His hits included "You Needed Me" and "Bluer Than Blue" when Steve Perry called him to work on his first solo album.
Randy Goodrum: Well, "Oh Sherrie" was the last song that I wrote with Steve and the two other writers that are on it, Bill Cuomo and Craig Krampf, for the Street Talk album. Out of the blue Steve called me when I was living in Connecticut, and asked me to write with him for an upcoming record. I think he was a real fan of "Bluer Than Blue" and "You Needed Me," and some stuff I'd done before that. That whole album was a surprise, as if you were to walk down the street and see a $20 bill blow by.
First of all, I thought maybe he'd made a mistake asking me to write with him, because maybe he was thinking of Randy Goodrich or something. Why would a rocker want to write with a guy who writes the kind of songs I've had hits with, which were mostly poignant ballads. But anyway, the first song that we wrote was "Foolish Heart" when we got together to co-write, and I actually co-wrote quite a number of songs on that record just with Steve. As he was assembling all the songs for the album, he had one song that he had written with Craig Krampf and Bill Cuomo. It needed lyrics, and it was getting down to the wire where he needed to get that finished, because that kind of song needed to be on the record. And so by that time I had been working in Studio City with him off and on for several weeks, flying back and forth. And I'd gotten to know him and Sherrie, not really well, but I had a general idea of what they were like as people.
I sensed a certain amount of drama in their relationship, to put it mildly. I like to find a premise and go with that, rather than a hook. And as long as I know what the point of the song, or the mission of the song is, then the lyrics usually just fall into place. So I focused in on that, it was me saying, "Here is a relationship the way I perceive it between two people." And when Steve gave me a scratch tape that had him singing what I call a "la-la" track, which is when the singer just sort of sings nonsense, and non-words, I listened to his vocals, and listened to some of the vowels that sounded good on high notes, and some of the ones that sounded good in the middle. That's another little trade secret that I do when I get a scratch vocal. And I fashioned the lyrics around their relationship. And then, of course, I took it back to Steve, and showed him what I'd done. We made changes and tweaks here and there, and it ended up being the basic lyrics for "Oh Sherrie."
Songfacts: At what point did the song become called "Oh Sherrie"?
Goodrum: Oh, from the minute I brought in the lyrics.
Songfacts: And how did you guys come up with the intro to that song?
Goodrum: Bill Cuomo did that. The way I understand it, he sequenced that on a multi-tumbrel sequencer, plugged it into the console and recorded it. And there it was. It was programmed and used as the intro and the ending.
Songfacts: And you guys did "Foolish Heart" as well.
Songfacts: Tell me how you guys managed to craft that song.
Goodrum: That's a very good question. When I was flying out from Connecticut to California to meet Steve, I really was struggling with a couple of things. First of all, it seemed like such an unlikely match, Steve and me. Shortly before I flew out, I thought, I've got to put together some song ideas or some starts or something. I had this little vamp idea which I said, "well, Steve is calling me probably because he wants a certain thing that I do, so I will give him a piece of what I do."
So that little vamp at the very beginning in the general chord progression of the verse was something I brought. He had a little writing room set up and he had this Fender-Rhodes there, and a little Linn machine, and a little Teac 4-track cassette player. I drove up to the house in this little mid-size rental, and I looked like some guy from Connecticut - I had an English riding cap, and corduroy pants - and he opens the door, and he's got a fire-engine red jumpsuit, sweat shirt and pants like he'd been exercising at a fire station or something. And hair down to his feet. He was a great guy. Instantly we hit it off, and we were good friends.
So we went into the room to kind of kick around, and I played him that little start, and he liked it right away, and he started jamming some melodies. My style from starting out in Nashville was to write lyrics and music simultaneously. That's really the style I prefer, because the music is sort of telling you what it's about from the get-go, and I don't think he was used to that style, because we started about 11 in the morning, and about 11 that night we had the song done and demoed. I think he was pretty exhausted from it, and I was pretty tired, too. We ended up writing four songs, I wrote four days with him, and each day we wrote a totally different kind of song. And all four of them ended up on the record.
