Harold Bronson’s British Invasion Book

“My British Invasion”

He was the first college rep not to be offered a gig at CBS after graduation.

He got fired from a trade for writing a negative review.

And then he ended up behind the counter at Rhino Records, an emporium on Westwood Boulevard where they commented upon what you bought, usually not positively.

And you knew all the clerks. Jeff Gold, Gary Stewart and Harold, and Jeff went to A&M and is now rock’s foremost dealer of memorabilia. And Gary Stewart eventually went to Apple. But Harold stayed, and became richer than all of them. You see with his partner, Richard Foos, Harold started the Rhino Records label.

You can play the game and make it to middle management. You can play the politics until you’re ousted or you oust them, sleeping with one eye open. Or maybe you weren’t born for that role, you don’t fit in and you’ve got to go your own way.

Rock is made up of people who needed to go their own way, who couldn’t do it any differently. Who could only be themselves.

And Harold Bronson is one of a kind.

Back in the seventies and eighties Rhino got more than its fair share of publicity, sheerly on the basis of creativity. Not only recording Wild Man Fischer, rereleasing Turtles Records, but coming up with novelty acts like the Temple City Kazoo Orchestra, which famously played Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and other classics on the kiddie instrument to not only sales, but TV appearances.

But those days were different, everybody did not have an app and everybody did not have a record label. Entertainment was relatively scarce and comprehensible. But we were all in thrall to the British Invasion, including Harold. And Harold has written a book about his experience.

Now one is always anxious when a friend sends you their book. You want it to be good. And the introduction to Harold’s British Invasion book is astounding, in that it gives insight into the differences between the U.S. and U.K., why the British Invasion happened, not the nuts and bolts of promotion in the U.S. so much as the creativity, the dance hall roots, the infatuation with American blues records…I’m gonna include Harold’s thesis below, it may be dry, but it’s incredibly insightful.

But the book is different.

The book is chapter after chapter of the story of the legends. The ones we heard on the radio, who were our heroes, most of whom are still around but are unknown by the younger generation, even though we oldsters still exalt them. If you were not there, you’ll learn a lot, if you were there, you’ll still learn some things.

Like the fact that Jeff Beck was married when he joined the Yardbirds. And then became infatuated with actress Mary Hughes, in Los Angeles, and would skip dates to be with her.

And the history of Herman’s Hermits is fascinating. They’re often perceived to be a studio concoction, but just the opposite is true, they developed their act on the road, “Mrs. Brown” was a throwaway that was included on their album at the last minute, it went over well live.

And acts like Manfred Mann get their due. How does a jazzer from South Africa survive? By going rock and not being extremely happy about it and then vacillating from genre to genre, to be content and stay alive.

And we’ve even got the story of Mike Chapman. Does anybody remember the Commander? Who owned the charts and then burned out? Ever heard “Parallel Lines”? It dominated in 1978/9, “Hanging On The Telephone” jumped out of the record. And soon thereafter Chapman was done.

And to read the Marc Bolan interview is a revelation, because all that’s left is the image and the records, he becomes 3-D here.

In between are chapters about Harold’s life at UCLA and his trips to the U.K. and… They’re a bit too diaristic, if that’s even a word, in that they’re a recitation of facts, but when he’s in the U.K. you feel the loneliness, it’s palpable, along with the excitement of hanging with the Move and having other peak experiences. That’s what they don’t tell you, being a rock fan was a cure to one’s loneliness, we were square pegs in round holes who were saved by the music. Believe me, no boomer music businessman ever played on the football team, they all played guitar, they all needed to be closer to the music, they were saved by the music.

And there are all sorts of little tidbits. Listening to Alice Cooper’s “Elected” and realizing it was a remake of “Reflected” from “Pretties For You,” the breakup of the Spencer Davis Group. And expurgations of Pirate Radio and the clothing store Granny Takes A Trip and if you’re looking for glitz and glam, pictures glorifying what once was, this is not the book. But if you’re looking for a fan’s notes, the story of someone who was there, when music dominated the culture and everything was up for grabs, this is it!



