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Love for Sale: Pop Music in America

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A personal, idiosyncratic history of popular music that also may well be definitive, from the revered music critic From the age of song sheets in the late nineteenth-century to the contemporary era of digital streaming, pop music has been our most influential laboratory for social and aesthetic experimentation, changing the world three minutes at a time. In Love for Sale, Da A personal, idiosyncratic history of popular music that also may well be definitive, from the revered music critic From the age of song sheets in the late nineteenth-century to the contemporary era of digital streaming, pop music has been our most influential laboratory for social and aesthetic experimentation, changing the world three minutes at a time. In Love for Sale, David Hajdu—one of the most respected critics and music historians of our time—draws on a lifetime of listening, playing, and writing about music to show how pop has done much more than peddle fantasies of love and sex to teenagers. From vaudeville singer Eva Tanguay, the “I Don’t Care Girl” who upended Victorian conceptions of feminine propriety to become one of the biggest stars of her day to the scandal of Blondie playing disco at CBGB, Hajdu presents an incisive and idiosyncratic history of a form that has repeatedly upset social and cultural expectations. Exhaustively researched and rich with fresh insights, Love for Sale is unbound by the usual tropes of pop music history. Hajdu, for instance, gives a star turn to Bessie Smith and the “blues queens” of the 1920s, who brought wildly transgressive sexuality to American audience decades before rock and roll. And there is Jimmie Rodgers, a former blackface minstrel performer, who created country music from the songs of rural white and blacks . . . entwined with the sound of the Swiss yodel. And then there are today’s practitioners of Electronic Dance Music, who Hajdu celebrates for carrying the pop revolution to heretofore unimaginable frontiers. At every turn, Hajdu surprises and challenges readers to think about our most familiar art in unexpected ways. Masterly and impassioned, authoritative and at times deeply personal, Love for Sale is a book of critical history informed by its writer's own unique history as a besotted fan and lifelong student of pop.


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A personal, idiosyncratic history of popular music that also may well be definitive, from the revered music critic From the age of song sheets in the late nineteenth-century to the contemporary era of digital streaming, pop music has been our most influential laboratory for social and aesthetic experimentation, changing the world three minutes at a time. In Love for Sale, Da A personal, idiosyncratic history of popular music that also may well be definitive, from the revered music critic From the age of song sheets in the late nineteenth-century to the contemporary era of digital streaming, pop music has been our most influential laboratory for social and aesthetic experimentation, changing the world three minutes at a time. In Love for Sale, David Hajdu—one of the most respected critics and music historians of our time—draws on a lifetime of listening, playing, and writing about music to show how pop has done much more than peddle fantasies of love and sex to teenagers. From vaudeville singer Eva Tanguay, the “I Don’t Care Girl” who upended Victorian conceptions of feminine propriety to become one of the biggest stars of her day to the scandal of Blondie playing disco at CBGB, Hajdu presents an incisive and idiosyncratic history of a form that has repeatedly upset social and cultural expectations. Exhaustively researched and rich with fresh insights, Love for Sale is unbound by the usual tropes of pop music history. Hajdu, for instance, gives a star turn to Bessie Smith and the “blues queens” of the 1920s, who brought wildly transgressive sexuality to American audience decades before rock and roll. And there is Jimmie Rodgers, a former blackface minstrel performer, who created country music from the songs of rural white and blacks . . . entwined with the sound of the Swiss yodel. And then there are today’s practitioners of Electronic Dance Music, who Hajdu celebrates for carrying the pop revolution to heretofore unimaginable frontiers. At every turn, Hajdu surprises and challenges readers to think about our most familiar art in unexpected ways. Masterly and impassioned, authoritative and at times deeply personal, Love for Sale is a book of critical history informed by its writer's own unique history as a besotted fan and lifelong student of pop.

