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Monday, October 15, 2018

They Didn't Believe Me

By Jerome Kern and Herbert Reynolds
1914

One of the most influential songs in the history of popular music, "They Didn't Believe Me" helped usher in a new era in musical comedy, and marked a significant break from the classical European songwriting tradition, making way for what became known as the Great American Songbook. When producer Charles Frohman was importing the successful London musical The Girl from Utah to the Broadway stage, he brought in the unknown Kern and Reynolds to punch it up with a few distinctly American numbers. This particular song helped make Kern into the first breakout star songwriter of the modern era. The composition, introduced on stage by Julia Sanderson and Donald Brian (pictured), featured plain, everyday language, as opposed to the flowery prose of previous love ballads; it also departed from the European waltz style, embracing the syncopation and ragtime flavor that was all the rage in American dance halls. It would have a profound impact on Broadway love ballads for the next half-century.

Lyrics:
Got the cutest little way
Like to watch you all the day
And it certainly seems fine
Just to think that you'll be mine
When I see your pretty smile
Makes the living worth the while
So I've got to run around
Telling people what I've found

And when I told them how beautiful you are
They didn't believe me, they didn't believe me
Your lips, your eyes, your cheeks, your hair
Are in a class beyond compare
You're the loveliest girl that one could see
And when I tell them
And I certainly am goin' to tell them
That I'm the man whose wife one day you'll be
They'll never believe me, they'll never believe me
That from this great big world you've chosen me
Don't know how it happened quite
May have been the summer night
May have been; well, who can say?
Things just happen any way
All I know is I said "yes"
Hesitating more or less
And you kissed me where I stood
Just like any fellow would
And when I told them how wonderful you are
They didn't believe me, they didn't believe me
Your lips, your eyes, your curly hair
Are in a class beyond compare
You're the loveliest thing that one could see
And when I tell them
And I certainly am goin' to tell them
That I'm the girl whose boy one day you'll be
They'll never believe me, they'll never believe me
That from this great big world you've chosen me
Recorded By:

Frank Sinatra
Johnny Hartman
Bing Crosby
George Sanders
Harry Belafonte

Saturday, October 13, 2018

I'll String Along With You

By Harry Warren and Al Dubin
1934

From the powerhouse team of Warren & Dubin, also responsible for such classics as "I Only Have Eyes for You", "Boulevard of Broken Dreams", "With Plenty of Money and You" and "Lulu's Back in Town", this one was written for the 1934 Warner Bros. musical Twenty Million Sweethearts. During this time, Warren & Dubin had been teamed up to write songs for a series of Warner Bros. musicals starting with 42nd Street the previous year. "I'll String Along With You" was introduced in the film by Dick Powell, who croons it to Ginger Rogers. The first recorded release would come the same year from Ted Fio Rito and His Orchestra.

Lyrics: 
You may not be an angel 
'Cause angels are so few 
But until the day that one comes along 
I'll string along with you
I'm looking for an angel 
To sing my love song to 
And until the day that one comes along 
I'll sing my song to you
For every little fault that you have 
See, I've got three or four 
The human little faults you do have 
Just make me love you more
You may not be an angel 
But still I'm sure you'll do 
So until the day that one comes along 
I'll string along with you
Recorded By:

Diana Krall
Nat King Cole Trio
Doris Day
Morgana King
Patti Page

Friday, October 12, 2018

Please

By Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin
1932

One of the most iconic recordings of Bing Crosby, the 20th century's most important popular vocalist, "Please" was introduced by Crosby in the Paramount Pictures movies The Big Broadcast. It was Der Bingle's first starring role, and helped make him a national sensation. The song was a product of the successful movie songwriting team of Rainger & Robin, perhaps best known for writing "Thanks for the Memory" for Bob Hope in The Big Broadcast of 1938 some six years later. With an endearingly catchy lyric and utterly hummable melody, the song has been an inspiration to many, including John Lennon, who cited its wordplay as a direct influence on his early Beatles hit, "Please Please Me".

