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The 2021 Pop Convergence: A Virtual Pop Conference, April 22-25th
Artwork by Alex Nero; Design by The Art Dictator
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Franklin Bruno

Franklin Bruno is the author of Armed Forces, in Continuum’s 33 1/3 series; he is currently writing a book on popular song-form for Wesleyan University Press. His criticism has appeared in The Nation, Oxford American, The Believer, and two editions of Da Capo’s Best Music Writing annual. He has released 14 albums of original songs since 1990, solo and with the bands Nothing Painted Blue and (currently) Human Hearts. His most recent release is the Extra Glenns’ Undercard (Merge).

 

Abstract:

"Who Put the Arrow in 'Cupid?': Hugo and Luigi's Schlock 'n' Soul"

Never household names on the order of Leiber and Stoller, and often given short shrift in accounts of the Brill Building era, cousins Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore were among the most successful songwriting and production teams of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Their credits (as “Hugo & Luigi”) included “transforming” Solomon Linda’s then-uncopyrighted “Mbume”/”Wimoweh” into the Tokens’ “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and co-writing the Elvis perennial “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.” Most significantly, they were the producers of record on Sam Cooke’ pop hits for RCA, including “Cupid” and “Another Saturday Night.” Writers on Cooke have been quick to damn the team’s “obnoxious studio input” (Nelson George) into these “string-laden atrocities” (Barney Hoskyns), sometimes taking casual swipes at their Italian-American ethnicity as well.

The truth is more complicated: Unlike some earlier secular producers, Hugo & Luigi facilitated Cooke’s recording of his own material, encouraging him to complete the unfinished “Chain Gang,” despite its implicit racial charge. Their work at RCA also included the Isley Brothers’ raucous, unsweetened “Shout”; fifteen years later, their production of the cast album of the Broadway revue Bubbling Brown Sugar would help to revive interest in Bert Williams, Fats Waller, and Eubie Blake. In between, their short-lived 1968 musical Maggie Flynn, set in a black orphanage during the New York Draft Riots of 1863, allegorized Vietnam-era civil unrest. A balanced understanding of their artistically inconsistent but undeniably significant work can help us reassess received ideas about agency, authorship, and the balance of power between artists and producers in rock and roll’s crucial first decade.