30 review for Love for Sale: Pop Music in America

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    David Hadju tells me that Auto-Tune was developed by a guy called Harold Hildebrand “as an outgrowth of his research in the analysis of seismic data for the purpose of finding oil”. So that’s a bit mad, innit? Auto-Tune is used a whole lot in modern music and this enrages some people. Add to that a blurry situation whereby more & more recording is now done in artists’ homes, on laptops, on which “pitch-correction plug-ins are all but standard accessories”. Stir in to the mix “the old lines betwe David Hadju tells me that Auto-Tune was developed by a guy called Harold Hildebrand “as an outgrowth of his research in the analysis of seismic data for the purpose of finding oil”. So that’s a bit mad, innit? Auto-Tune is used a whole lot in modern music and this enrages some people. Add to that a blurry situation whereby more & more recording is now done in artists’ homes, on laptops, on which “pitch-correction plug-ins are all but standard accessories”. Stir in to the mix “the old lines between professionalism and amateurism, vocation and avocation, dissolve… The fact that one can or cannot sing no longer has much bearing on whether one will or will not”. So many people abuse Auto-Tune for providing the means of faking your music; David himself denounces it for a different reason – its corrections are too perfect, and perfect singing is not what singing is all about. Well, who cares about that. I heard that Art Garfunkel’s flawless vocal on Bridge over Gushing Water was assembled from 5,439 takes snippetysnipped together by the producer with his little golden scissors. That was in 1969, when dinosaurs roamed Manhattan. Before that, Jimmie Rodgers, the country star before country was country, used to yodel all the time, on every single record, yodel-ay-hee-hee. Was that authentic? In the 1920s, did the hills of Tennessee ring out with yodelling cow farmers? I frankly doubt it. People like authenticity, maybe. Mary Weiss incants a verse about running away from home with her boyfriend and realising she didn’t love the guy and she’s made a catastrophic mistake and now she can’t go back home - I remember being tucked in bed and hearing my mama say – and the other two Shangri-Las then creepily coo in softest tones Hush, little baby, don't you cry, Mama won't go away and Mary yells out Mama!!! It’s as fake and cheesy as anything could possibly get and at the same time 100% real, gives me the chills every time. David Hadju writes 13 essays here reflecting benignly on various aspects of the history of pop music in America and a lot of it takes us through very very well trodden pathways, the rise of crooners, jazz, country, rock and roll, singer songwriters, all the way to hip hop of course – this all makes it sound blah blah dullsville but mostly he finds a nice angle on all these fossilised bones. Alas and alack, so many times popular music (a term he like me detests, because so much of popular music is unpopular, subcultural, teenytiny) changes because of technology and boring on about radio, transistors, microgrooves, mp3s, spotify and who cares bores me to death, but it is, I must accept, part of the story. I don’t myself care about the wideness of anyone’s frequency, just as I don’t care if Roy Orbison played a Gibson guitar or a Stratofenderbuster, I just like his voice and his songs. Still and all, I think this is a nice volume to sit beside Bob Stanley’s magnificent Yeah Yeah Yeah. (That one is to read first!) Recommended for pop obsessives, like me.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tara Brabazon

    A fascinating book. I was heading for four stars for this book, but the chapter on digitization lifted it to five. An odd - but functional - mix of personal stories of music and popular cultural history, this book explores the changing platforms and genres in American popular music. Importantly, it does not get lost in genres like blues and hip hop, which is a characteristic of much of popular music studies these days. Instead, it offers a careful consideration of how the movement between platfor A fascinating book. I was heading for four stars for this book, but the chapter on digitization lifted it to five. An odd - but functional - mix of personal stories of music and popular cultural history, this book explores the changing platforms and genres in American popular music. Importantly, it does not get lost in genres like blues and hip hop, which is a characteristic of much of popular music studies these days. Instead, it offers a careful consideration of how the movement between platforms has transformed not only popular music, but the listener's experience of it. This is a find book for popular music scholars to read. It is also beautifully written and structured, to engage the more casual reader.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sally Anne

    I found this book to be charming, idiosyncratic, and interesting. I didn't agree with all of his opinions or even his history, but all in all a worthy read. His chapter on digital is worth the entire book. I found his enthusiasm quite engaging, more so in the audio version (I flipped between the two). I found this book to be charming, idiosyncratic, and interesting. I didn't agree with all of his opinions or even his history, but all in all a worthy read. His chapter on digital is worth the entire book. I found his enthusiasm quite engaging, more so in the audio version (I flipped between the two).

