Oh, Brother!

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Pop music buffs might recall the identical-twin duo the Alessi Brothers for the airy, sweet-falsettoed "Oh Lori" from 1977. But mainstream ears may also have been unwittingly moved by the Alessis' music. The brothers have enjoyed a ubiquitous presence as hard-hitters in the world of commercials music, where they've written catchy jingles for Diet Coke, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's and Blockbuster. In the past decade, they have become their own legends, running separate, successful gigs at different music houses. The now 40-something twins have joined again under the "Alessi" rubric to form the new commercials songwriting division at New York's JSM.

Billy, lively but the more staid of the brothers in his powder blue sweater and Oxford shirt, is considered the melody man. Last month, he moved to JSM from Crushing Music, where he'd worked for 16 years. At Crushing, he tuned listeners in to "Come See the Softer Side of Sears" and "Just For the Taste of It, Diet Coke." The slicker and more turbo-charged Bobby, in all-black attire, is the technical master. He continues at JSM, where he has composed for 12 years. There he spun the 1988 Clio-winning "Cool-la-la" tune for Lifesavers with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and strummed along with B.B. King for Greyhound. As JSM's new `Alessi' arm, they composed songs for Kool-Aid, Mazda, Kohl's department store and Dr. Pepper.

"Music is the one thing that magically can reach in and touch you inside," says Billy. "That's what I do, that's what Bobby does. That's what we're here for." Joel Simon, JSM's president and executive producer, has great confidence in the duo. "They're two separate people; they just happen to be incomparable together," he says.

Karl Westman, executive music producer at Ogilvy & Mather, has worked with the Alessis separately and now with both on the Kool-Aid account. "In their own right, they were great," he believes. "But together there's a certain magic that happens."

The Long Island-born brothers first recorded together at the age of 6, after saving up 35 cents to tape their song "Hallelujah Baby" on acetate at a penny arcade. High school bands and theater appearances followed (they made it into the Broadway production of Hair), as did a rich recording career that yielded hits like "Oh Lori," "Seabird," and "All for a Reason."

In 1982, the two decided to devote most of their time to writing for commercials, which they say was more lucrative and allowed the family men to lead "real lives." After a few years of working together, Billy went to Crushing and Bobby to JSM. "It was a chance to get away from the twin thing and not just be the Alessis," says Bobby.

But the closet collaborators couldn't resist working as a duo. They recall that when Crushing and JSM were both pitching to JC Penney, "We decided to have a little integrity and not help each other," says Bobby. But the weekend before the pitches were due, Billy was sick as a dog and his computer had broken down. Bobby convinced him to come to his place, where the brothers wrote two songs together, one of which ended up at Crushing, the other at JSM. After hearing 20 pitches, the client boiled the choices down to -- guess which two. (The Crushing submission -- "I Love Your Style" -- won out.)

Now, the Alessis have come full circle. This year, they plan to release their ninth album, Songbook, a compilation of unpublished songs written in the last four years. At JSM, the brothers can focus on making music together without the worry of coordinating schedules or keeping their collaboration hush-hush.

Muses Bobby, "I think the question is, how did we end up working separately for so long?"

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