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AMÉLIE'S RETRO HELL

Welcome to the latest column in the IRS, Amélie's Astro Hell. Every week she will start her column off with some song that any of us old enough to turn on an AM radio have forgotten and remind us why it is worth remembering. After that she'll review the latest retro CD re-releases and fill us in on the trivia associated with them all. Amélie is the most gifted keeper of trivia I know, but with Amélie it is more than just being able to remember the year that Bubble Yum came out, she also realizes the value of good memories and how nostalgia has the power to turn any bad mood around. But she also realizes that trivia does not always equal trivial. When she tells us that Dusty Springfield was kicked out of South Africa in 1964 for refusing to play to racially segregated audiences, she is also letting us know that the singer of "Son of a Preacher Man" was also the harbinger of an artist driven social movement against apartheid that would not take real hold until the 1980's. Ladies and gentlemen, Amélie Frank. ED.

BRINGING OUT THE DEAD
This Issues Song to Remember

ONE FINE MORNING
Lighthouse
1971
www.lighthouserockband.com

What do I know about Lighthouse? Like their chart rivals The Stampeders (who were vying with "Sweet City Woman"), the fine keepers of Lighthouse were Canadians. That's right . . . they were northern lights. What fixes them so keenly in my affections is their kick-ass horn section. Pop tunes with good horn charts were far more common in the late '60s and early '70s with bands like Chase, Blood Sweet & Tears, and the early Chicago. Lighthouse's chops on "One Fine Morning" can dismantle any bad mood in under five seconds, especially for this daughter of a big band leader. Throw in lead singer Bob McBride's earnest polish (over all that brass!) on funsy lyrics like "I'll buy you candies made of stardust / little dolls dressed up in moonbeams," and I can just play this one over and over without getting bored. Bonus goody: the high adrenaline opening guitar solo used to be played on radio commercials for motor car events and funny car rallies at places like the Malibu Grand Prix, so it evokes for me a Southern California where land, even commercial land, was often used for fun stuff (as opposed to today's mindless and rampant development of architecturally stultifying housing most people here will never be able to afford). The song has nothing special to say. One fine morning, Bob and his bitchin' horn section will take his best girl out flying across the universe, stopping along the way for celestial carnival prizes and sugary snacks. Then "we'll fly to the east, fly to the west, no place we can't call our own; we'll fly to the north, fly to the south, every planet will become our home." For nothing special, though, it still sends me.

Here are the stats:

ONE FINE MORNING (album)
Recorded in 1970 at Thunder Sound Recording Studios, Toronto Canada
Released by GRT Records in Canada and Evolution Records in the USA
Produced by Jimmy Ienner
Mixed at O.D.O. Recording Studios, New York City
Engineered by Phil Sheridan
Mastered at Mercury Sound Studios by Gilbert Kong, New York City
Cover design by Brad Johannsen

One Fine Morning (song) written by Skip Prokop arranged by Skip Prokop and Keith Jollimore clocking in at 5:11

Skip Prokop - drums, percussion and vocals
Paul Hoffert - piano and vibes
Ralph Cole - guitar and vocals
Louie Yacknin - bass
Bob McBride - lead vocals and percussion
Don Dinovo - viola
Dick Armin - cello
Pete Pantaluk - trumpet
Keith Jollimore - sax, flute and vocals
Howard Shore - sax
Larry Smith - trombone and vocals
Added percussion by the Maltese Falcon and the Edmonton Hawks
Added bass vocals by "Teeth"

If I'm not mistaken, that Canadian sax player, Howard Shore, grew up to become the Canadian film composer (and one of my faves) Howard Shore (THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, SEVEN, ED WOOD). And one other famous name emerged from the ranks of Lighthouse, but not from where you'd expect. It seems that during the band's touring days, they employed the services of a young roadie from Arkansas (oh yeah, my friends can see this one coming) named Billy Bob Thornton. Maybe fine day Howard will eventually wind up scoring one of Billy's movies... there's a happy reunion waiting to happen.