  4. 5 out of 5

    Harriett Milnes

    Very well done. Lots of new information and great insights. Hajdu really puts it all together.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Art

    Our story begins in 1892 Milwaukee when 25-year-old Charles K Harris published his song “After the Ball,” which became the first song to sell a million copies in sheet music. Before this time, sales of fifty thousand sheets qualified as a success. Meanwhile, songs also circulated via stage and vaudeville acts. And so, measuring the popularity of songs was guesswork before sheet music. This book breaks into a dozen chapters, each one can stand on its own as an essay. Topics include sheet music, r Our story begins in 1892 Milwaukee when 25-year-old Charles K Harris published his song “After the Ball,” which became the first song to sell a million copies in sheet music. Before this time, sales of fifty thousand sheets qualified as a success. Meanwhile, songs also circulated via stage and vaudeville acts. And so, measuring the popularity of songs was guesswork before sheet music. This book breaks into a dozen chapters, each one can stand on its own as an essay. Topics include sheet music, recordings, the charts, albums, and the strongest one, rock and roll. David Hadju serves us well as a terrific writer who connects and gives context throughout this fascinating book. Sheet music mechanized the production of popular music. And that fed the growing craze for home pianos, whose annual sales grew to almost four hundred thousand by the early twentieth century. Sheet music songs, parlor music, became hits through performance at home. While sheet music industrialized the production of music, records professionalized the experience, Hajdu writes. Records made the performance private and intimate, available at any time. Technology also transformed the popular song. Stage and vaudeville required loud singing to the house. Early recordings required singing and playing at loud volume into a large horn. Electronic recording began in the late twenties as the microphone came into use. Using a mic, singers now could sing in a more intimate, conversational and sensual style, Hajdu writes. The term “hit parade” dates to the mid-thirties with an hour-long radio program that featured fifteen songs a week. Billboard magazine, in the forties, began publishing a weekly list of bestselling records. The chart position of a song helped determine how much a tune played on the radio while airplay helped determine the chart position, a self-reinforcing loop that ended in the eighties with the introduction of bar codes. The blues coalesced in The Delta in the late nineteenth century. Bessie Smith gave it a national audience in the early twenties. Bessie, Ida and Sippie sang double-entendre songs in front of piano-based bands. Blues-based jazz for jive dancing became known as swing. Fun, fast, happy and lively big-band swing faded after World War II. But a strain survived as jump blues performed by small groups. Louis Jordan, a gleeful, exuberant and charismatic saxophone player, recorded “Caldonia” in 1945. Billboard called it “rock and roll.” “I identify myself with Louis Jordan more than any other artist,” said Chuck Berry, who, ten years later, borrowed electric guitar licks from Jordan for “Roll Over, Beethoven” and “Johnny B Goode.” Through the mid-fifties, Hajdu writes, several young guys began recording music for young ears, young hearts and young libidos. Jerry Lee Lewis at twenty-one, Little Richard at twenty-three, Fats Domino at twenty-seven, and Chuck Berry, the old man of the group at twenty-nine, started making their great hits. Buddy Holly also belongs in this group. Chuck Berry, among the early rockers, wrote his own songs with the best narrative and eye for detail, another influence from Louis Jordan. Berry wrote in a conversational language about everyday concerns of everyday kids. Popular music a hundred years ago circulated as singers Interpreted what songwriters wrote. Performers began expressing themselves as singers became songwriters and accompanied themselves. During the sixties, an artist’s main purpose in popular music shifted from performance to composition, with Dylan and Lennon leading the way. Lennon and McCartney first heard Dylan’s “Freewheelin’” album, drawing an influence while playing it over and over again in January 1964. Mick and Keith, in turn, acknowledged the Beatles for inspiring them to begin songwriting. This is a fun and well-done romp through popular music. My few paragraphs here serve as a tease to the fuller discussions woven by David Hadju. Forty-three pages of notes. http://www.npr.org/2016/10/15/4980566...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    OK, to start off, I think Hajdu is one of the top music critics we have working today. That said, maybe he should stick to books on individuals, because his books on Strayhorn and Dylan are his best work. Trying to write a "history" of pop music since the late 19th C is a tough thing to do. This is not a "just (all) the facts mam" approach. Rather, he approaches it according to music format, and how the individual listens to the music (radio, live etc etc) - starting with sheet music, and then p OK, to start off, I think Hajdu is one of the top music critics we have working today. That said, maybe he should stick to books on individuals, because his books on Strayhorn and Dylan are his best work. Trying to write a "history" of pop music since the late 19th C is a tough thing to do. This is not a "just (all) the facts mam" approach. Rather, he approaches it according to music format, and how the individual listens to the music (radio, live etc etc) - starting with sheet music, and then provides select examples. His ending chapter on digital music is good, but not sure I believe that EDM is *the* current music. Also, this is not a book that will have you going to Youtube the next morning to give a listen to the artists/songs you wrote down from last night's reading. I enjoyed his chapter on C&W, but would have liked a chapter on pre-WWII travelling shows - another way people listened to music, and still do (as live concerts). Nice addition of the personal throughout. Not sure he needed to use the f-word, even if just on occasion. That said, I always enjoy reading his work, grabbed a couple of other titles from this - and look forward to his next book. Yes, the subject is probably too broad, and while he does choose important moments and examples, it still does come off as more of a sketch than a completed work.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Ambrose

