Lockdown jukebox: Timeless music albums that still make it all worthwhile
When Bungalow Bill went hunting with elephants and gun, The Beatles tell us, he always took his mom. He was, after all, the all American bullet-headed Saxon mother's son. And just when the children confront him with a morality poser, about killing and sin, his mother gives them the look.
Listening to music is never black and white.
“Hey O!”, bursts out John Lennon and the opening chords lead up to a yarn about a weeping guitar. Two songs segue into immortality in The Beatles, the eponymous title of the White Album.
Ah, the joys of the record. The album, songs; one after the other.
And so, the next time George Harrison is singing While My Guitar Gently Weeps, in, say, the Best of Dark Horse or The Concert For Bangladesh, you ask yourself, Hey O! Why do I miss the greeting so?
Listening to a record, diligently from Side One to the next, used to be the way of the world before ear-pods and mp3. No matter how many times the turntable spun in a minute, 78, 45 or 33 1/3, song sequence mattered. The order held out novelty, colour, emotion. The lonely heart’s club band showed the way with a Sergeant Pepper. Pink Floyd took us to the Dark Side of the Moon. Kind of Blue is a meditative mural with Miles Davis holding the palette for a sextet that included giants like John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Julia ‘Cannonball’ Adderly. So What.
Ah, the joys of the record. Listen in. Each have stories to tell.
Pervez Qadir, Singer
1. Saturday Night Fever: BeeGees, Various Artistes
The very first album that made me want to get up and dance and lose myself, my sorrows, angst and troubles. The song-writing, singing, the various grooves all so slickly produced. BeeGees were at their supreme best. Not to forget John Travolta. Wow.
2. Can’t Slow Down: Lionel Richie
My dear friend John Cameron gave me this one to hear while I was graduating from school. And Lionel Richie’s soulful voice just got under my skin. Penny Lover, All Night Long and Hello. (The last one got me the best vocalist award representing SXC at IIT-Kharagpore). Awesome.
3. Christopher Cross
This album was voted one of the best albums in its time. The song-writing is so personal and introspective that it still remains in my subconscious; not to forget CCs powerful sonorous vocals and guitar playing. This album is a connoisseur’s delight.
4. Raised on Radio: Journey
Steve Perry: Awesome. Neil Schon: Electrifying. Both complimenting each other’s super, God-given skills at ranges high above the reaches of the common man. Indeed fabulous.
5. Richard Marx
His soulful singing, vocal tonality, musical ability and powerful composition skills enrich any musical endeavour he undertakes. Along with Michael Landau’s guitar playing. A simply unputdownable album.
6. Sowing The Seeds of Love: Tears For Fears
After their phenomenal hit, Everybody Wants to Rule the World, this next offering was path-breaking for me. Roland Orzabal the true, unsung musical genius leaves his indelible mark on my music influences. All the songs are priceless gems.
7. The Way It Is: Bruce Hornsby & The Range
Bruce's quintessential southern rock influences with his magical electrical piano playing and great arrangements transport me straight to the Midwest. All inspiring, soul-stirring songs with great vision.
8. Welcome To The Real World: Mr Mister
They set the standards for modern, urban popular sounds. All essentially studio cats, they came out with intensely arranged compositions, power-packed melodies, slickly produced and performed. The album is simply unputdownable.
9. Nothing Like The Sun: Sting
Going solo, this I feel, was the path-breaking album for Sting where he came into his own. The incorporation of jazz influences with modern pop and his fabulous poetry got me hooked. Could always hear this album from start to finish. Indeed, this was a trip without even getting high.
10. The Soul Cages: Sting
Every little thing Sting did was magic… I was already hooked. This introspective album dedicated to his father is a listener’s delight. The poetry, imagery and sound are almost surreal, gothic with a haunting medieval modernism which is a joy to behold.
Ananda Lal Professor, formerly with Jadavpur University where he introduced rock in the compulsory syllabus.
1. Blonde on Blonde: Bob Dylan
Rock’s historic first double album, with magically diverse music and lyrics, and the epic “Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands” occupying one whole side!
2. Freak Out!: The Mothers of Invention
Rock’s second double album (by just a week!), also the first concept album: Frank Zappa’s bizarre satirical canvas of American pop culture with a political documentary feel.