 

RETRO HELL REVIEWS

NEIL DIAMOND
Hot August Night - Reissue
(Recorded in Concert at the Greek Theatre, Los Angeles)
MCA

   To call the evening of August 24, 1972, a seminal moment in Neil Diamond's career is to acknowledge there is something rather onanistic about Mr. Diamond's pose on the cover. That sure don't look like air guitar to me. However, it's hard not to be mad about the boy, especially because he is singing to "the tree people" at the Greek,_those plucky souls who couldn't or wouldn't pay admission to see featured performers, merrily opting to climb the trees surrounding the theater (which is nestled in the woods downhill from the Griffith Park Observatory) to get their superstar serenades for free. "Tree people" is a phrase I haven't heard in about 25 years. Siiiiiiiighhhhhhh. I was all of twelve when this album was recorded, barely allowed to listen to rock 'n' roll music on my piece-of-shit AM-only radio that cut out at inopportune moments (if my galled friends wonder why I suddenly stop singing along to songs then pick back up after a few seconds, it's because I learned them off a radio that cut out a lot). When I was finally allowed to listen to Boss Radio KHJ toward the end of 1971, Neil Diamond had released his "Moods" album, as fine and mellow a way to be introduced to his music as any (although the less said about "Porcupine Pie," the better).
   I can tell you that, as I was floating in our pool a mere 12 miles away from the Greek on that hot August night, Neil et al. were kicking off the festivities with a heavily orchestrated prologue right into the joyful opening licks of "Crunchy Granola Suite." Listening to it now, I can say it's not deep, but it's surely crunchy, and it's hard not to be thrilled by the boy's baritone--it is a thing of beauty. Liner notes and critics blurbs make much of Neil Diamond's ability to connect intimately with his audiences. That ability is no big secret. It's the warm, resonating voice. When he sings, you do feel its conviction in your solar plexus, in the soles of your feet. No wonder women went bonkers over him in the '70s (not me--I was crushed out on Elton John back then, little knowing that he didn't much fancy girls). Dave Barry makes much of the silly lyrics to Diamond's songs and can't seem to fathom why women love him so much. It's the voice, Dave! The voice! It ain't the dessert recipes!
   The Neil Diamond of 1972 does a convincing job of playing a down home, "aw shucks" kinda feller, even though he's actually a nice Jewish boy from New York (brace yourselves, fans: he attended NYU as a pre-med student . . . ON A FENCING SCHOLARSHIP!?!?!). Okay, so he says to the audience, "Ya want me to play "Walk on Wootah?" He still brings a certain, self-effacing charm that served both John Denver and Barry Manilow well in concert (perhaps it's because the '70s were a sweeter, relaxed, and far less raunchy era). Think of him as Kinky Friedman lite. He capably straddles pop, C&W;, and folk, and he can throw down a little gospel without sounding whitebread. Again, Dave, it's the voice, okay? Can't you at least cut Neil some slack for writing "I'm a Believer"?
   Most of the hits that are worth a good goddamn are on this album: "Solitary Man," "Cherry Cherry," "Sweet Caroline" "Girl You'll Be A Woman Soon," "Kentucky Woman" "Play Me," (with the immortal lyric "song she sang to me, song she brang to me") "Song Sung Blue," and "I Am . . . I Said" (in which our white jumpsuited hero can't even get a response from his furniture). Of special note: "Walk on Water," "Kentucky Woman," and "Stones" are bonus tracks from the concert that weren't included on the original two-album set back in the day when men were long-haired men and vinyl ruled.
   The arrangements are thrilling and fun and not too far removed from their original versions. "Girl You'll Be A Woman Soon" is handled differently--spare and acoustic, but it's gentle and just right for a sticky summer evening. A piece like "Play Me" seamlessly melds honky tonk elements with the sweet (but never treacly) string lines, and it still sends me straight back to our backyard pool where I first heard it 30 years ago. Toward the end of the evening, on "Holly Holy" and "Cracklin' Rosie," his voice is getting that certain "Love on the Rocks" raggedness. Still, he can be forgiven because he delivers "Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show" for a finale, and that tent revival lends itself to the distressed throat. At least it's ten years before he'll pen "Turn on Your Heartlight."
   "Walk on Wootah," "Play Me," and "Stones" are my particular faves, and it all sounds summer outdoor ambient, like Neil's been playing it to me that particular evening, at poolside, as I float out of my childhood into the murkier waters of adolescence. The songs put me in mind of gentler times, and "Stones" in particular is like the last-ever lullaby.
   Here's the link to the Original Neil Diamond Home Page ("Serving the Neil Diamond Community Since 1995!"): www.neildiamondhomepage.com

MARVIN GAYE
What's Going On - Reissue
Motown/Tamla Records (MCA)


(Warning: this review begins with a movie spoiler. Don't read any further if you haven't seen Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever.")