Age is an important factor in providing any cultural movement with added personal significance. Whether it’s a teenage girl cooing over Frank Sinatra in the 1940s or a haggard hippie immersing himself in the political philosophy of Phil Ochs before joining a protest march in the 1960s, one is most impressionable in their teenage years. Or maybe not. One is impressionable as a preteen, too, but soon thereafter one recognizes that many prepubescent fascinations lack the proper intellectual reasoning for a significant, personal choice. Imagine: “Those were the days… The Partridge Family were the best, it was all downhill from there.”

For Americans, life in the Eisenhower years was very safe, which perhaps made it possible for American teenage culture to become more aware of itself and its needs, and of its moral and political feelings. In previous eras, it was broken down to adults and children – there was no separate teenage culture. But World War II brought America out of the Great Depression, and these newly emerged teenagers had money to burn, money to support a commercial market that was aimed directly at them. It was still a conservative, insular world, with domestic life coping with the flux of the family, rock ‘n’ roll, and the newfound influence of television.

Everyone knows the story of how, as the 1950s became the 1960s, most of America’s potent rockers had disappeared, whether through plane or car crashes, social ostracism, or lifestyle transitions like Elvis going into the Army. By 1963, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, and Fats Domino had disappeared from the Top 30, but that didn’t mean that there wasn’t good music. It was just different music. Male and female vocal groups, folk groups, and the rise of the female singer defined the pre-Beatles years.

Over in Britain, there was a flux of another kind. Britain’s bundle of wartime babies was the first generation to be interested in what was going on in America. World War II had a lot to do with that. In Britain there were bombed-out buildings and rubble, but America was untarnished. The visiting, affable GIs planted the seeds of interest, and soon American culture was fervently embraced. The English marveled at the flashy cars, the Western and gangster films, modern appliances, Coca-Cola, and Marilyn Monroe. The mystique was irresistible.

There were reports that when Bill Haley belted “Rock Around the Clock” over the opening credits of the Blackboard Jungle movie, the normal, sedate British kids tore up the theater seats. For the first time they were able to betray their rigid schoolkid uniforms and feel outright liberation! This is what rock ‘n’ roll triggered. With young America manipulated to favor the pop singers who appeared on American Bandstand, many of whom lived in Philadelphia where the show was produced, America’s eminent rockers, now considered passé, set their sights on more receptive audiences in Europe, England particularly.

Finally, with an opportunity to see the real thing compared to the pretenders who populated their turf, the English responded enthusiastically, both as fans and as imitators. What an odd phenomenon – scrawny English schoolboys casting themselves as second-generation bearers of rock ‘n’ roll and the blues. What could possibly have moved so many timid, pale classroom nebbishes to cast themselves as anguished blues belters in the manner of Ray Charles, or drugged-out cool jazz musicians? Perhaps it was a search to develop a new identity and get as far away as possible from class consciousness, English manners, or just tea and crumpets.

Many, like The Beatles, were inspired by Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, and The Everly Brothers to form rock ‘n’ roll combos to further experience the exhilaration. The hippest English music fans responded to genuine rock ‘n’ roll figures, like Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly, over the less substantial Fabian, Freddy Cannon, and Frankie Avalon. We might note that England’s equivalents – Lonnie Donegan (King of Skiffle), Marty Wilde, Billy Fury, Vince Eager, Duffy Power – were “safe” enough to offer a homebred rock ‘n’ roll that was at least acceptable to BBC’s conservative radio.

All the same, Americans couldn’t have cared less about England’s pop stars. Among the handful of Brits who had American hits, there were pop singers Anthony Newley and Frank Ifield; folk singer Lonnie Donegan; folk-pop trio The Springfields; and one instrumental band, The Tornados. Their token chart appearances reflected a lack of interest in sounds from the UK. Even Cliff Richard, the British equivalent of Elvis Presley, at that time invincible in his own land, failed to dent America’s Top 20 until 1976. One thing was evident: as the 1950s spilled into the 1960s, rock ‘n’ roll was in desperate need of a shot in the arm.

Prior to the British Invasion, American teenage culture was conventional. Our role models were sports stars, baseball players like Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. Closer to home, it was he-man, physical stuff embodied by the high school football hero whose girlfriend was invariably a cheerleader. Even Jan and Dean and Brian Wilson, leaders of California’s pre-Beatles surf music craze, had played for their high school teams.