But the interesting thing is that the little demo we did on the 4-track was so good, it had such a magic in it, that I was afraid it would be difficult to beat it in the studio. But of course it was totally unacceptable being on a 4-track cassette player. When we went into studio to record it with a band, we cut two or three tracks, and the tracks were really good, but they just didn't have the vibe of the demo. And we were kicking ourselves because we knew there was something about that little demo. So we went back and listened to it, and we realized, well, let's get that same electric piano. So we got the same sort of beat up electric piano that we had borrowed from a friend. And we got that Linn drum, the same one that we used when we did the 4-track. And they even had the same program in it that they did when we wrote the song. You know, with all the little drum fills and stuff.
We put that down, and then I replayed the piano, and we got Bob Glaub to play bass, and Michael Landau and everybody. And there it was. We just needed to have that little magic sort of whimsical dreamy loop that the Linn drum was doing, just sort of pulsate and create that vibe for "Foolish Heart." That was a really good moment. And I'm glad that Bruce Botnick (the album's executive producer) and Steve had the open-mindedness to go outside the lines and try that.
Songfacts: And where do the lyrics come from on a song like that?
Goodrum: It's a premise. I try to synthesize a person or a character, and try to empathize, or become that person. I don't really relate to that personally in my life. I mean, "Bluer Than Blue," when I wrote that I'd never been left by anybody. I sort of method act as a songwriter, or if somebody I'm writing with has got issues or some problem, I'll try to be an emotional vampire and just drink it in. It wasn't until years later that I learned about method actors, that that's sort of what they do. Some actors can act based on their own life, but then if you're becoming a character that you've never been you've got to become it somehow. So you create an identity and try to become that person for a while.
Songfacts: It's hard to listen to "Bluer Than Blue" and think that you could come up with that without having something like that happen to you at some point.
Goodrum: Well, here's a way to imagine it. You know when you were a kid, and you'd go to a movie, and you'd see some guy, some hero or something, like if you saw The Great Escape with Steve McQueen, or saw Paul Newman in The Hustler. For 15 or 20 minutes after you left the theatre, you kind of felt like that guy. You know, "Yeah, I could do that. I can go learn pool." So you feel a piece of that character that you've taken on, whether you know it or not, and you can develop that. And you know you've really done it well when you're just emotionally drained at the end of the experience, because you've really reached in and you've transferred some emotion from another part of yourself, and put a different set of clothes on it. Still drawing from your emotional gas tank, but you've just got a different face on it.
Songfacts: On "If She Would Have Been Faithful...," why is there an ellipsis at the end of that title?
Goodrum: Well, the truth be known, Steve Kipner and I wanted to call the song "Paradox." And David Foster insisted we call it "If She Would Have Been Faithful." So we did. It was not gonna go on the record, so we said what the heck. A lot of publishers take that same line of thought. I mean, his reasoning was sound, because you want to have something that you imagine somebody walking in a record store, and they say, "Do you have that song, 'If She Would Have Been Faithful'?" But if they walked in and said, "Do you have that song 'Paradox'?" they probably would have said, "I have no idea what you're talking about." So that was a publisher call.
Songfacts: Did you come up with the premise for that song?
Goodrum: No. That was a Steve Kipner idea. When we wrote "20/20" for George Benson, that sort of jumped out of the music. Because I walked in, first time I ever met Steve, and went over to his studio and sat down at his little controller he was using. And I played what essentially was the piano part in the chorus of "20/20" and we said, "Hey, that feels good. Let's mess with that."
And then after a while we came up with the premise for that. But when we sat down to write "If She Would Have Been Faithful," I remember that day. He said, "You know, I have an idea about looking through old photographs and thinking, wow, she really did me in. But if she hadn't done me in, I wouldn't have ended up with who I really needed to be with." So once we arrived at the premise, then I was having a happy day, because I will trade one decent premise for 100 hooks. I couldn't care less about a hook. A hook will come. Look at "You Needed Me." "You Needed Me" is hardly a hook. That's probably the sleepiest example of a hook you could ever find in a song.
Songfacts: Yeah. "You Needed Me" could almost just be a poem.
Goodrum: Well, it is what it is. I don't really worry about what structure to use. See, I was a music major, and I studied form and analysis and all that nonsense, and when I started off in clubs I was playing the old standards. I was a jazz player so I could tell right away that there were as many different forms for songs as there were songs. Sometimes they would start off with a chorus, and have a bridge, or sometimes they would have two bridges, and sometimes they would have nothing but verses. So the tools are there to be used, but not to rule you. I've written with so many co-writers who are really bound up by rules. I think they don't want their other songwriting friends to look down on their work or something.