What's Going On

   At the climax of one of my fave Spike Lee films, "Jungle Fever," Ossie Davis, as the Reverend Purify, shoots dead his crack-addicted son Gator (played by Samuel L. Jackson in a performance that left me weeping inconsolably in my theater seat for 15 minutes after the lights came up). The murder takes place in the Purify home, just as Marvin Gaye's murder at the hands of his minister father took place in the elder Gaye's Los Angeles home in 1984. I have worked on the marketing of five of Spike Lee's films, and I do not doubt for a moment that Spike Lee deliberately drew those parallels between the Purify family and the Gaye tragedy.
   In "Jungle Fever," "Crooklyn," and "Do the Right Thing," soundtrack and dialogue references crop up throughout concerning the urgent, restless music of the early '70s, when soul shifted from the upbeat dance groove of early Motown to a more socially conscious vibe. This shift gave rise to the likes of Curtis Mayfield (whose "Freddy's Dead" should have won the Oscar for best song in 1972) and Isaac Hayes (at least he got the Oscar for "The Theme From Shaft" in 1971) and matured the talents of The Supremes (who went from "Baby Love" to "Love Child"), The Temptations (who went from "My Girl" to "Papa Was a Rolling Stone") and the Four Tops (from "Reach Out I'll Be There" to "Keeper of the Castle"). Two such artists most profoundly transformed by their times were Stevie Wonder (whose "Lemme hear you say yeah!!!" turned decidedly darker and mission-oriented after he survived a near-fatal car crash) and Marvin Gaye.
   Prior to his landmark album "What's Going On," Gaye's major hits were mostly upbeat duets with such Motown songbirds as Mary Wells, Miss Ross, Tammi Terrell, and Kim Weston (who dropped out of sight until recently, resurfacing to sing for Shrub's inaugural festivities). Terrell's tragic illness and early death from a brain tumor (she collapsed in Gaye's arms on stage during a concert performance), along with myriad pressures in the form of a difficult marriage to Berry Gordy's sister Anna and harassment from the IRS, plunged Gaye into a profound, two-year depression. In 1970, Gaye shifted gears, writing and producing "What's Going On?", which was released in spring of 1971. Of this album, Gaye said, "Something happened with me during that period. I felt the strong urge to write music and to write lyrics that would touch the souls of men. And in that way I thought I could help."
   Smoky Robinson (who nowadays deejays for the fun of it on Mega 92.3 FM here in L.A.) wrote the intro to the 2001 reissue, and he declares, " . . . "What's Going On" is my favorite album of all time." He also informs us that Berry Gordy, Jr. didn't want Marvin Gaye to make this album, that Gordy didn't want a protest record coming from Motown's hottest sex symbol (and certainly Gaye would have his greatest hits the down the road with "Let's Get It On" and "Sexual Healing"). Thankfully, Gaye listened to the message he felt was coming from God and channeled it into this extraordinary recording.
   I cannot emphasize how important this album was in its day, how it managed through such singles as "What's Going On," "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" and "Inner City Blues" to reach out across mainstream radio stations and tug at the conscience of middle class white kids, alerting them to the intolerable conditions of poverty in inner city America, drug addiction, pollution, and the slaughterhouse that had become Southeast Asia. It is grieving to see how little has changed and how much worse it has gotten in America since Marvin Gaye fired this stunning warning shot across the nation's bow. What would Gaye have made of the Rodney King beating or the brutal murder of Amadou Diallo at the hands of the NYPD? The oil companies moving into the White House to dip their greedy, grubby hands into our supposedly protected wilderness regions? The terrifying diseases eating into our food supply? The Rampart scandal and L.A.'s stubborn failure to adopt the recommendations of the Christopher Commission? The lynchings of James Byrd and Matthew Shepherd? The nauseatingly routine school shootings? The music of "What's Going On" is as vital and damning today with the Republican Shrub in the White House as it was when the Republican Nixon was in charge. La plus �a change...
   There are songs intimating that reconciliation between the races is still possible ("God Is Love," "Right On," "Wholly Holy"), and the indictment that is this collection is not without optimism. I wonder if Marvin would speak of redemption and forgiveness today. Part of me believes he would. "What's Going On?" gives us the artistic measure of a man whose tormented soul, however briefly, saw the truth with astonishing clarity and glimpsed the equally astonishing possibilities. Here's a glimpse of hope that the message is still getting out and perhaps getting through: the album has continued to sell solidly since its release in 1971. Its sales were unprecedented for the singles-centric Motown. The superb reissue CD comes with bonus tracks aplenty from both the original recording sessions and alternate Detroit mix as well as Gaye's live performance of these pieces at the Kennedy Center and the original single versions of "What's Going On" and "God Is Love."
   The first taste I ever had of Marvin Gaye was the sinewy funk of his "black bottoms," the piano, bass, conga and bongo drums that usher in "Inner City Blues." The moment I heard it, I knew I was listening to some serious distress signals from a world so close and so faraway from my cozy little neighborhood in the Valley. I leave you with these dire syncopations from "Inner City Blues," and you tell me if anything has changed since 1971.

