song of the day #2 – “Relax” | FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD | 1984 / 1985.

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On June 15, 2014, Casey Kasem, host of the longtime countdown program, AMERICAN TOP 40, passed away at the age of 82.  From my first blog post (and prolly some more inbetween then and now), I explained how, in 1979, I was a geeky, lanky and somewhat lost 12-year-old living in Central Maine, had a few friends and not a lot of interest in much of anything, but at some point early that year, I discovered AMERICAN TOP 40, and was glued to it every weekend.  Not only could I hear the 40 biggest songs in the country every week, but also Casey’s cool trivia and facts about the songs and the artists, a trait I treasure to this day.  For me, the show was No. 1 with a bullet.  And still is (thanks to the re-airing of broadcasts of AT40 on iHeart Radio).american-top-40-casey-kasem

In honor of my radio hero, Casey Kasem, for the entire month of June (and now through July), I will be highlighting a song each day (some days will have two songs!) that peaked in the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 (including five (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s), and with every blog post, just like on AMERICAN TOP 40, the hits will get bigger with each post.  On June 1, 2017, I featured a song that peaked at No. 40.  Sometime here in July, I’ll feature a “song of the day” that went all the way to No. 1. 

HOORAY!  We’ve finally reached the Top 10!  Woo-hoo!  When Casey Kasem got to this point of an American Top 40 countdown, he would usually say, “We’re headed into the home stretch now!  And on we go!”

Wow, in my research for this series, no chart position so far has had nearly 90 songs reach a certain position between 1979 and 1989…until now.  Nearly 90 songs set up camp at the No. 10 position during that time, some stays as short as one week (like “Borderline” by Madonna, “Hysteria” by Def Leppard and “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough” by Cyndi Lauper), or as many as six weeks (“Muscles” by Diana Ross). 

borderline

There were only about a baker’s dozen and a half of women who peaked at No. 10 during that time, like Kim Carnes, Pat Benatar, (real) one-hit wonder Regina (with the Madonna-inspired “Baby Love”), Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac, Cher, Donna Summer, Exposé, and the aforementioned Madonna and Diana Ross (the latter of which reached No. 10 twice).

It was pretty much a boys club for the rest of the songs that reached No. 10 on the Hot 100 between 1979 and 1989, including songs by David Bowie, Culture Club, Pet Shop Boys, Asia, Wham!, Steely Dan, ELO, Golden Earring, Prince, Phil Collins, Duran Duran and Stevie Wonder, and for some, one No. 10 song wasn’t enough.  The Police had two No. 10 hits, Heart had two, plus the Little River Band had three, as did Michael Jackson and Billy Joel.  And Kool & The Gang had four No. 10 hits – “Get Down On It,” “Misled,” “Stone Love” and “Victory.”

get down on it

For me, though, there was one No. 10 hit that stuck out more than any other.  And, as a singles chart nerd, it’s a big one.  It’s also what I call a “second-chance single,” and that historic single is “Relax” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

Formed in Liverpool, England in 1980, Frankie Goes To Hollywood was a five-man  New Wave / Dance-Pop band who was a thorn in the BBC’s side (the British Broadcasting Corporation, that is) in 1984, with their debut single, “Relax.”  I’ll come back to that. 

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Producer and ZTT Records co-founder, Trevor Horn, saw Frankie Goes To Hollywood perform on a television show called THE TUBE, when an early version of “Relax” was played.  He thought it was “more a jingle than a song,” and he wanted to “fix it up” in his own way. 

Another co-founder of ZTT, Paul Morley, had a great campaign lined up for Frankie Goes To Hollywood: “a strategic assault on pop.”  This was a brilliant marketing move.  His plan was to also tackle certain a trilogy of themes in the band’s single releases – sex, war, and religion.  “Relax” was first, followed by “Two Tribes” (about the Cold War), and “The Power Of Love” (a video which features the birth of Christ).

Trevor Horn and especially Paul Morley were really going for the shock value when it came to Frankie Goes To Hollywood.  They released a series of provocative advertisements introducing Frankie to the U.K., and one advertisement even said, “Frankie Goes To Hollywood are coming…making Duran Duran lick the shit off their shoes…”  Wow. 

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One of several provocative ads ZTT released for Frankie Goes To Hollywood and “Relax.”

When “Relax” finally reached the U.K. singles chart in November 1983, it wasn’t really a big deal.  But, when Frankie performed “Relax” on the BBC flagship television show, TOP OF THE POPS, people went nuts.  The following week, it soared to No. 6 on the U.K. singles chart. 