Similarly, regular ads in comic books for Charles Atlas pitched an exercise program with illustrations of a muscular bully kicking sand in the face of an undernourished kid. The program promised “the ‘Greek god’ type of physique that women rave about at the beach.” Cars also fascinated teenagers, especially hot rods, dragsters, and so-called muscle cars. In contrast, I found the cultural stimulation and intelligence offered by The Beatles and their ilk much more appealing than what had passed for American teenage culture. And it didn’t matter that they were skinny, like the kid bullied in the Charles Atlas ad, girls went crazy for them. It also planted the seed that less-than-burly American teenagers could form Beatle-like combos and arouse a similar appeal.

When The Beatles stormed the American shores in February 1964, they opened the doors for an onslaught of similarly attired Englishmen who sang and played guitars and drums and who came to dominate the American pop music scene. But The Beatles and the other groups might not have happened if it hadn’t been for the revision of the National Service Act, similar to the US draft that required young adults to serve in the armed forces. Brits born after September 1939 were no longer called for service, freeing them to follow their rock ‘n’ roll passions.
Although the sound of the bands that made up the British Invasion was different, the influences were invariably American. The more discerning English fans embraced American blues and rhythm and blues artists whose honest and emotive approach many found more appealing.

Imagine these Englishmen able to see past America’s early-sixties stars to get to the real thing: bloodshot, bourbon-drinking, sinister-looking Negroes who played a simple, sexual rock ‘n’ roll – a music too threatening for the mass American audience. Young British musicians were attracted to their authenticity and poetic imagery. They made efforts to find records by bluesmen such as John Lee Hooker, Slim Harpo, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, and Jimmy Reed. When The Rolling Stones and The Animals toured America, teenagers received their first dose of American blues in this second-hand manner.

One can use Slim Harpo as an example. The sleepy-eyed Louisianan was almost unknown among white Americans. But this didn’t stop the English from embracing him, with the result that most of the songs on his first album were covered by top English groups: The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, Them, The Pretty Things, and The Moody Blues, who even took their name from one of his songs. The lyrics were often deeper than cutesy boy-girl relationships. Sexual innuendo and references to voodoo were commonplace. Many times it was life and death on the line; Slim Harpo sang of having one foot in the grave in “This Music’s Hot.” The musicianship, especially the blues guitar, was adventurous by pop music standards, and, again, proved an instrumental inspiration.

These smitten English rockers were on a mission. They played the music because they were enamored of it, and wanted to spread “the gospel,” as it were, not because they ever thought they could be successful. No one performing this music had ever broken through before. If one wanted to be successful, he had to mold himself into a Cliff Richard or Tommy Steele and be a solo singer.

When the music of sinister-looking American Negroes proved saleable, it gave rise to the concept of the anti-star, the ones who broke all the rules and didn’t look like well-groomed pop stars with slicked back hair, shiny smiles, and polished shoes. The Rolling Stones were the trend’s poster boys. Here’s a particularly unkind assessment by Bill Whitworth in the New York Herald Tribune: “One of them looks like a chimpanzee. Two look like very ugly Radcliffe girls. One resembles the encyclopedia drawings of pithecanthropus erectus. The fifth is a double for Ray Bolger in the role of Charley’s Aunt.”

While American kids were reeling under the metal weight of orthodontic braces, along came the British, who not only made it acceptable to sport less-than-perfect movie star smiles, but whose crooked teeth lent an aura of distinctive character to their faces. George Harrison’s timid personality was enhanced when his smile revealed vampire-sized canines. Peter Asher’s cute overlapping incisors and unhip, black plastic-framed glasses inspired Austin Powers’ look decades later. A Rolling Stones’ fan could keep score as Keith Richards kept losing teeth. (Do you think I’m kidding? Bob Kirsch was interviewing Keith for Billboard when one of his teeth came out. Keith unceremoniously dropped it in an ashtray, not breaking stride with the interview.) New standards were set. No longer did one have to look like Troy Donohue to be a star. (Donohue, an uncommonly handsome film and TV star of the fifties and sixties, provided the inspiration for The Simpsons character Troy McClure, and is mentioned in a song from Grease.) It didn’t matter if one wore glasses, had a misshapen face, or sticks for legs.