But "You Needed Me" doesn't even have a chorus. It's just verse/bridge/verse. I took a lot of heat on that when I would pitch it early on, people would tell me that. And finally I had to say, "Well, what about 'When Sonny Gets Blue'?" "Oh, well, that's different." I said, "Well, what's different about it? It has no chorus."
Songfacts: "You Needed Me," you wrote that one by yourself, right?
Goodrum: I did.
Songfacts: And can you tell me about that one?
Goodrum: I wrote the melody as sort of a classical-ish feeling piece. I used to write snippets of things and leave them in a pile - my lyric writing developed much later. Music always came easy for me, and so I had tons of musical ideas that I'd written since God knows when. I sat down several times to try to write a lyric to that song, and it just never would hit. Then I was in my music room cleaning up, and I think my wife Gail was in the next room. I sat down at the piano to take a break, and got two or three lines right away. It felt real good, real sincere. So I dashed out most of the lyrics - at least for the verses - right then. When I get a premise, or I really get onto what I'm doing, I can write pretty fast. And I remember showing it to Gail, and she said, "Yeah, that's pretty good." At one point, I got disgusted with it and threw it away. And then I went and got it back and decided, No, I'll get around it. So then I played it for a few people, and my first publisher, Bob Milsap, told me, "You know, you could use a bridge or something in this, or a chorus." So I wrote the bridge rather than a chorus, and after I did that I went and started playing it for people and demoing it for them, and people said, "Oh, this needs a chorus." I said, "Why? It'll be too long." And they said, "Well, every song has a chorus."
It was sort of an unconditional undeserved love. How could you love me as if I'm perfect, when I'm not? It was a disclaimer, sort of, for the other person. How could you need me? It's not exactly the same premise as "I wouldn't belong to a club who'd have me as a member," but it's a small sliver of unconditional love, which to me is a broad piece of pizza that you can take a lot of minute slivers from along the way. I've always thought that songs, even positive songs, needed to have a certain amount of shadow in them for the light to be significant. And I think too many songwriters are afraid to offend the world, and they never write anything dramatic. They never put anything negative. But to me, you can have negative in a song, as long as there's a ray of hope somewhere. Maybe a way out. Not a saccharine, syrupy way out. It's like in a movie where you see somebody locked in a cave, and suddenly they see a rock fall away and they see a little piece of light come in, they say, "Ah, maybe if I work really hard I can get out that way."
Songfacts: How long was the song written before Anne Murray got it?
Goodrum: From the very first time that I wrote the melody, probably 7-8 years.
Songfacts: Oh, wow. Good thing she found it. And what about the Boyzone cover? What do you think about that?
Goodrum: You know, I've gotten to know Ronan Keating, and he said his parents really loved it. (laughs) That's okay. You know, it's very difficult to do that song correctly. It's one of those songs that if you overdo it, then you blow it. A lot of my songs are that way. "Foolish Heart" is that way, "Bluer Than Blue," "Broken Hearted Me." All of my songs of that particular type, if you oversing them, they sound really lounge-y, they sound real American Idol. You have to let the song do the work, and you have to realize that you can knock somebody over with a feather if you let emotion lead the way. You don't have to belt it out like Michael Bolton, in other words. And so even though Ronan is a power singer - he really is, he's got a very powerful voice - I thought he did it very sensitively, with a big production and all that. There have been some covers of "You Needed Me" that I appreciate, but they kind of over-did it.
Songfacts: And you went on to write "All Over Again" for Ronan. Or was that for Ronan?
Goodrum: Yes, I did, I wrote that with Don Mescall, and it wasn't necessarily for Ronan, but that was a great record. That was a very dramatic production, actually, compared to "You Needed Me." That one goes from total soft to just flat-out, and I like those kinds of dynamics. I'm not sure record companies and radio are comfortable with that, they'd rather things be a little more level. But I like real dramatic songs like that, that you just unload the kitchen sink in the chorus. And I loved his concept. He did it as a duet and he used different noted singers from different territories to do the female part. It was very ingenious doing it that way, I felt.
Songfacts: But you didn't write the song as a duet.
Goodrum: No, originally it was not as a duet. But a lot of songs can be converted to duets - it wasn't that hard to do, really.