3. Surrealistic Pillow: Jefferson Airplane
The much overlooked first lady of rock, Grace Slick, at her finest – White Rabbit, Somebody to Love (“When the truth is found to be lies”) – with her multitalented bandmates.
4. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: The Beatles
Usually rated as the most influential album of all time, and the best concept album. I loved teaching it.
5. Wheels of Fire: Cream
The guitarist a.k.a. God whose concerts were legendary, released live at last. Hear him interpret the blues warhorses Crossroads and Spoonful.
6. Electric Ladyland: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
He who transformed the guitar. ’Nuff said. Listen to Voodoo Child for his mojo.
7. Live-Dead: The Grateful Dead
The band that made free concerts a way of life for fans had the album title virtually tailormade for themselves! Their characteristic jam on Dark Star lasted all of 23 minutes.
8. Let It Bleed: The Rolling Stones (December 1969)
The greatest rock ’n’ roll band, formed nearly 60 years ago, still don’t say quit, though other dinosaurs have long given up! This album is my favourite of theirs.
9. The Dark Side of the Moon: Pink Floyd
As rock grew more sophisticated, it cultivated greater musical and thematic depth. Floyd’s magnum opus, another brilliant concept album.
10. Quadrophenia: The Who
Western music aspires to opera. Others had composed rock operas before, including the Who’s own Tommy, but this captures youth angst best of all, even today.
Post Script: May I add one more, from the grey area on rock’s pioneering edges? Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence (January 1966) not only popularized folk-rock across the world, it made pop listeners aware (as opposed to folk diehards who already knew, thanks to Dylan) that songs could incorporate poetry and social commentary. The title song is apt for corona existentialism.
Vikramjit ‘Tuki’ Banerjee Guitarist, founder Krosswindz
1. Abbey Road: The Beatles
This is probably the most unadulterated rock-based album by the Beatles though it does have a few ballads peppered across the LP. I really dig the great diversity of styles from the moptops here, Harrison with his lilting acoustic guitar-driven compositions to the fun and over-the-top tracks by McCartney and the out-and-out pure rock ecstasy of John Lennon. And, who can forget the duelling guitars in the penultimate track, The End.
2. Wish You Were Here: Pink Floyd
My introduction to psychedelic rock was via this album. I love the extended instrumental sections that abound on this album. The track Shine On You Crazy Diamond parts 6-9 features some of the grooviest rhythm and blues passages ever recorded; and Gilmore really shines on guitar. Waters demonstrates what a great lyricist he is with tracks like, Have a Cigar and the ode to Syd Barret, Shine On You Crazy Diamond.
3. Venus Isle: Eric Johnson
The title track fuses the ambient and textural guitar work of EJ with Indian classical raga aalaps sung eloquently by Amit Chatterjee. It remains a piece of music that I always strive to equal with my own compositions. It’s also one of my favourite play-along to DCs. The sonic landscape of this disc is so pleasing to the ear that I often reference it to get a better idea of tonal balance while mixing and mastering Krosswindz albums.
4. High Tension Wires: Steve Morse
This album is like a stiff cup of coffee in the morning to awaken all the senses. I dig the eclectic styles that Steve covers, from Celtic folk to high energy rock to baroque, it all just segues so nicely. Steve is one of my favourite virtuoso guitar players. His style is a huge inspiration to me. And this album played a huge role in the development of my personal playing style.
5. Cielo E Terra: Al Di Meola
This album is poetry in music. I just love the exquisite acoustic tones… the synclavier makes a few appearances on a few tracks. Al weaves his magic touch across the album with hidden melodies within melodies. I get lost for hours just listening to this masterpiece. Often, the tunes conjure vivid images in my imagination. It’s like a soundtrack to an imaginary film. The album is a huge inspiration to me. I base almost ninety per cent of my own acoustic guitar playing style on the work that Al Di Meola did on this album.
6. Still Life Talking: Pat Metheny
This is an epic album in the truest sense of the word. Pat takes the jazz idiom and turns it on its head with this album. I love how he takes jazz melodies and puts them in an ambient and textural space. The fretless guitar on the track, Last Train Home, is one of my favourites. The tunes on this album are so haunting that I keep coming back to them.