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Frankie’s performance of “Relax” on Top Of The Pops.

About a week later, BBC Radio 1 DJ Mike Read expressed his offense towards the cover art for “Relax” and especially these lyrics – “Relax, don’t do it / When you want to suck it, do it / Relax, don’t do it / When you want to come…”, and he announced his refusal to play the record.  Unbeknownst to him at the time, the BBC had already decided it couldn’t be played on the BBC anyway. 

relax UK

A couple of days later, the BBC officially banned the single from its airwaves, though radio heroes – like the brilliant John Peel – continued to play it throughout 1984.  Don’t people know when you ban a record, it only increases its popularity?!  And that’s what happened with “Relax.”  It reached No. 1 by late January 1984 and stayed on top for 5 weeks.  Apart from “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid, it was the biggest-selling single of the year in the U.K.

Since the BBC ban also applied to TOP OF THE POPS, which, like SOLID GOLD here in the U.S., did a countdown of the country’s biggest hits during the show.  When “Relax” was No. 1, all they did was put up a picture of the band during its big No. 1 announcement.  For five weeks.  Boo.

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If “Relax” going to No. 1 didn’t piss off the BBC enough, “Relax” took its time falling down the U.K. singles chart.  And by the time the Cold War Classic “Two Tribes” had started its nine-week run at No. 1 in June 1984, “Relax” was right back behind it at No. 2.  Hot damn.

“Relax” remained on the U.K. Top 75 singles chart for 48 consecutive weeks, and returned in February 1985 for another four, giving “Relax” an entire calendar year on the U.K. singles chart.  Pretty impressive.  The BBC ban on “Relax” proved to be a huge embarrassment, and eventually the ban was lifted sometime during 1984, but the damage was done, and Frankie and ZTT prevailed. 

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Speaking of embarrassments, I was sometimes embarrassed about how the U.S. didn’t pick up on some huge U.K. singles, and they didn’t do much here, if they were released at all.  Back in the early 00s, on my STUCK IN THE 80s radio show, I did a show called U.K. 1, U.S. O, highlighting songs that reached No. 1 in the U.K. but did nothing here.  Featured on the show were “Ashes To Ashes” by David Bowie, “Pipes Of Peace” by Paul McCartney (relegated to a B-side here), and songs by The Jam and The Flying Pickets, among others.  I think “Two Tribes” was also on the playlist.

Well, “Relax” eventually made its way to American shores and debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 early April 1984 at No. 84.  And, similar to the initial U.K. release, it received little fanfare here, maybe because radio stations had heard all about the song’s controversy in the U.K. and thought it was too obscene to play.  Irregardless, it spent a week at No. 67 in early May 1984, and fell off the chart after just seven weeks.

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My original copy of the “Relax” 12″ single, purchased in July 1984, many months before it became a big hit here in America.

Somewhere along the line, I caught wind of “Relax,” and in a rare move, bought the 12” single (sans fancy cover art) in July 1984 BEFORE it was a radio hit here in America.  And I loved it from the start, and kept wondering, “Why exactly wasn’t this a huge hit here?”

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In late October 1984, just nine days before the release of the band’s brilliant double-album debut, WELCOME TO THE PLEASUREDOME, “Two Tribes” debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 at No. 79, on its way to a respectable No. 43 peak in mid-December 1984.  I will forever credit “Two Tribes” as the song that re-ignited interest in “Relax” here in America.

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And “Two Tribes” was still on the chart in mid-January 1985 when “Relax” made its re-entry onto the Hot 100.  In only its third week back, “Relax” debuted in the Top 40, and rose to No. 10 for a quick two weeks in March 1985.  It fell out of the Hot 100 by mid-May 1985 after a combined total of 23 weeks on the chart. 

Outside of North America between 1983 and 1985, “Relax” was one of the biggest hits of the decade.  It reached No. 1 in the aforementioned U.K., plus Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Thailand, and the Top 10 in at least 11 other countries.

“Relax” has been featured in a ton of films and TV shows for more than 30 years, including POLICE ACADEMY, BODY DOUBLE, MIAMI VICE, GOTCHA!, ROCK STAR, ZOOLANDER and ZOOLANDER 2, THE PROPOSAL, CALIFORNICATION, and 2017’s T2 TRAINSPOTTING.

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A number of covers of “Relax” have been released over the years as well, including “Weird Al” Yankovic, Richard Cheese, The Dandy Warhols, Germany’s Tech-Death Metal band Atrocity, and most recently, a brilliant cover by Blondie from their incredible 2014 album, GHOSTS OF DOWNLOAD, which includes a clever sample of the original within their cover.  I love it when artists do that.