There were a number of factors that shaped the unique sounds of the British Invasion. The British bands records weren’t as intense as those of the American masters, but they were more spirited than what was passing for American rock ‘n’ roll at the time. Many of the American rock acts were trios of singers who worked with impermanent backing bands, whereas the English were mostly self-contained units, four or five musicians who also sang. As part of paying their dues, many of the bands were required to play uncommonly long sets (as had The Beatles, who endured eight-hour work days in Hamburg), resulting in a vibrant sound characterized by a certain amount of sloppiness and bashing.
Bev Bevan, best known as the drummer in the Electric Light Orchestra and The Move, performed in Germany in 1965 with Carl Wayne & The Vikings: “When we arrived, the accommodation was ankle-deep in rubbish, and infested with rats. There were blood and semen stains on the bed. We spent what little spare time we had cleaning it all up. We started playing each night at 7:00 p.m. and did seven forty-five-minute spots, with fifteen-minute breaks, until two o’clock in the morning. Each weekend there were three-hour matinees, too. Any last hopeful beliefs I might have had that pop could earn me easy money were swept away in those weeks in Germany.”

Members of almost every English rock band of that time – The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, The Zombies, The Animals, The Yardbirds – had gone to art school. The Yardbirds and The Who even described their music as “pop art.” This exposure inspired progressive and creative concepts and helped to magnify and color the resulting sound. For instance, when The Who debuted their second single, “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere,” many were confused by the purposeful inclusion of feedback. Pete Townshend had attended Ealing Art College, as had Freddie Mercury, Ronnie Wood, and Thunderclap Newman’s John Keene. In interviews Pete kept referring to Gustav Metzger and his auto-destructive art as an influence. Other effects were more nuanced. At Hornsey College of Art and Crafts, Ray Davies watched people in train stations and sketched them. This helped shape his writing, where many of his songs, like “Waterloo Sunset,” placed him in the role of the detached observer.

As unlikely a form as music hall found its way into the charts. A vaudeville equivalent that flourished earlier in the century, music hall was rich in melody and humor. Herman’s Hermits scored big with three music hall-styled songs: “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” and “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” in 1965, and then a year later with George Formby’s “Leaning on the Lamp Post.” Ian Whitcomb classified The Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon” – newly composed by Ray Davies – as a music hall-styled song: “a chug-a-long satire in the style of Formby’s great ‘Fanlight Fanny, the Frousy Night Club Queen.'” Peter Asher identified his (Peter and Gordon’s) hit “Knight In Rusty Armour” as part of the genre. Small Faces had their second biggest UK hit – at number two – with “Lazy Sunday,” which they considered part of the music hall tradition.

With The Beatles opening the door, record moguls realized that America offered a much larger and more profitable market, and encouraged displaying British characteristics: The early Kinks sported frilly shirts and red hunting jackets; Ian Whitcomb, on the back cover of his debut album, was decked out like Sherlock Holmes in a deerstalker hat and herringbone suit; The Beatles and Herman’s Hermits were dressed for photo sessions as English businessmen in suits, bowler hats and umbrellas. American kids were so mad for anything British that a few artists coming over, like Chad & Jeremy and Ian Whitcomb, had Top 10 hits without ever making the chart in their homeland. While on tour in the US, Herman’s Hermits’ Peter Noone ran into an unfamiliar group whose gimmick was their bleached blond hair. “We’re The Hullaballoos,” they said. “We’re from Hull.” It was new, it was exciting, and America lapped it up.

The Beatles’ sense of humor added to their appeal. Inspired by The Goon Show, they came across as hip: from their quips during the press conference when they landed in America, to their films, to their songs. When Brits were interviewed on radio and TV, in many cases their accents promised sophistication. They came across as polite, cultural, and intelligent. John Lennon assumed the status of an intellectual by cranking out two imaginative books characterized by wordplay and humorous illustrations. America’s stars seemed dull by comparison.
In any event, it all meshed into a gigantic wallop that left America with its trousers around its ankles. It mattered little that America’s teen idols were invariably handsome, suave, and of Italian lineage: Bobby Darin, Bobby Rydell, Joey Dee, James Darren, Lou Christie, Fabian, and Dion, among others. Britain’s milky-white, pencil-neck geeks created their own appeal with an affable, quirky, fun image.

