up there Don Kirshner was enjoying the moment.

Rich Podolsky—

Author of Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear, and Neil Sedaka: Rock ‘N’ Roll Survivor (due 9/1/13)

Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear

In 1958, long before he created and hosted Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, the most dynamic rock-and-roll series in television history, before he developed the Monkees and created the Archies, Don Kirshner was a 23-year-old kid with just a dream in his pocket. Five years later he was the prince of pop music. He did it by building Aldon Music, a song publishing firm, from scratch. This is about how he did it – with teenage discoveries Bobby Darin, Carole King, Neil Sedaka, and more.

By 1960, at the ripe old age of 25, Kirshner had built the most powerful publishing house in the business, leading Time magazine to call him “the Man with the Golden Ear.” In five short years he coaxed and guided his teenage prodigies to write more than 200 hits. And they weren’t just hits, as it turned out, but standards – 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” – songs that have become the soundtrack of a generation. “We weren’t trying to write standards,” said one songwriter. “We were just trying to please Donnie.”