Crime is / increasing
Trigger happy / policing
Panic / is spreading
God knows where / we're heading

THE BEST OF THE SEVENTIES
The Millennium Collection
20th Century Masters
Hip-O Records (MCA)

The Best Of The Seventies

   Clearly Hip-O is intended to be MCA's oldies-rich archives' answer to Rhino Records, and I do give them high marks for their adorable web site (www.hip-o.com). However, if the pompous "Millennium Collection" title isn't enough to put you off your lunch, the fatuous and banal liner notes will make you long for Rhino's wry and informative approach to disc documentation. Now, I have no quarrels with the appropriateness or quality of the selections on this CD, which includes Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" (see my review of the album CD reissue on this page), Elton John's "Daniel," Cat Stevens' "Wild World" (see my review XXXX), Eric Clapton's "I Shot the Sheriff," Gladys Knight and the Pips' "Midnight Train to Georgia," The Jackson Five's "ABC," Edwin Starr's "War," Don McLean's full-length "American Pie," Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World," Peter Frampton's "Show Me the Way," Rod Stewart's "Maggie May," and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama." All of these were top hits and certainly represent some of the musical styles that characterized the mixed bag of '70s music. What bothers me is that one can scarcely point to these tunes and declare that they, above all others, represent the decade or even a modest slice of the decade for a so-called MILLENNIUM COLLECTION. First, there are no songs from 1972, 1975, 1977, 1978, or 1979 (although I will argue with the years they assign to some of these tunes; for example, I consider "American Pie" more a song of 1972 than 1971). Just selecting one song from each year... does that mean we could have done without Steely Dan's "Do It Again" or Jefferson Starship's "Miracles" or the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" or Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" or Dire Straights' "Sultans of Swing"? This collection offers two early '70s soul protest songs (out of four soul songs total), four British rockers (five, if you allow for pop folkie Cat Stevens, who did cover a couple of rock tunes in his day), five songs released in 1971, and four songs released in 1974. The Millennium Collection contains no disco, no novelty tunes (there were far more in the '70s than you'd think), no funk, no early new wave, no punk, no Dutch rock, ad infinitum.
   As for the vapid liner notes by one Sal Nunziato, how the hell can "American Pie" be the anthem of the '70s when the song itself is about the music of the '50s and '60s? Deliver me! Buy this collection if it is discounted, because the tracks are all great songs, but don't pay full CD price for it. Spend your hard-earned money on Rhino's HAVE A NICE DAY and SUPER SOUL HIST OF THE 70'S anthologies instead You'll thank me for it.