The look was different, too. Most apparent was the hairstyle. To me The Beatles’ long hair was more comedic (recalling Moe of The Three Stooges) than threatening. All of the other bands that followed had to have long hair like The Beatles. If not, it was as if they aligned themselves to a previous era, or were simply too insecure to take the step into the post-1963 world. When one later saw photos of the early Beatles with drummer Pete Best, you just knew he was doomed to be axed from the group. His hair was slicked-back 1950s style – theirs was combed forward. Consequently, groups with more conservative hairstyles, like Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas, The Searchers, and Freddie and The Dreamers, were only as good as their last hit record (as compared to, say, a serious long-hair group like The Pretty Things, who had no hits in America, but prolonged a critically acclaimed career well into the 1970s).

As innocuous as it all was, it was so threatening to America’s post-teen population that vast amounts of offense and anger were generated by a mere few inches of hair. The Yardbirds’ Chris Dreja told me that, on tour in America, not only did they get dirty looks, but at times they were spat upon.

The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein understood this, and that the group had to be made “more acceptable” in order to make it big. He kicked away the group’s earlier leathers, jeans, and T-shirts in favor of custom-made suits. Most of the British rockers who followed adopted suits and ties, although with less stylishness than The Beatles. Somehow these strange invaders neutralized the threat of their long hair by compromising their dress and by smiling a lot.

Obviously there had to be an antithesis. The Rolling Stones had a sullen, sleepless appearance. It looked like their wardrobe came from a thrift-store, and their longer, unkempt hair seemed consistent with a reputation for boorish behavior. Even when liberal American parents consented to let their sons grow their hair long, it was usually, “Okay, you can wear it like The Beatles, but if I ever see you looking like The Rolling Stones, I’ll throw you out of the house!” Author Tom Wolfe put it this way: “The Beatles want to hold your hand, but The Stones want to burn your town.”

The Stone’s casualness mirrored their raw, chaotic, not-quite musical records, ones like “It’s All Over Now,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” and “Not Fade Away.” Americans were slow to respond to this more serious approach, but it’s one that’s sustained a career that’s lasted over fifty years. The irony here is that the Stones persona was similar to that of The Beatles before they were smartened up. Cavern-going audiences, unlike those years-later US fans, knew that the early Beatles were a motley, sloppy bunch who sprinkled their song intros with lascivious and bawdy barbs. In Hamburg, John Lennon appeared on stage with a toilet seat around his neck. Imagine how far they would’ve gotten on America’s squeaky-clean Ed Sullivan Show with that!

Those musicians who had attended art school embraced fashion as it became outrageous. The Beatles’ collarless jackets and Cuban-heeled boots were just the start. New fashions were sold by a handful of boutiques that sprang up on Carnaby Street, located in a backstreet of London’s more formal Oxford Street shopping district. The tailors and designers catered to the more flamboyant tastes of homosexuals and thespians. When mods stumbled upon the area and noticed that there were more than various shades of black and grey in which to be suited, the area exploded.

Clothes consciousness extended past the mod period. The Troggs wore loud, candy-striped suits. The Who were splendidly shocking in their colorful jackets – one fashioned from a Union Jack flag and another covered in sequins. Stripped down, singer Roger Daltrey was the image of masculinity. That didn’t stop him from teasing his hair into a bouffant and dying it bright orange, and wearing a shawl, lace, and ladies’ slingback shoes. Others en masse adopted frilly shirts, Indian Nehru jackets, kaftans, and madras shirts, and military-inspired dress. Jimi Hendrix’s antique, military breast-plated jacket was purchased at I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet (actually the name of the boutique). It was all new, colorful, and exciting, and there was too much to grasp.