Lyrics: 
Oh, please
Lend your little ear to my pleas
Lend a ray of cheer to my pleas
Tell me that you love me too
Please
Let me hold you tight in my arms
I could find delight in your charms
Every night my whole life through
Your eyes reveal that you have the soul of
An angel white as snow
How long must I play the role of
A gloomy Romeo?
Oh, please
Say you're not intending to tease
Speed that happy ending and please
Tell me that you love me too
Recorded By:

Bing Crosby
Sarah Vaughan
Ray Coniff
Bucky Pizzarelli
Will Osborne and his Orchestra

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Love Letters

By Victor Young and Edward Heyman
1945

Written by Victor Young for the film of the same name starring Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten, it first appeared as an instrumental only. It was nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Song, losing out to Rodgers & Hammerstein's classic "It Might as Well Be Spring" from the movie State Fair. Soon after, Edward Heyman added lyrics, and the tender ballad was introduced on record by vocalist Dick Haymes, who accompanied composer Young's own orchestra. It has since been recorded by countless artists, including an unlikely rendition by the King of rock 'n' roll, Elvis Presley.

Lyrics: 
Love letters straight from your heart,
Keep us so near while we're apart,
I'm not alone in the night,
When I can have all the love you write,
I memorize every line,
I kiss the name that you sign,
And darling,
Then I read,
Again from the start,
Love letters straight from your heart.

Recorded By:

Elvis Presley
Dick Haymes
Alison Moyet
Ketty Lester
Peggy Lee

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

I Got Out of Bed on the Right Side

By Arthur Schwartz and Johnny Mercer
1952

One of several songs Schwartz and Mercer wrote for the M-G-M musical Dangerous When Wet, a vehicle for celebrity swimmer Esther Williams that also starred Fernando Lamas and William Demarest. One of the catchier tunes produced by the very productive Schwartz/Mercer teaming, it was even used twice more by M-G-M in two of the studios' Tom & Jerry short cartoons, "Baby Butch" (1954) and "Muscle Beach Tom" (1956). This was a common practice of the time, as studios looked to repurpose songs that they owned. Interestingly, half a century later, the song would also pop up in another cartoon Disney's "Phineas and Ferb". Although not as often recorded as many other Schwartz/Mercer compositions, its bouncy tune and clever lyric make it an instant classic.

Recorded By:


John Pizzarelli
Philip Chaffin
Joyce Breach
Esther Williams



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What Is There to Say?

By Vernon Duke & E.Y. "Yip" Harburg
1933

A classic theater song of the 1930s, this sophisticated treasure was written for the Ziegfeld Follies of 1934--the first Ziegfeld revue produced after the legendary impresario's death two years prior. It was introduced on stage by Jane Froman and Everett Marshall, and soon after recorded by Emil Coleman and His Riviera Orchestra (the hotel band for the Waldorf Astoria). Reportedly, without Ziegfeld at the helm, behind the scenes politics raged, involving Ziegeld's widow Billie Burke (the future Glinda of The Wizard of Oz), show star Fanny Brice and even the Schubert Theatre where the show was being put on. This reportedly led to the demise of the Duke (pictured)/Harburg partnership, which has also produced "April in Paris" the year before.

Lyrics: 

What is there to say
and what is there to do
The dream I've been seeking
has practically speaking come true

What is there to say
and how will I pull through
I knew in a moment
contentment and wholement, just you

You are so lovable
So livable
Your beauty is just unforgivable
You're made to marvel at
and words to that effect

So what is there to say
and what is there to do
My heart's in a deadlock
I'd even face wedlock with you

Recorded By:

Mel Torme
Ella Fitzgerald
Sonny Rollins
Nat King Cole
Gerry Mulligan

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Silver Bells

By Jay Livingston & Ray Evans
1950

A warm, fuzzy Christmas classic of the post-war era, this charming chestnut was composed for the film The Lemon Drop Kid, in which it was introduced by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell. A major hit recording by Bing Crosby and Carol Richards released before the film was so successful it caused the film producers to re-shoot the scene more elaborately prior to the release of the movie. Conflicting reports indicate that the inspiration for the song came either from the bell-ringing Salvation Army Santas on NYC streetcorners, or a bell that was kept on Livingston and Evans' shared office desk. Incidentally, the songwriting team of Livingston & Evans were also responsible for such post-war classics as "To Each His Own" and "Mona Lisa".