DUSTY SPRINGFIELD
Love Songs
Rhino Records


Love Songs

   Just the other night, my father was watching that old James Bond farce "Casino Royale" (the one in which David Niven, Peter Sellars, AND Woody Allen all play James Bond). The most memorable thing about that comedic misfire is its theme song, the BurtBachrach/Hal David standard "The Look of Love" as sung by the lady Cliff Richard dubbed "the white negress," Dusty Springfield. Herb Alpert also covered this song in the mid-sixties heyday he shared with Dusty, and I have to say that, fine a trumpeter as Herb Alpert is (hey, my daddy used to fix his horn!), I've always found Dusty's voice to be the more fluid and nuanced interpreter of that song. Her softness and vulnerability are so credible and canny that, even given the broken, world-weary huskiness of her voice, she still comes across as a very young woman left breathless on the threshold of her first serious romance.
   Born a nice, Irish Catholic girl named Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien in London on April 16, 1939, Dusty Springfield grew up listening to a wide range of music, from classical composers to jazz to pop. As a teenager, she performed folk and Latin-American songs at a London club. She began her recording career as part of the Lana Sisters Trio. In 1960, she joined her old brother Dion (who took the stage name Tom Springfield, given that Dion was already taken by Runaround Sue's swain) and Tim Field to form the folk trio The Springfields. The Springfields scored a hit in the U.S. with "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" (a song probably more famous as a Linda Ronstadt cover). Striking out on her own in 1963, Dusty made the bigtime with "I Only Want to Be With You." By 1968, she was the number one pop singer in Britain and a major recording star internationally. There were lulls in the career, punctuated by a huge hit in 1987 with the Pet Boys on "What Have I Done to Deserve This?"
   The "Love Songs" collection makes for great dinner date music. Great music to cook to, great music to serve up appetizers to, great music to split a bottle of red wine to, leaving room for dessert and necking afterwards. It doesn't include a few of her monster hits, the Spectoresque "I Only Want to Be With You," "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" (given almost hourly rotation on K-EARTH here in L.A.), and "Wishin' and Hopin'," but it's packed with plenty of other goodies that showcase her remarkable stylistic range. There was not a style of music (R&B;, A&M-style; pop, folk, country, soul, or ballad), or songwriter (be it Randy Newman, Carol King, Elvis Costello, or Johann Sebastian Bach) she could not persuade us she understood utterly to her core.
   After "The Look of Love," we are treated to a cover of "Am I the Same Girl" (better known here in the Colonies as the get-down-get-funky instrumental "Soulful Strut" and covered successfully in 1992 by Swing Out Sister). I'm not pleased with the mix: you can't hear her over the backup singers, probably because she was singing at the top of her range on the chorus and the piece really calls for belting rather than soft pedaling. Backed up by her brother Tom "Morning, Please Don't Come," Miss Dusty shows off her folkie roots, lamenting how she and her lover will part once the sun rises. It has all the fragile sweetness circa the day when "Brother Sun/Sister Moon," "Romeo and Juliet," and "Friends" played to heavy petters at the drive-in.
   "The Richest Girl Alive" is a "lost track" (which means it was not issued in the U.S.). It would have been a huge hit for the likes of Mary Wells, but Dusty's take-all Motown girl group sass-makes you forget the blonde beehive hairdos. You understand why this woman was the queen of blue-eyed soul. (IMHO, Dusty is actually a better singer than Mary Wells. When Wells' voice cracks in "My Guy," she careens momentarily off pitch. Dusty's pitch when her purr cracks is immaculate.) Another lost track, "Bring Him Back" also ripples with soul circa the early '70s. "Mr. Dream Merchant" is a ballad tapping the same "white negress" flavor.
   "Summer Love" is album filler to me-not because of the singing but because it's not a remarkable song. The same goes for the over-produced "Something for Nothing," which sounds like something that was rejected from the "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack. "O-o-h Child" is a less successful soul cover of the Five Stairsteps' one hit wonder, largely because it is unfinished. Dusty sings "ba ba ba ba ba" � la the Partridge Family where the backup singers would fill in almost as if she plans to color in the later. I wish she had finished it-she certainly had the right voice to cover the song. "The Colour of Your Eyes" is the flip side of "The Look of Love"-that girl from the latter song now gently consigning the dying or already dead affair to memory without much in the way of nostalgia. "Sweet Lover No More" flexes her nimble phrasing and pays homage to her fave influences, Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee. This is the collection's up-tempo sizzler, Exhibit A that Dusty Springfield was as timelessly hip as her influences.
   We don't get "Wishin' and Hopin'," be we do get the cautionary "Girls Can't Do What the Guys Do." Our chanteuse warns us gals that if we do the things boys do (playing cards, hanging out, whatever), we'll tarnish our reputations as ladies. Throughout her career, Dusty Springfield was branded "difficult" by the producers and musicians who worked with her. On the "Woman of Repute" website http://www.isd.net/mbayly/intro.htm), there's a snazzy shot of La Dusty in her British bird getup and towering inferno hairdo playing the drums. She was a perfectionist-urging her musicians to try for unheard of ambiance from their instruments, exploring the space of the ladies' room to get the right acoustics. Male pop stars can trash their hotel suites, cat around on their wives and children, and behave appallingly on stage and backstage, and somehow that merely enhances their rock god mystique. Dusty Springfield wanted a different sound from the Fender guitar, and that made her "difficult." What is tolerated as genius for "the Guys" somehow translates into poor social skills for "the Girls."
   As for the tremendous "Son of a Preacher Man" it's hard not to believe that Dusty didn't grow up on the Delta just down the road from Bobbi Gentry. "Son of a Preacher Man" is the fruit of Dusty's actual recording sessions in Memphis, which produced arguably her greatest album, "Dusty in Memphis." When she sings "he'd come and tell me everything is alright / he'd kiss and tell me everything is all right / can we get away again tonight?" I'll be damned if I can't feel that Billy Ray's lips on my throat. This is one of the sexiest numbers ever recorded, as much for what she doesn't tell us happened on those walks as for what she does.
   "Meditation" scooby-doos along like in full Sinatra mode with frissons from k.d. lang's "Miss Chaterlaine." There's a danceable, horn-charted cover of "Spooky," and what better female voice to sing about "the cool of the evening when everything is gettin' kinda groovy"? Wiser in the ways of love than Dennis Yost and the Classics IV, Dusty hopes "you're not what you seem" instead of proposing on Halloween. "Love Songs" concludes with a weird hybrid: "Goodbye" is the bass aria from Bach's "St. Matthew's Passion" revamped into a Broadway-style ballad. Okay. Whatever.
   I am so seriously pissed off that we lost Dusty to breast cancer in 1999, a mere twelve days before she was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and on the very day she was to receive one of her country's highest honors from the Queen herself. It was her second bout, and it was caught late stage in 1997_too late for even aggressive treatment to save her life. She was just shy of 60, with enough vocal vitality and talent to keep going, much as her contemporary Petula Clark is still doing today. She would still be singing for us if she had had early detection. I cannot emphasize enough from personal experience how singularly important this is.