After the initial hits had been registered, all manner of new television shows sprang up to showcase this talent, and it was from these that American baby boomers derived their most indelible images of the period. ABC’s Shindig! was filmed in Hollywood in black and white. Some segments were produced in England. It was a fine showcase indeed, if a little too weighted by the (old wave) cast of regulars: The Blossoms, The Shindogs, The Wellingtons, Bobby Sherman, and Billy Preston. There rarely seemed to be enough of the people we wanted to see, but it was here, primarily, that the various personalities (if any) behind the hits were on display. And the audience was as enthusiastic at a TV taping as in a concert hall. As Ian Whitcomb recollected, “The kid audience screamed at every shake of my long hair. Beatles stardust had fallen like dandruff onto my shoulders.”

NBC’s Hullabaloo had a more mainstream appeal, and was in color! It mattered little that the newer rock stars shared the stage with those more trusted by the establishment – Peter Noone and Vikki Carr were paired for a vocal duet – there was more than enough meat. Unfortunately, neither show lasted long. Mostly, Americans had no other choice but to wade through little Italian puppets, dancing Hungarian folk companies, trapeze artists, and rotating Jewish comedians in order to see the week’s rock artist – only one per week – on The Ed Sullivan Show. It was always professionally done, but never quite enough. Other shows, those hosted by Red Skelton, Dean Martin, and later The Smothers Brothers (who offered the most sensitive and best framework for these artists), and even Mike Douglas, whose afternoon show appealed mostly to housewives, had their weekly token rock group.

When The Beatles and others made it, it was with their own sound, not an already accepted one that fit into preexisting formats. Their adventurousness led them to altering these proven formulas to create newer and more far-out approaches. This may not have appeared to be good business, but it sustained a long career. Every time one turned around, the recordings had progressed, the clothes and hair had changed, and so had one’s perspective on the world. The “hippie” subculture evolved, and with it new political, social, and cultural stances. Imagine a hundred years of contemporary history crammed into five. That’s how it felt.

Peter Noone’s perspective is that the British Invasion was even bigger than most people realized: “Before the British Invasion, England was this quaint little country. It wasn’t considered a haven of brilliant musicians and songwriters. Can you imagine what it’s done for the British economy? Britain became a new place.”

What’s astonishing is how much the sixties live on in our culture, and I’m not talking about Mad Men. As my tastes developed, I came to appreciate nonmusical aspects: pop art, modern furniture, photography, fashion. The last few years have seen an uptick in sixties-inspired designs from Paul Smith, Ted Baker, Robert Graham, Valentino, Liberty of London, and Moods of Norway. There is also a wellspring of boutique designers, such as Madcap England, Pretty Green, Friday On My Mind, and David Watts. In 2014, John Varvatos refashioned Hendrix’s military jacket into a linen blazer that sold in clothing stores for $2,000. In the September 2015 issue of C Magazine, a fashion spread showcasing numerous designers proclaimed, “This fall, sixties Mod – replete with shortened hemlines, bold colors and statement coats – makes a welcome return.” In a retrospective on sixties designer Mr. Fish in the March 2016 New York Times Style Magazine, a photo caption reads: “Fish’s influence on the spring runways, at, from left, Gucci, J. W. Anderson, Dolce & Gabbana, Dunhill, and Ann Demeulemeester.” GQ’s spring 2016 style issue included an eight-page feature on Jimi Hendrix subtitled “The Man Who Inspired This Season’s Look,” as well as sixties photos of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards illustrating contemporary fashion trends.

Sixties hits used in commercials are nothing new. The Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night” provided the soundtrack for a recent Yoplait commercial, as did The Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin'” for Activia, and The Zombies’ “She’s Not There” for Coco Chanel. But obscure songs have been cropping up with more frequency throughout the media: The Kinks’ “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” in an Acura commercial; The Yardbirds’ “Glimpses” in Amazon’s Transparent, The Zombies’ “Can’t Nobody Love You” in HBO’s Girls and “This Will Be Our Year” in Mad Men; and The Creation’s “Making Time” (revived in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore) in commercials for Depends and Best Buy. The less obscure Cream’s “I Feel Free” was featured over the opening scenes of Joy and The Animals’ “Boom Boom” over the closing credits of HBO’s The Brink. It’s all fine by me.

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