In 1987, Frankie Goes To Hollywood ended up disbanding after just seven singles and two albums (though, somehow they manage to have 11 compilation albums), but honestly, it sure wouldn’t have been the 80s without them…

frankie says relax

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCp2h5jslKY

FGTH

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song of the day – “What’s Going On” | CYNDI LAUPER | 1987.

casey-kasem-at40-abc-billboard-650

On June 15, 2014, Casey Kasem, host of the longtime countdown program, AMERICAN TOP 40, passed away at the age of 82.  From my first blog post (and prolly some more inbetween then and now), I explained how, in 1979, I was a geeky, lanky and somewhat lost 12-year-old living in Central Maine, had a few friends and not a lot of interest in much of anything, but at some point early that year, I discovered AMERICAN TOP 40, and was glued to it every weekend.  Not only could I hear the 40 biggest songs in the country every week, but also Casey’s cool trivia and facts about the songs and the artists, a trait I treasure to this day.  For me, the show was No. 1 with a bullet.  And still is (thanks to the re-airing of broadcasts of AT40 on iHeart Radio).american-top-40-casey-kasem

In honor of my radio hero, Casey Kasem, for the entire month of June (and now through July), I will be highlighting a song each day (some days will have two songs!) that peaked in the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 (including five (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s), and with every blog post, just like on AMERICAN TOP 40, the hits will get bigger with each post.  On June 1, 2017, I featured a song that peaked at No. 40.  Sometime here in July, I’ll feature a “song of the day” that went all the way to No. 1. 

As Casey used to say on AT40, “And on we go!”

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On Friday, July 14, 2017, I will be seeing my favorite recording artist, the incomparable Cyndi Lauper, perform here in Maine, and it’ll be my fourth time seeing her perform (for the time I got to interview her and meet her in July 2002,  I didn’t actually get to see her perform due to a transportation snafu, which would have been the first time I would have seen Cyndi perform).  She will be performing on the same bill as Rod Stewart, who, to my knowledge (the brain’s a bit fuzzy on this) is someone I have not seen perform live before.  I can’t wait.

true colors world tourAnd, if my fuzzy brain is again correct, I believe this is the first time Cyndi has performed in the Pine Tree State since her TRUE COLORS world tour brought her to the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine in December 1986 (sadly, I was sick and couldn’t go; I would have been there in a heartbeat).  I tried to get Cyndi to come back earlier than now (I mentioned it to her in my 2002 interview with her), but she’s been busy and then some.  Still, it’ll be wonderful to see her perform again, and it’ll be my third time since 2013.  My goal is to see her every year she’s performing from here on out.

Since Cyndi will be opening for Rod Stewart on this short tour, I’m betting her gorgeous cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” (from the TRUE COLORS album) won’t be on the setlist.  But a hopelessly devoted Cyndi Lauper fan can hope, right?

“What’s Going On” was one of nearly 70 songs that reached No. 12 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 between 1979 and 1989, and covers were a theme, apparently, for the No. 12 position.  There were also No. 12 covers by Daryl Hall & John Oates (“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”), The Fat Boys & The Beach Boys (“Wipeout”), Carole King (“One Fine Day,” a song she actually wrote, but was a hit three times before her version charted), Van Halen (“Oh Pretty Woman”), The Nylons (“Kiss Him Goodbye”), David Lee Roth (“Just A Gigolo / I Ain’t Got Nobody”), Anne Murray (“Daydream Believer”), plus one parody (“Eat It” by “Weird Al” Yankovic, parodying Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”), and two medleys (though not covers) by The Beach Boys and The Beatles (I think you can thank Stars On 45’s 1981 No. 1 hit, “Medley” – which WERE covers – for that).

marvin what's going on

Released as the third single from Cyndi’s wonderful 1986 album, TRUE COLORS, “What’s Going On” was a cover of the No. 2 Marvin Gaye hit from 1971, written during the heart of the Vietnam War.  Its personal and poignant lyrics (which could have been written today) resonated with the people of a generation, and it’s been hailed as one of the greatest songs of all-time.  In 1995, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame included it in its list of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock, and in 2010, ROLLING STONE ranked it at No. 4 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time.

Cyndi’s spirited version of “What’s Going On” entered the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in mid-March 1987 as the “Hot Shot Debut” of that week, coming in at No. 63.  The second single released from TRUE COLORS, the No. 3 hit “Change Of Heart” (with The Bangles on backing vocals), was just ahead of it at No. 58.

true colors

“What’s Going On” blasted into the Top 40 the following week, winning the airplay award for that week.  It won the sales award on the Hot 100 two weeks later, and looked like another Top 10 hit for Cyndi.  But, for whatever reason, the sales and the airplay slowed, and “What’s Going On” spent a week at its peak position of No. 12 in early May 1987, and was gone from the Hot 100 by mid-June.