    By far the smartest writing I've ever seen about pop music. Hajdu draws a line from the sheet music craze of the late 19th century, through vaudeville, Tin Pan Alley, Hollywood's early talkies, the Cotton Club, Billboard charts, early recording technology, swing, jazz, the blues, the Brill Building, hip-hop, early MTV, and electronica, right up to the curious proliferation of top 40 songs about menages a trois in the 2010's. Hajdu is clearly a passionate music lover, but he's seasoned enough to By far the smartest writing I've ever seen about pop music. Hajdu draws a line from the sheet music craze of the late 19th century, through vaudeville, Tin Pan Alley, Hollywood's early talkies, the Cotton Club, Billboard charts, early recording technology, swing, jazz, the blues, the Brill Building, hip-hop, early MTV, and electronica, right up to the curious proliferation of top 40 songs about menages a trois in the 2010's. Hajdu is clearly a passionate music lover, but he's seasoned enough to be clear-eyed, circumspect and far-sighted in his appreciation and criticism. As an example, his take on the problem with Auto-tune in pop songs is not what you first expect, and it gets at the fundamental reason why pop music matters - no matter the format, or the year, or the genre, pop music connects us to human emotions that we all understand. Incredibly insightful, and highly recommended.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dave Allen

    I read this back in 2016 but, upon seeing it on the library shelf a few weeks ago, realized I remembered almost nothing about it. I blame my poor recall on having a newborn in the house around that time. I'm a Hajdu fan of long standing, and I really enjoyed this book the second time around: so many sharp characterizations of music as a commodity, back to sheet music played at home and the industrial output of Tin Pan Alley. There's a particularly wry observation about Madonna's "Material Girl" I read this back in 2016 but, upon seeing it on the library shelf a few weeks ago, realized I remembered almost nothing about it. I blame my poor recall on having a newborn in the house around that time. I'm a Hajdu fan of long standing, and I really enjoyed this book the second time around: so many sharp characterizations of music as a commodity, back to sheet music played at home and the industrial output of Tin Pan Alley. There's a particularly wry observation about Madonna's "Material Girl" "neatly demolishing" the conceit behind "Can't Buy Me Love." The more memoir-like sections make clear Hajdu's deep feeling for music while shading that affection with the notion that something that we love can still disturb us, or that we can (and maybe even should) mistrust the intentions behind the things that give us the greatest pleasure.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nick Rabkin