7. Handful of Blues: Robben Ford and the Blue Line
One of the most elegant modern jazz and blues players on this planet, I love the tasty licks that Robben generously peppers this album with. A huge inspiration again, I really dig the songcraft and singing. The compositions and ensemble interplay are stupendous, a real earworm.
8. Kind of Blue: Miles Davis
This is one of those sublime albums that have become a part of the fabric that make up the tapestry of music I cloak myself in every day. I love how this album always reveals something new on each listening. A masterpiece of biblical proportions deserving of hours of study and meditation.
9. The Seventh One: Toto
A pop-rock masterpiece, this album is one of my favourites in the genre. I love how the songs have such memorable hooks, and the guitar playing by Steve Lukhather is simply outstanding. The song arrangements have a sophistication unparalleled in this genre. It’s like a guidebook in the art of song production.
10. Inner Mounting Flame: Mahavishnu Orchestra
The first time I heard this album was as a schoolboy. It was on vinyl and I thought I had a damaged LP as the rhythms were in odd tempos. I thought the needle was skipping, like on the track, Vital Transformation. My introduction to fusion, this album remains a firm favourite in this genre. I love the molten lava cascade of Gibson Les Paul improvisations all through the album. And what a stellar band of virtuoso musicians.
Rudy Wallang Guitarist, singer
1. Street Survivors: Lynyrd Skynyrd
This the first album of theirs that I heard, loved the songs and the power of the music. Besides Ronnie's powerful vocals, the guitar arrangements of Steve Gaines and Gary Rossington got me.
2. Heavy Weather: Weather Report
I remember Birdland was the signature tune for Voice of America radio. I never knew the name of the tune or who the band was. Later, I heard the album somewhere and I found out it was a Weather Report song. Still one of my favourites. The album is full of beautiful melodic lines. Best for driving in the countryside.
3. Rumours: Fleetwood Mac
The moment I play this, I can feel the warmth of the music. All the songs are so personal and intimate. And the way it was recorded, I feel like I'm in the room with the band. Beautiful.
4. Woman Across the River: Freddie King
Freddie’s powerful yet melodic voice, coupled with his screaming guitar! When I was with Great Society, we used to play this cassette, besides many others, whenever we went out for a gig away from Shillong. The songs here remind me of the long drives, in an Ambassador taxi, to Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal and Assam. What an album.
5. Live in Japan: Albert Collins
This album still gives me goose bumps. I was hooked to it since the first time I heard it. The whole band was alive and kicking like one Mean Blues Machine. Albert's guitar TONE cut deep into my heart and stayed there. This album changed the way I played the blues.
6. Roy Buchanan
This self-titled album from Roy and his band, The Snake Stretchers, was introduced to me by Arjun Sen who played guitar with Great Society. This is one of my all-time favourite guitar albums, and Roy is one of my all-time favourite guitar players. 'The Messiah Will Come Again' is one of the most beautiful stories ever told through a guitar.
7. There Must be a Better World Somewhere: BB King
This was the first BB album that I got my hands on and I have cherished it till today. BB is BB. What else can I say?
8. Aja: Steely Dan
I heard it first in 1981-82. It opened my world to the sounds of jazz-rock. It was a pirated cassette from Fancy Market, Calcutta. So, I didn't know who the musicians were till way later. I used to sit and jam with this album every day. I learned all the guitar parts, or at least tried to, rewinding the cassette till it wore out.
9. Kaya: Bob Marley & the Wailers
This cassette and many more were bought for me by a friend from Singapore. I played them every morning. My mom and my brothers all learned the songs. Our home had a good vibe in the mornings. I Love Bob Marley.
10. Live at the Filmore East: Frank Zappa
What a gig. This album would always play in the car during our Great Society days. We'd have our happy smokes and bottles of Kaplansky Vodka with us, and as soon as we hit the highway, the party would start. Frank Zappa would entertain us.
Amyt Datta Guitarist.
1. Ventures Plays Carpenters: The Ventures
The first album that I heard was of The Ventures: Live in Japan. But I want to talk about their Carpenters album because of the way the guitar vocalised Karen Carpenter’s voice. I could hear her voice. The only thing missing was the lyrics but it didn’t matter. The whole sentiment and ethos were wonderful.