Lyrics:

Silver bells silver bells
It's Christmas time in the city
Ring a ling, hear them sing
Soon it will be Christmas day

City sidewalks busy sidewalks .
Dressed in holiday style
In the air
There's a feeling
of Christmas
Children laughing
People passing
Meeting smile after smile
And on every street corner you'll hear...

Silver bells silver bells
It's Christmas time in the city
Ring a ling, hear them ring
Soon it will be Christmas day

Strings of street lights
Even stop lights
Blink a bright red and green
As the shoppers rush
home with their treasures
Hear the snow crunch
See the kids bunch
This is Santa's big scene
And above all this bustle
You'll hear...

Silver bells, silver bells
It's Christmas time in the city
Ring-a-ling, hear them ring
Soon it will be Christmas day

Recorded By:

Perry Como
Dean Martin
Frank Sinatra
Martina McBride
Andy Williams

Thursday, December 12, 2013

My Way

By Claude Francois, Jacques Revaux & Paul Anka
1968

Although Frank himself never considered it one of his best, we celebrate his birthday today with what is undoubtedly one of his signature records, and a song that is second only to Lennon & McCartney's "Yesterday" as the most recorded of all time. Originally a French tune by Francois and Revaux, the young Anka heard it and decided to repurpose it for an aging, disillusioned Chairman, who had all but decided to quit the business. Anka slightly altered the melody and gave it English lyrics, and presented it as a gift to Frank, whose recording would result in one the legendary singer's most massive hits. It may not be Porter, Gershwin or Mercer, but it's undeniably Frank, and a song that kept him relevant in the Beatles era. It's been attempted by everyone from Elvis to Sid Vicious, but no one made it his own to the degree that Sinatra did. For whom could those lyrics ever be more true?

Happy Birthday, Francis Albert!

Lyrics:

And now, the end is nearAnd so I face the final curtain
My friend, I'll say it clear
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain
I've lived a life that's full
I traveled each and ev'ry highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

Regrets, I've had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do , I saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course, each careful step along the highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
And through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way

I've loved, I've laughed and cried
I've had my fill, my share of losing
And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way,
"Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way"

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
The right to say the things he feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!


Recorded By: 

Nina Simone
Elvis Presley
Sid Vicious
Gipsy Kings
Andy Williams
Gonzo the Great
Shirley Bassey
Tom Jones
Andrea Bocelli
Patti Lupone

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Songbook's Greatest Champion Finds a Permanent Online Home

Growing up in New York, Jonathan Schwartz was a major part of my formative years, specifically when it came to the development of my musical tastes. As I've discussed before, thanks to my grandparents I was a longtime listener of the old WNEW-AM, NYC's home for American popular standards. And Mr. Schwartz was pretty much our favorite DJ on the station. But he was so much more than a DJ--he was a radio personality in the truest sense of the term, sharing in-depth stories and anecdotes that added so much more to our enjoyment of the music, and made him feel like a long-time personal friend.

After leaving AM due to the demise of WNEW (and later WQEW) in the 1990s, Jonathan found a home on WNYC-FM, New York's NPR affiliate. Here he had more freedom than ever before. And when he also became one of the premiere personalities behind the fledgling XM Satellite Radio in 2000, it was an even greater joy for fans of "our kind of music". Jonathan was given the leeway to shape his own channel, devoted 24/7 to the Great American Songbook, and his great love, Sinatra, in particular. Alternately called Frank's Place and High Standards, it was absolutely one of the musical highlights of the new platform.