Here are some other Dusty facts:

1.   Her trademark panda-eyed mascara she attributed to the fact that she was too near-sighted without her glasses to see how she was applying her makeup.

2.   She was awarded the Order of the British Empire medal (the OBE) just days before her death, receiving it during a special presentation at the hospital. She loved the medal, but thought the ribbon was flimsy.

3.   She used her influence to introduce the Motown Sound to the British audience, inviting a number of Motown artists (including the Temptations and the Supremes) to appear on the BBC's influential pre-MTV music show "Ready, Steady, Go!"

4.   Our heroine refused to perform to racially segregated audiences in South Africa in 1964, which resulted in her arrest and unofficial "deportation" from that country.

5.   Her duet partners included Jimi Hendrix. Spencer Davis, Richard Carpenter, Daryl Hall, the Pet Shop Boys, and Liberace.

6.   Dusty Day is celebrated as an annual event in her home-town of Henley-on-Thames on her birthday, April 16th.

7.   Her comment to London's Evening Standard in 1970, "I know that I'm perfectly capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy," marked her as the first established artist in pop music to openly identify herself as bisexual.

8.   A Dusty Springfield biography flick for VH1, "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," is in the works from Madonna and Guy Ritchie's production company.

You can check out links to numerous Dusty Springfield sites on the "Woman of Repute" website: www.isd.net/mbayly/links2.htm

Yours in Retro Hell,
Amélie Frank



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