2. Fireball: Deep Purple
I had it on record. The sound of the band was raunchy, loud, aggressive, but beautiful melodies at the same time. Being a guitar player myself, I must mention Richie Blackmore. He’s one guy who could play the blues. I mean, these are all blues-based guys; but he played degressive melodies with classical undercurrents. The tone, the attitude was incredible. He was one of the best. So, Richie Blackmore is right up there.
3. Are You Experienced: Jimi Hendrix
This is an obvious one. Hendrix is one those players who has obviously influenced everybody because, again, he is a blues-based (player), and because blues is kind of universal, it touches us all, especially now with what we are going through. And he could make a simple major pentatonic or a minor pentatonic sound like a song. Hendrix was simple in the way he played, but without being overly sweet. He had a lot of sophistication in a rough way. He wasn’t an antiseptically clean player. He had a lot of dirt and grit which I loved.
4. Royal Scam: Steely Dan
Talking of sophistication, all the albums of Steely Dan qualify. But this one comes to mind right now. All the compositions in the album. Larry Carlton, the way he played the solos and backing guitars (they had various other backing guitarists too), got to me. But his solo in Kid Charlemagne is an all-time classic. I believe it was the first or second take. I wonder how one can think of such melodies over such involved chords, almost like jazz-type chords, and make the changes and still make it sound so sweet and right. It’s incredible.
5. Brother to Brother: Gino Vannelli
That was pop, R&B and rock, kind of jazz harmony, and incredible grooves. Again, for me it was Carlos Rios, the guitar player. His solo on the tune called, Brother to Brother, is impeccable. It is one of the hippest things I have ever heard… a kind of a rock-jazz set-up. And it proves what a knowledgeable guitar player he is and that only a knowledgeable musician can cut that kind of music.
6. A Kind of Blue: Miles Davis
This is a game-changer, a life-changer, if you please. What can I say? Everything in that album is incredible. Specifically, I must mention the intro for So What by Bill Evans. Incredible. And the first crash that Jimmy Cob plays when the solo starts, the first chorus. You know, the first crash of the cymbal, the sustain of it, the tone of it, the mix of it. Mind you that time they used fewer mikes unlike now when we have different mikes for different instruments and every component of the drum kit is miked separately. It wasn’t so at the that time. Even then how they mixed themselves within the band was incredible. A Kind of Blue is a lesson in life.
7. A Love Supreme: John Coltrane
Actually, I can talk about any of his albums, say, Giant Steps, or… His music is spiritual. And I don’t mean spiritual as in God. I mean the spirituality of music itself; the theory, the harmony. Within that there is a philosophical content. I am talking about that. And how he wrenches out all of that in his music and touches people even though it is very technical. To play like that you really have to know what is going on in the craft of music.
8. Belo Horizonte: John McLaughlin
The first time I heard someone who could cover so much in his music. He is like one super virtuoso. He plays anything and it sounds heavenly. That album introduced me to that touch of European-classical-Spanish-jazz sophistication. And the acoustic band playing with Katia Labeque, incredible. That album, with incredible melodies with lightning speed, beautiful solos and specifically, the contour of John McLaughlin’s solos, you know, how the notes move up and down like a butterfly on the fretboard, blew me away.
9. Mad Hatter: Chic Corea
Another genius. The album has opera, electronics, jazz; it has grooves that swing. Incredible. I am out of words…
10. Screaming Headless Torsos
I think it was a self-titled album of theirs. Their guitar player, David Fiuczynski, is known as the ‘The Fuse’. He is a mad, left of centre, crazy guitar player. His harmony sense is out of world. He is modern and cutting edge. In the beginning, when you hear him, he might just sound like, ‘what is going on?’ But he has everything. He’s got modernism packed into his fingers with all the harmony and angular stuff. So, I love that.
Post script: I must also mention Christopher Cross’s Ride Like the Wind. This album was amazing... All the great guitar players were on it. Jay Graydon, Larry Carlton, Eric Johnson and of course Christopher Cross played great guitar himself.
Sonia Teresa Saigal Jazz singer
1. Albums of Anne Murray, Carpenters
My mother, Jenny, is a singer. She used to play in Polynesia Grand Hotel back in the day. These albums were played at home in Calcutta, I remember. I must have been 4 years old. That’s what makes me listen so intently to melody. For, it’s very important for music to be melodic and have great lyrics. I always look for that connect. No one I have heard since sounds anything like either Anne Murray or Karen Carpenter.