Goodrum: Well, here's the deal. Being sort of an emotional chameleon as I am, when I was producing Dottie West with Brent Maher, we were trying to fashion some sort of new sound for Dottie. And we had gotten to know Dottie and she was this sassy tongue-in-cheek southern woman with a real character to her voice. She was a good singer, but she had tons of character. So we thought, we've got to give her some meat on the bones here. We've got to go find some songs, and then write the ones we can't find. Find first, and then write second.
You know, I wish all producers would do that. It would be good for the songwriting community as a whole. But we knew we needed that kind of song on the record. And I remember that day that I wrote "A Lesson In Leaving" with Brent. We were in my studio when I lived in Nashville the first time, and we were trying to write this ballad. I got up to go in the kitchen and Brent, while we were writing the ballad, kept doing this sort of mid-tempo funk beat on his legs. He was kind of slapping out a little beat, sort of as a nervous tic, I guess. I went into the kitchen, and I thought, Maybe we should just write that, whatever that is. So I came back and I said, "Do that patting again on your legs." So he started doing it, and I started messing around. I picked up a guitar instead of the piano, to try to break ties with everything we'd been doing that day. And I don't play guitar very much at all. So I started playing it in G. And on a guitar on the low E string, it only goes down to E. So the pattern was… started on G to E. It was (singing), "bum de bum bum bum bum bum… ba da bum bum bum bum." 'Cause it couldn't go down to a D. So that ended up being sort of the bass pattern for "Lesson In Leaving."
And we thought about Dottie, we imagined her standing in the back door with a frying pan in her hand and a wink in the eye, and a tongue in the cheek, and the song just sort of fell onto the page. In about an hour, maybe, we had the whole thing pretty much written. We took that to Dottie and she just flipped out. And that ended up being the core of the sound we were trying to create for her. We did build around it. We did some really nice sort of intelligent ballads for her.
I can speak about this because I grew up in Arkansas around every form of American music at the time, but country was not a bunch of rednecks singing about pickup trucks and beer and stuff like that. It was Southern people doing songs about stuff Southern people were concerned about. And they used that genre of music, but if you were to listen to Patsy Cline or Jim Reeves or Willie Nelson or Dottie or any of those people back then, those songs were not stupid songs, they were very intelligent songs. They just were done in a country style. Once country music started getting really huge and popular, then you had people coming in and doing sort of a caricature of country music. But during that golden period, we were trying to create a sound for Dottie that was not going to be rejected by country music, but also enhance who she really was. So that really was the edge of the universe where we would go with Dottie West at the time. Because it was kind of an R&B-ish feel, but yet it was done from a Southern woman's perspective.
Songfacts: It must have been interesting for you to hear the Jo Dee Messina cover.
Goodrum: I couldn't believe it. She was a huge fan of that song, and sometimes an artist will do that. I didn't pitch that song to her or anything, I just found out she was going to do it. And I'll never forget when I went to a party and I met her, and she drug me over right away to meet Byron Gallimore, the guy who produced it. And Byron says, "I love that song. I really love that bass part." (laughs) And I thought to myself, Boy, if you only knew… It's because a non-bass player wrote it.
Songfacts: (laughing) That's funny. You were talking about before, how Steve Perry called you and you were thinking, Okay, he's gonna want what I do. What is it you do? What do you put on these songs that gives it that little pixie dust?
Goodrum: I just try to resonate with my gut and not just write something that looks good on paper. You know, I spent an awful lot of time writing by myself before I had the hits, so I kind of developed that style. It doesn't mean people are going to like it each time. There have been a lot of things I wrote, they were as sincere as they could be, that didn't get a rise out of anybody. I wasn't trying to write a particular style to take to Steve or somebody, I just wanted something that when I played it I said, "Man, this feels great to me." And if I were going to sit down and try to write something great today, I would use this.
Songfacts: Well, musically, there's gotta be some things that you do. There are certain things that you must be doing when you're creating these songs that makes them so listenable. "I'll Be Over You" is a great example, I think, because that song you can just hear it over and over and over, and there's just something about it that is pleasing.