    What distinguishes Love for Sale is Hajdu's broad understanding of the ways music reflects and frames the ways we understand ourselves and our world, and his capacity to understand and connect the dots in our segregated musical universe. American pop music is fundamentally both black and white (and now increasingly Latin, to boot). Those threads of musical DNA are constantly weaving our soundscape, and Hajdu is able to see the many ways they connect (both positively and negatively) and disconnec What distinguishes Love for Sale is Hajdu's broad understanding of the ways music reflects and frames the ways we understand ourselves and our world, and his capacity to understand and connect the dots in our segregated musical universe. American pop music is fundamentally both black and white (and now increasingly Latin, to boot). Those threads of musical DNA are constantly weaving our soundscape, and Hajdu is able to see the many ways they connect (both positively and negatively) and disconnect us as Americans.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ira Carter

    Although I enjoyed the book, and thought parts of it were particularly well researched and interesting, this isn't anywhere near the best book I have read on the subject of popular music. That said, the personal touches add to the book, Hajdu writes well, and is clearly interested in the subject. Music hounds like myself will enjoy reading the book without necessarily having a spiritual revelation in the process. Although I enjoyed the book, and thought parts of it were particularly well researched and interesting, this isn't anywhere near the best book I have read on the subject of popular music. That said, the personal touches add to the book, Hajdu writes well, and is clearly interested in the subject. Music hounds like myself will enjoy reading the book without necessarily having a spiritual revelation in the process.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Robert S

    Love for Sale has a strong prose which makes this a quick afternoon read but it doesn't really offer anything new on the subject that made me walk away feeling like I learned something. The author does a fine job choosing how to examine the periods but a cursory glance at each era only really makes me feel like this book could have done a lot more. Love for Sale has a strong prose which makes this a quick afternoon read but it doesn't really offer anything new on the subject that made me walk away feeling like I learned something. The author does a fine job choosing how to examine the periods but a cursory glance at each era only really makes me feel like this book could have done a lot more.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    3 1/2 of 5 stars. I listened to this book when I couldn't sleep and usually, I fall asleep too soon after to hear much, but this was a fun, personal story of popular music. Also, the narrator's voice was not very soothing so I think that helped me stay awake too. 3 1/2 of 5 stars. I listened to this book when I couldn't sleep and usually, I fall asleep too soon after to hear much, but this was a fun, personal story of popular music. Also, the narrator's voice was not very soothing so I think that helped me stay awake too.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    The writing was somewhat dry in places, but overall, this had a lot of interesting information and a broad definition and description of popular music, from sheet music sales in the late 19th century to the newest and latest sub-genre of electronica.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alan

    dazzling insights, well researched and footnoted, lots to learn, and all with terrific style. best book I've read this year. dazzling insights, well researched and footnoted, lots to learn, and all with terrific style. best book I've read this year.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Farrell

    kind of slow in the middle, but really picks up

  16. 5 out of 5

    John Albers

    Interesting history of popular music in America and how it has been influenced by technology from sheet music to digital technology. A book worth reading.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rob Pritts

    One of the best books about pop music in America.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lennon Patton

    Highlights: He got to see Blondie perform a disco tune that pissed off the punks at CBGB. Lowlights: You hate autotune. We get it. Didn't need an entire chapter on that trend, grandpa. Highlights: He got to see Blondie perform a disco tune that pissed off the punks at CBGB. Lowlights: You hate autotune. We get it. Didn't need an entire chapter on that trend, grandpa.

  19. 4 out of 5

    PottWab Regional Library

    O

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Really disappointed in this book. The author inserts himself into it far too often, with stories that do little to illustrate his point, or to illustrate a point that is already clear. Most of the content of the book is information that is already widely known (The Rolling Stones were influenced by the blues!) and not much of it is interesting.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Hajdu provides a lot of useful insights into popular music, with good emphasis on delivery systems.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Chris Timmons

    David Hadju makes his case effectively that pop music is worth being interested in and has mirrored developments in technology and culture.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ella Schilling