2. Blood Sweat and Tears Live in Concert
My father, singer Don Saigal, influenced me a lot with his music. He used to perform at Blue Fox on Park Street. I remember my dad singing these songs before I even got to the age where I could comprehend this music. The music of this album was funky, had a great groove. This was a band far ahead of their time with their arrangements and musicality. David Clayton Thomas, the lead vocalist, blew me away. I thought I had died and went to heaven!
3. Pearl: Janis Joplin
Someone told me once, “you sound a bit like Joplin”. Ha! I hadn’t even heard her then. So, I found myself an album of hers and it was great. I was really young and had just started singing professionally. So, I had to listen to a song I got requests for a lot, Me and Bobby McGee. I didn’t quite take to the song, although I ended up singing it. But I was sold to everything else on the album, especially Get It While You Can.
4. Songs in the Key of Life: Stevie Wonder
My dad’s influence is here again. His song for me, as a child growing up and till today, is Isn't She Lovely. The number of people who have come up to me and told me they've heard him sing this for me isn’t funny. Stevie is Stevie. There is really no one like him. He is so unique. His music has influenced a lot of vocalists.
5. Rapture: Anita Baker
My stepmother’s influence is here: Ms Pam Crain, the Diva of Calcutta and the most original jazz vocalist that India has ever produced. She introduced me to all the great singers. In a way, she moulded the definition of my musicality for which I will always be grateful because I never realised that she had done this till much later in life when I decided to sing jazz and realized I actually could! She’d be laughing right now to hear me say that.
6. Blueprint of A Lady (Sketches of Billie Holiday): Nnenna Freelon
This and most of her albums made me understand there is more to jazz vocals then just scat for improv. You have to understand what that meant to me. It meant I could do much more with my lyrics, like, rhythmic phrasing, and that made me so happy… because honestly, I thought I sucked at scat. Ha ha! My stepmother was the queen of it and that was her Betty Carter influence.
7. Meet Betty Carter and Ray Bryant
Betty was my stepmother’s idol. She had even met and spent the day with when her when she came to India. How lucky is that. What a vocalist. What standards.
8. Flirting With Twilight: Kurt Elling
I was hooked to Kurt. What a vocalist. So much style, so much class, so much technique, so much everything. I was dumbstruck and very much in adoration. There was just so much to take in. It was a time when I was thoroughly swept away and drunk on jazz.
9. Carmen Sings Monk: Carmen McRae
I love her. She is the one who I tap into every time I sing a standard, especially a ballad. And I fervently wish for her guidance on stage, albeit spiritually.
10. A Beautiful Friendship (Remembering Shirely Horn): Mark Murphy
I fell in love this time. What a vocalist. He takes me through all my emotions in just one line, the first line. The freedom with which he sings in such raw abandon. These are my favourite albums of his. They are one as they flow seamlessly.
Post script: I am always learning, aspiring to be the song and not the singer. I love more than one album of each of the artists I’ve mentioned. For instance, Stevie Wonder’s In a Square Circle and Natural Wonder deserve mention (I love the song Stranger on the Shore of Love), as do Anita Baker’s Compositions, Nnenna Freelon’s Maiden Voyage and Tails Of Wonder, Kurt Elling’s The Messenger, Betty Carter’s Duets: Live At The Great American Music Hall (with Carmen McRae), Mark Murphy’s Love Is What Stays and The Latin Porter, and Betty Carter’s Jazz Aint Nothing But Soul.
Jivraj Singh Musician, visual artist, one half of Parekh & Singh
1. A Kind of Blue: Miles Davis
The album I have listened to the most, an endless mine of enjoyment and inspiration.
2. A Love Supreme: John Coltrane
Another album recommended by wise elders everywhere, so I am paying a lot of attention to it in the hope of learning something beyond just the music of it.
3. Unaccompanied Cello Suites: JS Bach (performed by Yo Yo Ma)
To set a meditative mood in my home while starting the day, and also to practice drums.
4. To Pimp a Butterfly: Kendrick Lamar
A truly artistic project which is also relatable, stylistically diverse and extremely catchy.