Goodrum: Well, one of the things you have to do that a lot of the songwriters don't do, is you have to create an environment for the song to grow in, I mean, for the listener to be able to listen to it. First of all, you have to do it at a tempo and you have to write lyrics that can sink in at a certain rate. For instance, "You Needed Me" is a slow song. Anne cut it slow enough, thank God, because the words needed to sink it. You know, the human brain is amazingly fast, it can ruminate on things a lot faster than people think. But you still have to give listeners time to set up, to say, "Okay, I see," and then follow the next thing. If you glance over stuff too fast, real important lines, then you'll never get off the ground.
Some of the songs I wrote with JaR are going at a pretty good clip. But once you set the song up with two or three lines, you've got the listener in a particular gear, and as long as you stay in that gear it's gonna be a comfortable ride for that person. Then you can go up and down emotionally. I'll give you another example: when I wrote the lyrics for "Who's Holding Donna Now" it was slow enough to where I could put in some real meaty stand-alone lines. I like lines that really fit the song, but you can just sit and think about that line for a while if you wanted to, and yet it relates to the next line.
Songfacts: Were you surprised that "I'll Be Over You" became such an enduring hit?
Goodrum: Oh, gosh yes. I'd been writing with Luke - Steve Lukather - for quite a while that point, we'd written maybe eight or nine songs. But never for Toto. He was in Toto, but Luke and I just enjoyed writing together. Luke gave me a melody and I wrote lyrics to it, and he was happy with that, and I said, "You know, if we just write regularly together, I think we're going to find something on down the line that's very unique, and we'll arrive at a style that we can build on from there."
That's always been my experience with co-writers. If you really write with somebody great, and you have the patience, then you know, maybe the first two or three are not going to see the light of day, but somewhere down the road you'll probably stumble on something that's going to put you on the next level. Unfortunately, you write with people usually one or two times, and if you don't have a hit, either they move on or the publisher says, "Ah, forget it," but I've been a very plodding, patient man about that kind of thing.
We were writing "I'll Be Over You," and we got a call that morning from Humberto Gatica, who was in the studio with Julio Iglesias. And of course neither one of us were fans of Julio Iglesias at all. And we could not imagine writing something… we thought we would offend both of our muses and they would never come back. We weren't snobs, it just wasn't us. We said, "Look, we're going to be writing today. We'll keep that in mind." So we sat down and we tried to think of something kind of Julio-ish. Steve was messing around with piano, and I was sitting over there with a note pad, and maybe in a petulant way, just purposely wrote this non-Julio lyric. And right away we started messing with it. I played Luke the lyrics that I had, (singing) "Some people live their dreams..." And he just was floored. And he said, "We gotta stay with this." I said, "Well, you realize we have left Julio land, we are no longer writing a song for Julio." He said, "No, that's okay." So we went on and we wrote what ended up being "I'll Be Over You."
I went ahead and made a demo. I was a big fan of Jeff Porcaro's and all the guys in Toto, so I programmed the drums to sound as if Jeff played them. Luke sang the deal, I finished it up, and we didn't even pitch it. Luke was at David Paich's studio doing rehearsals with Toto at that time, and David Paich and I both had a particular kind of hybrid Yamaha NS10 speaker. It has a different crossover and they had different cabinets, so I wasn't sure how my stuff was sounding studio to studio. So I said, "Do me a favor, take a rough mix here, and on your break can you go into David's, because he's got the same monitors, and tell me how the demo sounds in there?" So then apparently one of the Toto guys, either David or Jeff Porcaro, ran in and said, "Hey, what is that? We need to cut that." And Luke says, "Well, Randy's not in the band." He said, "That's okay. That's all right." He called me back, and I was almost apologetic about it. I said, "Hey, wait a minute, I'm not in the band, you guys don't need outside writers." And then I thought, Well, okay.
Apparently Jeff had the demo in his earphones, and I think he put the drums down listening to the demo, and then they built it around that, which is interesting, because in the demo there are two bars out front of the drum pattern: (singing) "tum tum ta ta ta ta, some people…" And so if he was using that as a count-in there wouldn't be a way to play an intro. So that may be why there's a cold start on the record. Even though I think the cold start is one of the coolest things about the Toto record.
Songfacts: It's interesting how a non-Toto writer ended up doing that. Pretty rare.