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From the “What’s Going On” video.

Around the globe, “What’s Going On” also reached the Top 40 in Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand, and two excellent dance remixes by Shep Pettibone helped land the 12” single of “What’s Going On” at No. 17 on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart.  The energetic and passionate video for “What’s Going On” was also nominated for an MTV Video Music Award for Best Cinematography In A Video.

Cyndi’s done a ton of incredible covers during her career, covering many genres, starting with her stint in Blue Angel to covers on SHE’S SO UNUSUAL to last year’s extraordinary Country covers album, DETOUR, and her songs, especially 1984’s “Time After Time,” have been covered many, many times.  But her cover of “What’s Going On” has always stood out to me, despite what it did or did not do on the Pop charts.      

Today, when I listen to Cyndi’s version of “What’s Going On,” I see the same thing Marvin Gaye saw when he co-wrote the song all those years ago – war, police brutality, injustice, and an aching lack of peace.  All of that shit is still happening today, but now includes events such as attacks on night clubs and concerts, attacking and killing people who just want to be free, and free to have a good time and be who they are.  What’s going on?! 

I wouldn’t even want to research how many people have been shot by police in the last several years (that didn’t need to be) and the cops got away with it.  Prince hit upon this in his brilliant 2015 song, “Baltimore,” talking about the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray (“If there ain’t no justice, then there ain’t no peace!”).  (All six officers involved in the Freddie Gray death – including one Sergeant and one Lieutenant – were acquitted and all charges dropped.)  What’s going on?!

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The cover art for the 2015 benefit concert Prince put on in Baltimore.

I try to maintain a sense of it all, but most times I can’t.  We have the elected “leader” in Washington, D.C., trying to get answers out of Russia over the 2016 election and trying to have North Korea not launch any nuclear missiles, which is all fine and good (I don’t want a World War III), except for the fact that more than half of the country didn’t vote for this man, and who don’t believe in him.  #MyFakePresident would rather ban beloved Maine author Stephen King from tweeting to him than to be presidential.  What’s going on?!

Well, for now, when I can, I take comfort in things that make me happy and help me forget (albeit temporarily) that there’s all this other unnecessary bullshit going on in the world, like going to the ocean, seeing a movie, spending time with awesome people (you know who you are), and seeing a concert, which I will do when I see the lovely Cyndi Lauper (and Rod Stewart) on Friday, July 14, 2017 here in Maine.  I’d take you all there if I could.

You have to do everything in your power to do the things that make you happy and make you feel at peace – not just with everything in the world, but mostly with yourself – as much as you possibly can, to forget everything else going on, at the very least for a little while. 

And, if for some reason, you don’t think you can get to that point (or at least try to) where you do things – even little things that don’t cost much money or time – that make you happy or make you feel at peace, what’s going on?

peace love understanding 80s

Peace, Love, Understanding, 80s.  Works for me!  How about you?

“You see, war is not the answer / For only love can conquer hate / You know we’ve got to find a way / To bring some lovin’ here today…”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdXklYUJCxI

what's going on

song of the day – “My Sharona” | THE KNACK | 1979.

After last week’s Presidential “election” here in America, there’s an effort on the Interweb to “break the internet with love.”  So, the best way I can help with that via this blog is to highlight (as “songs of the day”) some gems from 1979 through 1989 that are universally loved, if I haven’t highlighted them already. 

donna-summer-1979As I’ve stated here before, 1979 was the year I really started getting into music.  1979 was also the last big year for Disco music.  Seven out of the Top 10 singles on BILLBOARD’s year-end chart for 1979 were all huge Disco hits, including two songs by the late, great Queen of Disco, Donna Summer (who had also placed songs at No. 12 and No. 39 for the year.  Impressive.). 

As for the rest of the BILLBOARD Top 10 singles for 1979 and the last big year for Disco, two songs were ballads, and the song that actually finished the year at No. 1 was a straight-ahead Rock song by a new Power Pop / Rock band out of Los Angeles – “My Sharona” by The Knack.

“My Sharona” – which would not only become the biggest song of 1979, but was also the No. 1 Song of Summer song as well.  It was pretty fitting, then, that it made its debut on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in the first week of Summer (coming in at No. 86).  Within a month, it reached the Top 40, and once it reached the Top 40, it took right off, reaching No. 1 the last week of August 1979, and staying on top for six consecutive weeks, departing No. 1, appropriately enough, after Summer ended.