But when XM merged with competitor Sirius in 2008, things began to change. The Sinatra family had their own channel on Sirius, and when it was merged with Jonathan's XM endeavor, the two were strange bedfellows, to say the least. For various reasons, Frank's kids (Nancy in particular) have never been all that high on Jonathan (hell, even Frank himself had differences with him over the years). And so the writing was on the wall: Sirius would, of course, back Nancy and company, and Jonathan's days were numbered. After being relegated to the '40s Channel for a while, his contract quietly expired earlier this year.

It seemed, just as in 1998 when WQEW left the NY AM airwaves, taking the American songbook with it, that this type of music was once again being endangered. Certainly, thanks to streaming radio there are more outlets than ever, and in particular channels like Metromedia Radio (inheritors of the WNEW legacy) do a tremendous job of keeping the torch lit. But the loss of Jonathan was a major blow.

The son of all-time great songwriter Arthur Schwartz, Jonathan is the songbook's most vocal, most eloquent and most fascinating champion. His gentle voice has entranced fans of this music, including myself, for decades, and no one gives rich context to it quite like he does, with his unforgettable and often precocious commentaries--not to mention his always-impeccable choice in material (although I can do with a little less modern Broadway and a little more smoky saloon singing, but to each his own.) It seemed Jonathan would be relegated to his weekend WNYC shows and nothing more.

That is, until the brass at WNYC woke up to the tremendous opportunity they had on their hands. With Schwartz now a free agent, the NPR affiliate was free to do more with him than ever. And earlier this month, they pulled the trigger on an exciting project that has captured the attention of fans of classic American pop like nothing has in quite a while. It's The Jonathan Channel--an online streaming radio platform that airs 24/7, and is under the complete control of Mr. Schwartz. Kind of like what his XM channel used to be, except at no charge to the listener (although donations certainly are welcome, as it is a public radio venture.)

I've been listening most days since it began, and for those of us who grew up with Jonathan's brand of standards radio, it is truly a gift. Jonathan Schwartz, available anytime, anywhere, in perpetuity. My grandfather would've loved it, even if he probably would need my help to figure out how to stream it.

The New Yorker Magazine celebrated the event with a couple of fascinating articles, including an interview with Schwartz, as well as something his fans have been clamoring for for years: Jonathan's personal list of must-have albums. Talk about Christmas list fodder! I encourage everyone to give these pieces a read.

I also encourage everyone to give The Jonathan Channel a listen. Whether you're already familiar with him or not, if you love this kind of music and appreciate it being thoughtfully and artfully presented, then Jonathan Schwartz is for you. I'll certainly be tuning in whenever I have the chance. His voice has accompanied me since childhood, and helped stir the passion that led to Standard of the Day in the first place. So here's to Jonathan, and his new permanent home. May the music go on forever.

The Jonathan Channel
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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Let's Misbehave

By Cole Porter
1927

One of the signature, defining tunes of the Roaring '20s, and yet it almost didn't see the light of day. Porter composed this ode to free-wheeling sexuality for his first major Broadway revue, Paris, but it was substituted at the last minute with another Porter gem, "Let's Do It" (it was eventually included in the 1962 revival of Anything Goes). Nevertheless, the star of Paris, Irene Bordoni, made a recording of it that became an instant hit. It has since become a song that instantly conjures up those Jazz Age days, and thus has appeared in many films over the years. The 1928 Irving Aaronson version alone has been featured in two Woody Allen films, was danced to by Christopher Walken in Pennies from Heaven, and most recently appeared in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby. Elvis Costello also performed it in the Cole Porter biopic, De-Lovely.

Lyrics:

You could have a great career,
And you should;
Yes you should.
Only one thing stops you dear:
You're too good;
Way too good!

If you want a future, darlin',
Why don't you get a past?
'Cause that fateful moment's comin' at last...

We're all alone, no chaperone
Can get our number
The world's in slumber--let's misbehave!!!

There's something wild about you child
That's so contagious
Let's be outrageous--let's misbehave!!!

When Adam won Eve's hand
He wouldn't stand for teasin'.
He didn't care about those apples out of season.

They say that Spring means just one little thing to little lovebirds
We're not above birds--let's misbehave!!!

It's getting late and while I wait
My poor heart aches on
Why keep the breaks on? Let's misbehave!!!

