Friday, 22 August 2014

My Aunt's Pen

Here’s a little horror I picked up in a charity shop recently; a ‘hit’ on both sides of the Atlantic from way back in 1959.

Hugo & Luigi was the professional name of American songwriters and producers Luigi Creatore and Hugo Peretti. As well as sharing an office in New York's Brill Building, the pair were also cousins. They enjoyed a three-decade career as hit producers, they co-owned Roulette Records with Morris Levy and later took over the Avco/Embassy label (I remember seeing the Hugo and Luigi logo on Stylistics records back in the 70s: yes, I am that old!)

Peretti began his professional career as a teenage trumpet player before moving on to playing in the pits in many a Broadway orchestra; Creatore’s father had been the leader of a small orchestra in Italy and his siblings were also musicians. Although he came from a musical family, Luigi himself was a writer rather than a performer.

Hugo's wife was a children's book author. Peretti asked his cousin to help his wife develop some stories. The collaboration was not purely based on their familial relationship: after the war Luigi had written short stories and a novel and had been a speechwriter at the United Nations. They began working together for the children’s record company Peter Pan Records, before moving to Mercury and producing their first pop hit, The Little Shoemaker by the Italian-American vocal trio The Gaylords, which made Number 2 in 1954. Soon the cousins were securing hits for Sarah Vaughan, Georgia Gibbs, Jimmie Rodgers and others. The pair would often write together under the pseudonym Mark Markwell. When not composing together the boys would often produce anemic white versions of some of the great black R&B artists of the day including Etta James and LaVern Baker – which is exactly what was happening with Pat Boone over at Dot.

The duo were not averse to working with black artists – far from it: they were behind the Isley Brothers' raw, uproarious, Beatles and Lulu-covered Shout, which went on to sell over 1 million copies. They took on Sam Cooke and together produced hits including Chain Gang and Twistin' the Night Away. For the more mainstream white audience of the day they produced The Tokens, Perry Como and co-wrote Can't Help Falling In Love for Elvis Presley. They also recorded, under their own names, a series of saccharine albums as The Cascading Voices of the Hugo and Luigi Chorus. Under their own names they recorded the hit Rockabilly Party (the intro of which was ‘borrowed’ by Ian Hunter for the Mott the Hoople hit Roll Away the Stone). And then, in 1959, they made this.

La Plume de ma Tante, based on a phrase recognisable to anyone whose school was too cheap to shell out for new French text books, is a horrible slice of sub-Disney whimsy, and it cannot be a coincidence that Frank Sinatra scored a hit with another kid-led piece of kitsch, High Hopes, the very same year. According to Billboard magazine La Plume de ma Tante is ‘an attractive novelty sung in bright fashion by a children’s chorus. It’s cute and has possibilities’. No it isn’t: it’s vile. It’s beyond me how this travesty made the UK Top 30! It spent 10 weeks on the Cashbox charts, reaching Number 33, but barely registered at Billboard where, in a five-week run, it rose no higher than Number 86 before disappearing altogether. The B-side, Honolulu Lu, recorded a couple of years before H&L would re-visit Hawaii with Elvis, is dull and depressing: it sounds like the soundtrack to a particularly miserable travelogue - and therefore would have fitted quite nicely into an Elvis movie project. Neither side does justice to the careers of these two immensely talented men.

In the '70s, the duo bought Avco/Embassy Records, scoring international hits with the Stylistics and produced what is widely accepted as the first Number 1 of the disco era, Van McCoy's The Hustle. The cousins retired from the record business at the end of the 70s. Hugo Peretti died in 1986; Creatore’s play An Error of the Moon, which explores the relationship between actor Edwin Booth and his brother John Wilkes Booth, was stages in New York in 2010. He’s still alive today, aged 92. 



  1. 8/22/14 Wrote:
    Interesting that you mentioned The Gaylords among the acts produced by Hugo & Luigi. They are from Detroit, and have been serenading Michiganers for decades. They were Ronnie Gaylord, Burt Bonaldi, And Don Rea. Any Italian-American from Michigan over the age of 50 would recognize them. They started out in 1952 with a radio and TV show on Detroit's WXYZ (Channel 7) then had their first hit for Mercury with "Tell me You're Mine" in December 1952. As late as the 1990's, two of the members were still performing.

  2. Interesting! I have always wanted to know more about these two, because they produced one of my favorite series of party records: "Co-Star", the ones where you act in scenes with famous stars of stage and screen. How funny that they did those as well as all of these other projects!

  3. I hadn't realised that Drew! I've got several Co-Star albums - Arlene Dahl, Basil Rathbone, Cedric Hardwicke and Vincent Price - I must dig them out


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