    A joyful romp through pop music history. A series of roughly chronological essays in a conversational style. This guy's life is enviable-- he grew up in the golden age of pop music and has had the honour of interviewing everyone from Little Richard to Johnny Cash, from Smokey Robinson to Paul McCartney. He maintains a level-headed approach to tricky topics, and even wades into the psychological effects of the streaming age, (loss of patience and attention spans?) without giving into the boomer-v A joyful romp through pop music history. A series of roughly chronological essays in a conversational style. This guy's life is enviable-- he grew up in the golden age of pop music and has had the honour of interviewing everyone from Little Richard to Johnny Cash, from Smokey Robinson to Paul McCartney. He maintains a level-headed approach to tricky topics, and even wades into the psychological effects of the streaming age, (loss of patience and attention spans?) without giving into the boomer-vice of vinyl nostalgia. (Hajdu was born in the 50's.) I like the fact that he has studied music theory academically; it would've been nice to hear his take on the plague of repetitive 4-chord pop songs that have dominated in recent years. It's the 50's (or doo-wop) progression, just disguised by being reshuffled. Highly recommended as an honest and uplifting portrait of a sublime phenomenon.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Phil

    Very enjoyable book about the evolution of popular music starting with the early days of Tin Pan Alley and the Cotton Club, on through the emergence of radio and records, rock and roll, disco, punk, rap, and up to the modern age of MP3s, electronica, streaming music, YouTube videos and the staples of the I Heart Radio playlist. The narrative jumps around a bit, but overall it's an excellent read for any fan of music who has an interest in history as well. Packed with many topics for consideratio Very enjoyable book about the evolution of popular music starting with the early days of Tin Pan Alley and the Cotton Club, on through the emergence of radio and records, rock and roll, disco, punk, rap, and up to the modern age of MP3s, electronica, streaming music, YouTube videos and the staples of the I Heart Radio playlist. The narrative jumps around a bit, but overall it's an excellent read for any fan of music who has an interest in history as well. Packed with many topics for consideration, such as how this democratization of music accessibility has benefited consumers but at an economic cost to performers.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jay Gabler

    A chatty and loose walk through the history of popular music through the 20th century and into the 21st. If you don't know much about pop music history, you'll glean plenty of new and accessible insights; if you do, on the other hand, you'll appreciate Hajdu's gift for pithy formulations that crystallize intriguing arguments about music. I reviewed Love for Sale for The Current. A chatty and loose walk through the history of popular music through the 20th century and into the 21st. If you don't know much about pop music history, you'll glean plenty of new and accessible insights; if you do, on the other hand, you'll appreciate Hajdu's gift for pithy formulations that crystallize intriguing arguments about music. I reviewed Love for Sale for The Current.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    I'm a fan of David Hajdu, but I thought this book was a little light. He gives us a scattershot survey of a century of pop music in 300 pages and doesn't reveal anything new or insightful. This is the best you can do with such a rich subject? I'm a fan of David Hajdu, but I thought this book was a little light. He gives us a scattershot survey of a century of pop music in 300 pages and doesn't reveal anything new or insightful. This is the best you can do with such a rich subject?

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ang

    Such a shame, this book. A fun subject, pop music, done so boringly. I mean, really boring. I think there are some interesting personal anecdotes in here, surrounding the author's work in music journalism, but otherwise, I wouldn't recommend this, sadly. Such a shame, this book. A fun subject, pop music, done so boringly. I mean, really boring. I think there are some interesting personal anecdotes in here, surrounding the author's work in music journalism, but otherwise, I wouldn't recommend this, sadly.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Du

    Well organized and developed history of pop music. The author is a music reviewer, but more to the point he is an aficionado, and his passion is evident and enjoyable. He moves the story and the history along with a perfect pace and an enjoyable sense to it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Aharon

    Interesting and very, very stiff. Nothin sez RAWK like 29 pages on endnotes!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rich Foss

    I loved this book! It really covers a great deal about music in America from 1800s to today and gives valuable insights on how and why certain forms of music developed, how they relate, how we define "popular," and how technology affects it all. great book. Though the audio book SHOULD have clips of the songs being discussed! That would have made it much better. I loved this book! It really covers a great deal about music in America from 1800s to today and gives valuable insights on how and why certain forms of music developed, how they relate, how we define "popular," and how technology affects it all. great book. Though the audio book SHOULD have clips of the songs being discussed! That would have made it much better.

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