I feel quite sure affaire d'amour
Would be attractive
While we're still active, let's misbehave!

You know my heart is true
And you say you for me care...
Somebody's sure to tell,
But what the heck do we care?

They say that bears have love affairs
And even camels
We're men and mammals--let's misbehave!!!


Recorded By:

Irving Aaronson and His Commanders
Cole Porter
Elvis Costello
Cybill Shepherd
Ethel Merman

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Swanee

By George Gershwin & Irving Caesar
1919

Despite all his later accomplishments, this career-making hit for Gershwin would remain the biggest hit of his entire life. Written on a train ride with Caesar one New York afternoon as a parody of Stephen Foster's "Old Folks at Home", it was introduced in the Broadway revue Demi-Tasse. But it wasn't until the legendary Al Jolson heard it played by Gershwin at a party and incorporated it into his show Sinbad that it really took off. The song wound up selling over a million copies of sheet music, and Jolson's recording was number one for nine weeks. The money Gershwin made from it allowed him to leave Tin Pan Alley and focus on an illustrious Broadway career.

Lyrics:

I've been away from you a long time
I never thought I'd miss 'ya so
Somehow I feel, your love is real
Near you I wanna be.

The Birds are singing it is songtime
The banjos strumming soft and low
I know that you yearn for me too, Swanee you're calling me

Swanee - how I love ya, how I love ya 
My dear old Swanee. 
I'd give the world to be 

Among the folks in D-I-X-I-E-ven though my mammy's waiting for me,
Praying for me down by the Swanee. 
The folks up north will see me no more, when I get to that Swanee shore!


Recorded By:

Al Jolson
Judy Garland
Rufus Wainwright
The Muppets
The Temptations

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Eydie Gorme 1928-2013

"Eydie has been my partner on stage and in life for more than 55 years. I fell in love with her the moment I saw her and even more the first time I heard her sing. While my personal loss is unimaginable, the world has lost one of the greatest pop vocalists of all time."
                                                                                                     - Steve Lawrence 

Whether as a solo act, or together with her husband Steve Lawrence as the unforgettable duo of "Steve and Eydie", there is little doubt that Eydie Gorme was one of the most admired and imitated female pop vocalists of the past 60 years. Fans young and old mourned her passing in Las Vegas on August 10, just shy of her 85th birthday. And although she officially retired in 2009, her haunting music and full, rich voice will always live on. During an era in which pop music became something vastly different than what it was when she first broke into it, she maintained her class, dignity and integrity above all.

Born Edith Garmezano in the Bronx to Sephardic Jewish parents of Sicilian and Turkish origins in 1928, she would later transform her name as so many entertainers did in those days. She spoke fluent Spanish at home, and this would later serve her both in her early career as a United Nations translator, and later as a musician, when she would record a string of Latin-themed albums.

Right out of high school, she was already singing in an orchestra during these, the waning years of the Big Band craze. One of these groups, the Tommy Tucker Orchestra, would employ her as a vocalist in 1950 for her very first recordings--made when she was only 22. After a time spent as the singer for the band of former Glenn Miller tenor saxophonist Tex Beneke, she struck out solo in 1952, during a period when the solo vocalist was rapidly replacing the band as the preferred form of pop music.

She made her first TV appearance in 1953 on the original Tonight Show, hosted by Steve Allen. On that fateful day, she would meet her future husband and lifelong musical partner, Steve Lawrence--a fellow guest booked for the same taping. They would be married in 1957, and by the following year, would be teamed up on their own TV show, which ironically enough, served as a summer replacement for Allen's Tonight Show.

By that point, Gorme was already an established act on her own, having nine singles on Billboard's Hot 100 pop chart to her credit. After the marriage and thanks to the TV exposure, the duo began performing together, and before long would also be recording together as well. They became fixtures on the Las Vegas scene--a situation that would last for decades to come--and close friends of Vegas' ultimate entertainer, Frank Sinatra.