Goodrum: I ended up writing several other things for their records after that. Steve Lukather continues to be one of my favorite all time co-writers. He's the kind of guy that can sit down at the keyboard or guitar and lyrics just come flying out of my head. There aren't many people like that, but he's one of them. It's the same with Jay (Graydon). We come up with songs real fast, and the lyrics just pop right down for me. I just go, Oh yeah, I know what this needs to be about. So that's two guys who occupy the same space.
Goodrum: Well… it's in a conversational pace, though. It's not the prose kind of imagery of "You Needed Me" or something like that. Like in the case of "Cure Kit," I don't think anybody would have to stop the song and take a breath. It's going by, but these are everyday English images that they're hearing. It's not like a James Joyce kind of lyric. And when we started, we hadn't written together in a long time, Jay and I have always been good friends, aside from songwriting. I was out getting ready to put together the components of the Steve Lukather deal in California, and I thought while I was there I'll see if I can write with a couple of old buddies I hadn't written with in a long time. So I wrote something with Steve Perry, and I called Jay up and that was good for me, because I would rather get somebody who has not written himself into a point of being empty. And he had some drama going on in his life - doesn't everybody?
So I said, "Well, let's just get together." We were trying to write something for the open market. He had a song start, which ended up being "Your Heartbreak." I came up with the verse idea, and then wrote the lyrics for it. But the verse idea immediately made it maybe not for everybody, it was going to be a little more complicated, but it was valid. I thought, This is a pretty colorful lyric. Maybe there's somebody who will come along one of these days, like a John Mayer type that we can pitch it to. But there's nobody currently.
Quite often I write songs for no particular person who's ever existed. That's always been my mode. And then hopefully somebody comes along. Well, we finished that one, and I think we wrote "Cure Kit" next. And so right away I said, "Wait a minute, these seem to have a real common thread to them." And I remember writing "Cure Kit" in the car - I write a lot of lyrics in the car - and I thought, This is an outrageous premise, but it sure feels good, and it's a lot of fun. So that was right about driving through Memphis on the way to Little Rock, and just started scribbling it down. I e-mailed it to Jay, and I said, "You know, this really goes with the heartbreak thing. It seems like maybe we're becoming a band." (laughs) And so we knocked around, and said, "Well, let's try a couple more." So we wrote "Worlds Apart" and "Call Donovan."
Then it was pretty evident that we had a definite style and we were comfortable with a small band sound. My whole theory of making records when I would produce would be to produce a record on somebody that they could actually perform. Quite often records are impossible to perform, because of effects and things. But this one is piano, bass, drums, guitar. It's a challenge to do it that way, but you open up a lot of space that way, the record gets to be very listenable if it's not sonically packed to the gills. So then we just proceeded on, and it became evident after we did three or four things that they didn't all have to be love songs, the subject matter could be quirky as long as it was strongly presented.
People said, "Oh, you guys are trying to be like Steely Dan." No, no, no. It's always amazed me that there's only been one intelligent pop group ever put out. I think that there have been others that tried to, but it's difficult to get a record deal with stuff like that, and the fact that it resembles Steely Dan means that we were not paying homage to Steely Dan, it's just who we are. We started off as jazz guys, but we also like pop records. We like records that are easily digestible for regular folks. I mean, we could have made it as austere and obscure as you can imagine, but that's not really what we want. Every step of the way, that record was made exactly the way we wanted, because we had nothing to lose. We had no record company, nobody was telling us what to do.
Songfacts: I think you're getting the Steely Dan comparison - which is good - because you have the musicianship which is just meticulous. But then there's also the lyrics. You listen to Steely Dan songs sometimes, and you wonder if they just had an acid trip and started writing stuff stream of conscious, or if they really have something incredibly deep to say.
Goodrum: I worked with Elliot Scheiner who mixed all those records, and Elliott produced a record on me in 1980. There's some back stories to some of those songs, and I would say that every lyric Fagan or Becker ever wrote was very intentional and significant. I wouldn't say that it's stream of consciousness at all. I used to study those records to try to get everything that they were saying, because it was real art. It was like a Miles Davis record. I mean, I'm a jazz guy from way back, and I still listen to some of the Miles Davis records because I'm still learning things from the nuance. And yet, I don't think that anybody's gonna say, "What the heck did that song mean?" on any of our songs. I think they pretty well get the point across. But it's not dumb songs, either. This is an intelligent pop record.
We spoke with Randy on October 12, 2008. His website is randygoodrum.com.
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