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Profiling music man who saw the beauty in 'Bomp'

Imagine a pair of young, little-known musicians walking into the offices of a music publishing firm and trying to pitch a wacky song called "Who Put the Bomp" to the company's owner.

The song posed two very strange questions: "Who put the bomp in the bomp-bah-bomp-bah-bomp? Who put the ram in the rama-lama-ding-dong?"

Back in 1961, a lot of publishers would have laughed the young musicians right out the door, but Don Kirshner didn't.

"That's a hit!" he exclaimed, and he was absolutely right.

"Who Put the Bomp" was a huge success, making the Billboard Top 40 hit list and getting played millions of times on radio stations. Oldies stations play it to this day.

It was one of about 200 songs that Kirshner helped turn into hits in the 1960s, but Kirshner was not a musician. He was a huckster and song publisher who had an uncanny knack of knowing what kind of music teenagers would like.

Like the recently deceased Dick Clark, Kirshner was one of the founding fathers of the business side of rock 'n' roll. He and his partner, the late Al Nevins, started a small music publishing company called Aldon Music in the late 1950s and turned it into a gold mine.

Aldon hired and nurtured a group of eager but untested young songwriters who would compose some of the most popular songs ever put on record. They included Neil Sedaka, Howie Greenfield, Jack Keller, Artie Kaplan, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Carole King and her then-husband, Gerry Goffin.

All were unknowns when Kirshner hired them.

The list of songs they created was amazing. Some were goofy little ditties like "Who Put The Bomp" and "Stupid Cupid," but others were true radio classics, true examples of pop and rock music at its best.

To name a few: "On Broadway," "Under the Boardwalk," "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Up On The Roof," "Footsteps," "I Love How You Love Me," "Soul and Inspiration," "Uptown," "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," "The Locomotion," "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do," "One Fine Day" and "Groovy Kind of Love."

Kirshner's career went far beyond music publishing. He was an impresario who constantly put songwriters together with singers, and helped many young performers establish their careers.

Neil Diamond, Bobby Rydell, Connie Francis, Sedaka, King, Tony Orlando, the Archies, the Monkees and Bobby Darin, probably Kirshner's closest friend, were a few of the protegees he helped make famous.

Kirshner missed sometimes, too. He snubbed a young Paul Simon, and failed to lock down a deal to become the publisher of all the Beach Boys' songs. He also missed out on a chance to become the American publisher of the Beatles' songs.

This book is a fun, quick read, especially enjoyable if you grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, in the days when youth culture totally took over the world of popular music.

Author Podolsky goes overboard at times with his praise of Kirshner, but he gives readers an enjoyable, nostalgic glimpse of what it was like to be in the middle of things when rock 'n' roll really took off.

Kirshner was born in 1934, the son of a Jewish tailor in the Washington Heights section of New York City. He played college basketball and loved the music of black performers such as Chuck Berry and Fats Domino.

After striking up a friendship with a then-unknown Darin, Kirshner started out by helping Darin get his career off the ground. He then decided that he too wanted to make music his life.

His big break came when he met the cagey Nevins, who had been a successful songwriter and was getting into publishing. Kirshner convinced Nevins that teen music was the next big thing.

After publishing hundreds of hits, they sold their company, Aldon, in 1963 for $3 million, more than Kirshner ever imagined he'd see in his life, and Kirshner signed on as an executive with Columbia Screen Gems Music.

Later, Kirshner would realize that selling Aldon was a huge mistake. He didn't anticipate that oldies stations would proliferate all over America in the '70s, '80s, '90s and beyond. Aldon's songs would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties.

In the '70s, Kirshner had another big success as creator of the popular Don Kirshner's Rock Concert TV show. The late-night rock concert series was a big hit, even though Kirshner was laughably dull as the host.

Kirshner died last year at 76. Many people consider him an innovator, and they got him inducted, just recently, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Others might argue that that he was just a businessman, not a music legend.

So exactly who was it that put the bomp in the bomp-bah-bomp-bah-bomp?

Well, Barry Mann and Gerry Goffin wrote the song, and Mann sang it. But Don Kirshner certainly helped.

Dan Herbeck is the co-author of "American Terrorist" and a frequent News reviewer of pop and country music.

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Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear

By Rich Podolsky

Hal Leonard Books

304 pages, $24.99