However, by the early 1960s, the pop landscape was changing, and with rock and roll becoming the music of the moment, it started getting tougher for Gorme to remain a fixture on the pop charts--instead, the majority of her future hits would be on the so-called Easy Listening or Adult Contemporary chart. However, not before she'd have her biggest pop hit of all, the infectious "Blame It on the Bossa Nova". Her only top 10 hit, it went platinum for her in 1963, mere months before the Beatles arrived and took over.


All told, Eydie, both on her own and with Steve, would land 27 singles on the AC chart during the 1960s and 1970s, and would rise to become one of music's most respected voices and forces. She won a Best Female Vocal Performance Grammy in 1967 for "If He Walked Into My Life". The "Steve and Eydie" stage act flourished, and the two became iconic for their on-stage banter and the real life affection that showed through in their appearances. In one final nod to Steve Allen, perhaps the tune most associated with the couple would be Allen's composition "This Could Be the Start of Something". They became a favorite of the older set, an aging listenership that found itself more and more alienated by the music industry's pursuit of the youth market.

Through it all, Gorme maintained a flourishing solo career, highlighted in the '60s by a series of Spanish albums she recorded with the group Trio Los Panchos. In fact, this period would introduce her to a whole new audience that would continue to hold her talents in high regard for years to come. 

Following the 1970s, Eydie and her husband chose to focus mainly on their live appearances, catering to the audience that already knew and loved them. In 1986, they were struck with tragedy when their son Michael died of a freak heart attack at age 23. After being flown out of Vegas on Sinatra's private plane to be with their family, the couple took a year off from performing in order to mourn.

Eydie Gorme continued to proudly perform into her 80s, but finally stepped away from the stage in 2009, leaving her husband to continue on his own. It's suspected that the undisclosed illness which caused her death may have been the reason. She died in Las Vegas' Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, with her lifelong love Steve at her side, along with their surviving son David and their one granddaughter.

Whether it's her famous hits, her Spanish recordings, her duets with Steve, or classic albums like 1965's definitive Don't Go to Strangers, Eydie Gorme left the world with an impressive and sometimes slightly underrated body of beautiful work. "Steve and Eydie" will forever be a touchstone of a particular generation--and although half of that touchstone is now commended to musical history, that history is made all the more decorated for it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Summertime

By George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin & DuBose Heyward
1935

Often considered the finest song in the American musical theater, this is more than a song: It's an aria, composed by Gershwin using the words of original librettist Heyward to mimic the African American folk spirituals of the day. It was introduced on stage in Gershwin's operatic masterpiece Porgy & Bess by Abbie Mitchell, who also performed the first recorded version of it (with Gershwin himself on accompanying piano). Billie Holiday was the first to have a big hit with it, and it has since become a jazz standard of the highest caliber.

Lyrics:

Summertime,
And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high

Oh, Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry

One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky

But until that morning
There's a'nothing can harm you
With your daddy and mammy standing by


Recorded By:

Janis Joplin
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
Sam Cooke
John Coltrane
Nina Simone

Friday, August 2, 2013

There's No You

By Hal Hopper & Tom Adair
1944

A lush, gorgeous composition that helped catapult Jo Stafford's solo career. After leaving the Pied Pipers vocal group and becoming Capitol Records' first solo vocalist in '44, Stafford (or her arrangers) chose this beautiful song to be one of her very first recordings. Perfectly suited to her range and style, it became an instant standard thanks to her and has been recorded by numerous artists over the years since.

Lyrics:

I feel the autumn breeze, it steals 'cross my pillow
As soft as a will-o'-the-wisp and in its song
There is sadness because there's no you

The lonely autumn trees, how softly they're sighing
'Cause summer is dying, they know that in my heart
There's no gladness because there's no you

The park that we walked in, the garden we talked in
How lonesome they seem in the fall
Stormy clouds hover and falling leaves cover
Our favorite nook in the wall

In spring we'll meet again, we'll kiss and recapture
That summertime rapture we knew and from that day
Never more will I say, "There's no you"


Recorded By:

Duke Ellington
Frank Sinatra
Louis Armstrong
Coleman Hawkins
Stacey Kent

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