5. Neighborhoods: Memories of Times Past Ernest Hood
To teleport back to an odd, slightly rustic childhood (like an American sonic environment for the William series of books - which I love).
6. All Night Long (Live): Allan Holdsworth
Delicious phrasing and synchronicity by everyone.
7. New Energy: Four Tet & Syro: Aphex Twin
I couldn't leave out either of these albums because they both make for great night driving music
8. Bedrock 3: Uri Caine
Cool harmony, skilful musicianship and inventive textures, set in a surreal and humorous world.
9. Two Against Nature: Steely Dan
Refreshing, moody and dreamy; somehow inseparable in my mind from the feeling of being in Los Angeles even though I hadn't visited when I first heard this album.
10. The Spirit Music Live at New Morning (Paris): Meshell Ndegeocello
You can find this concert on YouTube. The band is incredible, performing all kinds of inventions around Meshell's relentlessly funky bass core.
Babi Mitra Curates India Rocks on FB; music evangelist, formerly for a chain of music stores
1. Sticky Fingers: Rolling Stone
Being a hardcore Stones fan, I find it difficult to choose among their albums. Will go with Sticky Fingers though. It is an album that I’ve been listening to since I was a kid. From the opening riffs of Brown Sugar to Mick Taylor’s brilliant solo on Can You Hear Me Knocking, to Billy Preston’s keyboards on I Got the Blues… And then we have Wild Horses, Sister Morphine, Dead Flowers thrown in. Simply awesome. And not to mention Andy Warhol’s sleeve design.
2. When the Eagle Flies: Traffic
Another difficult one to choose. A classmate had recorded this album for me. And this was the last album before Traffic broke up in the ’70s. It has great songs like Dream Gerard, Walking in the Wind, When the Eagle Flies and the semi-autobiographical Memories of a Rock n’ Rolla.
3. Ladies of the Canyon: Joni Mitchell
A beautiful album from start to finish. Once again a difficult choice as I have many Joni Mitchell favourites. All tracks in the album are great. To name a few For Free, Rainy Night House, Willy, Big Yellow Taxi, The Circle Game and of course Woodstock.
4. Pink Moon: Nick Drake
This one is Nick Drake’s last album. It has only acoustic guitars and bits of piano. Sad, depressing, raw; but at the same time, beautiful from beginning to end.
5. Goodbye and Hello: Tim Buckley
I like many of his albums, especially his first, Happy Sad & Blue Afternoon. But, in the end, Goodbye and Hello is the album for me. Side 1 has Pleasant Street, Hallucinations, I Never Asked To be Your Mountain. Side 2 has Once I Was, Phantasamagoria in Two and the beautiful Morning Glory just to name a few. What a treat.
6. Blues for Allah: Grateful Dead
My first Dead album, and a proud moment to have it at the age of 13/14. From the first track, Help on the Way, to Franklins Tower to The Music Never Stopped on Side 1, I love them all. Side 2 starts with the beautiful Crazy Fingers and the journey ends with Blues for Allah. What an amazing trip.
7. Surrealistic Pillow: Jefferson Airplane
I must admit that we used to fight for the cover. Apart from the known classics like Somebody to Love and White Rabbit, this album has some beautiful and haunting tunes like, Coming Back to Me, How Do You Feel, My Best Friend and the wonderful instrumental Embryonic Journey.
8. It’s a Beautiful Day
One of my favourite psychedelic albums. The opening track of their first self-titled album is the classic, White Bird, which moves on to Hot Summers Day. Side 1 ends with Girl With No Eyes. The riff of Bombay Calling inspired Deep Purple’s Child in Time. One of the first rock bands to have the violin as a lead instrument. The bonus? Well, the beautiful album cover of course.
9. Forever Changes Love
Considered to be one of the lost masterpieces of rock, there’s really nothing more to say about this album. Just listen to it from start to finish. It’s a classic, and one of Robert Plant’s favourite bands.
10. High Again High
I have to include this one. I owe everything to them. My introduction to the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, Coloseum, Mountain… the list is endless. I love their originals. Although the recording on this album isn’t great (some songs were remastered from recordings on cassette tapes), but the music is amazing. Politician, A Time to Get High, It’s Been a Long Time, Shambhu and yes, Monkey Song. Great tracks all.
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