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This record was so hot, it was Capitol Records’ fastest debut single to be certified Gold since The Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand” 15 years before.  Not bad for a song that singer / rhythm guitarist / co-writer Doug Fieger claimed was written in just 15 minutes.

There were many comparisons between The Beatles and The Knack.  Both acts appeared on Capitol Records, both had four male members, and even the band’s debut album, GET THE KNACK, was modeled after The Beatles’ debut album, MEET THE BEATLES.  GET THE KNACK spent five weeks at No. 1 on the BILLBOARD Album chart, and was certified Gold in just 13 days.  It was Capitol’s fastest-selling album since – you guessed it – MEET THE BEATLES!

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The Knack prolly felt like The Beatles for awhile, as the appeal of “My Sharona” was worldwide.  It reached No. 1 in Australia (five weeks), Canada and Italy (two weeks), and the Top 10 in the U.K., France, New Zealand and Switzerland, and the Top 20 in Austria, Belgium, Germany and Holland.

my-bolognaOver the years, it’s been the covered, sampled, has inspired (yes, Devo’s “Girl U Want” was actually inspired by “My Sharona”), and parodied, most notably on “My Bologna,” the 1979 novelty hit that jump-started “Weird Al” Yankovic’s huge and lengthy parody career.  The Knack apparently gave “Weird Al” their blessing for the parody and even got “Weird Al” a temporary deal with Capitol.

In 1980, on the Dead Kennedys song, “Pull My Strings,” they used the guitar riff of “My Sharona” and changed the lyric to “My Payola” making fun of the music industry in the process.

On their 1986 hit, “It’s Tricky,” Run-D.M.C. used a sample of “My Sharona” that was not authorized by The Knack.  Not sure why it took Doug Fieger and the other co-writer of “My Sharona,” lead guitarist Berton Averre, 20 years to file a lawsuit against Run-D.M.C. (as well as Yahoo, Amazon and Apple for electronic distribution of the song), but regardless, the case was settled out of court in 2009.

Apart from parodies, samples and covers, the legacy of “My Sharona” remains strong.  In 1994, a slightly updated version of “My Sharona” appeared in one of my favorite films, the excellent Ben Stiller film, REALITY BITES, and even re-appeared on the BILLBOARD Hot 100, spending four weeks on the chart, stopping at No. 91.

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Convenience store-dancing to “My Sharona” (save for Ethan Hawke, left) in REALITY BITES.

On BILLBOARD’s most-recent list of the Greatest of All Time Hot 100 songs, “My Sharona” ranks at No. 90.  It’s been featured in several other films as well, like CHARLIE’S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE, Richard Linklater’s EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! (from earlier this year), and in the awesome Steven Spielberg / J.J. Abrams film collaboration, SUPER 8.  That film that was set in 1979, and the main characters were all 12 years old, which was something I could relate to, because I, too, was 12 in 1979.  I thought the film was a lot of fun and still do.

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For the second half of 1979, The Knack had an amazing run, and was prolly having amazing fun.  But, as it sometimes happens with bands and artists who hit it big with their first single, the fun didn’t last.  If you look at The Knack’s list of  BILLBOARD Hot 100 hits, it’s interesting to note that every single that reached the survey charted lower than the single before. 

The kick-ass and naughty “My Sharona” follow-up, “Good Girls Don’t,” stopped at No. 11, 1980’s “Baby Talks Dirty” reached No. 38 and “Can’t Put A Price On Love” reached No. 62.  1981’s “Pay The Devil (Ooo, Baby, Ooo)” peaked at No. 67 and the 1994 version of “My Sharona” hit No. 91.

The Knack broke up in 1982, but got back together a number of times throughout the years, including an appearance on the 2005 NBC show, HIT ME BABY ONE MORE TIME (Wang Chung also appeared on that show). 

Sadly, Doug Fieger and original Knack drummer Bruce Gary have since passed away, but their music lives on, especially with “My Sharona,” a song that’s one of those rare songs (at least to me) that could be equally considered both a 70s song and an 80s song.

“My Sharona” is also a song I will always consider as a part of my elite group of “Desert Island Discs,” for many reasons, but mostly because I still effing dig it.  If it pops up on my iPod, I won’t ever skip over it, and if anything, I’ll pump up the volume on that bleepin’ rockin’ gem…  Every time…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1T71PGd-J0

#BreakTheInternetWithLove

#LoveWillAlwaysTrumpHate

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