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Music Box Disc 1
Song Stories From The Guys Who Wrote ‘Em
and The Guys Who Sang ‘Em

Disc 1 - 1966

Boyce & Hart’s “(Theme From) The Monkees” is a remarkable composition in that it encapsulates the essence of The Monkees and their show before there was such a thing.  Nonetheless, the song reportedly embarrassed the group members, who thought it sounded like “Hey, hey we’re The Beatles.”  Moreover, the lyric “Come and watch us sing and play” would take on new meaning when the group was refused permission to be involved instrumentally in their own recording sessions.  Consequently, the song has never been performed in concert, the group opting instead for a prerecorded tape as their intro.  Unbeknownst to the band, it was not really The Beatles who inspired the song, but rather the purveyors of the Tottenham Sound.

Bobby Hart (songwriter): “The Monkees’ theme was influenced by a Dave Clark 5 song called ‘Catch Us If You Can.’  They had that finger-snapping thing.  Tommy and I lived on the same street at the time, and we wrote that walking down to the park on Cahuenga Boulevard by Barham.  It’s really a walking beat, and we decided that would be great to write to.”

2. I WANNA BE FREE (Fast Version)
This up-tempo folk-rock version of “I Wanna Be Free” was featured in the pilot episode of The Monkees television series.  However, this take did not originally appear on an album and was exclusive to the show’s soundtrack until 1990, when it was released on the rarities collection Missing Links, Volume Two.  It is one of Bobby Hart’s favorite Monkees compositions.

Bobby Hart: “That’s one of the few songs in my whole career, certainly with Boyce, that we wrote just because we felt like writing one night.  Usually we were writing for projects all the time.  This was one evening when Tommy and I were sharing a house in the Hollywood Hills, and he just said, ‘I have this idea – do you feel like writing something?’  There was a line that was inspired by a Roger Miller song – a ballad about suicide, basically.  It may have had the words ‘I wanna be free’ in it.  We just started with the title, and it kind of flowed out.  He sang me, ‘I wanna be free…’ and I went on into, ‘like the bluebirds flying by me.’  We had the whole thing wrapped up in less than an hour.  It was one of those few times we did it for the fun of it.”(1)

Written specifically for the pilot episode’s dance sequence, “Let’s Dance On” is a Monkees party number that owes a debt to such songs as “Twist And Shout” and “La Bamba.”  A raw Boyce & Hart production, with a great and gritty garage-band Vox organ solo from Bobby, this recording is also notable for the complete lack of bass guitar.

Bobby Hart: “We probably should have spent more time on that one.”

Historical note: Another version of “Let’s Dance On” was recorded a month earlier, on June 10, 1966, by producer Snuff Garrett.  However, the tracks were scrapped when Garrett clashed with The Monkees over who should sing the song’s lead vocal.

Inspired by the fade-out of The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer,” “Last Train To Clarksville” was The Monkees’ first single, released on August 16, 1966.  Predating the television series’ debut by almost a month, this record was the world’s introduction to Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter.  Surprisingly, “Clarksville” was written only a few weeks beforehand as album filler.

Bobby Hart: “I had it in the back of my mind, and then we were coming down to the end of producing the first album.  We needed another song or two.  We didn’t know that there were going to be two Nesmith songs on the album, so we were trying to come up with 12 on our own.  I said I had this idea, and Tommy and I got together and did it really quickly.”

The song is also notable for its underlying theme of going off to war.

Bobby Hart: “That was inherent in the thing.  We couldn’t be too direct with The Monkees; we couldn’t really make a protest song out of it.  We kind of snuck it in subtly.  We didn’t know at that time there is an air force base near the town of Clarksville, Tennessee.  We were just looking for a name that sounded good.  There’s a little town in northern Arizona I used to go through in the summers on the way to Oak Creek Canyon called Clarksdale.  We were throwing out some names, and then when we got to Clarksdale we stopped there for a minute and thought That sounded pretty good.  We thought Clarksville would maybe be even a little bit better.  I did a demo of it sometime in the ‘70s that included a recitation about the war.  We also cut a follow-up to ‘Last Train To Clarksville’ with a girl named Linda Ball.  It was a slight variation of the lyric: ‘He’s on the last train to Clarksville.’”

Gerry Goffin & Carole King’s “Take A Giant Step” was one of Don Kirshner’s selections for The Monkees.  It was first issued in August ‘66 as the flip side to “Last Train To Clarksville” and was later included on the band’s first album.

Bobby Hart: “Once the show was sold, that’s when Donnie got involved.  Tommy and I had been working for about a year or more doing the demos for the pilot and getting it all together.  Then all of a sudden everybody was serious, and Donnie was on the next plane with a stack of demos under his arm.  He felt strongly about certain ones.  We were told to do ‘Take A Giant Step,’ ‘I’ll Be True To You,’ and ‘Saturday’s Child.’  We basically got his permission to do the other songs that we had written.  Nesmith was off in another studio doing his stuff and putting pressure on (Kirshner) to be represented.  Not to downplay Donnie’s part in the whole thing.  He had real specific ideas of what he wanted in the album – not so much the sound of the records.  He had all these formulas.  He was always making lists and notes narrowing down the reasons why this should go in and this should go out – that kind of stuff.  He was good at that.”

Historical note: “Take A Giant Step” was another song originally attempted by producer Snuff Garrett.  According to Garrett, his production was to have featured Davy on lead vocals.  When Boyce & Hart replaced Garrett as producers, they recut the song with Micky singing lead.

Michael Nesmith’s “All The King’s Horses” hails from his first Monkees recording session as a producer.  Although the song was used in two episodes of the television show, it never originally saw release on a record.  The track was later exhumed for Missing Links, Volume Two, which features other rarities from the television show soundtrack.

Michael Nesmith: “That was part of an original rock trio that I was in called Mike, John & Bill.  ‘All The King’s Horses’ was just one of the songs that I was writing for that trio.”

Historical note: Nesmith formed Mike, John & Bill shortly after he moved to Los Angeles in 1964.  The group consisted of Nesmith as guitarist and vocalist, bassist John London (who became Nesmith’s stand-in on the series), and drummer Bill Sleeper.  The trio issued one fantastic single on Frankie Laine’s Omnibus label (“How Can You Kiss Me?” c/w “Just A Little Love”) in 1964, but, sadly, fell apart when Bill Sleeper was drafted.


Another Kirshner selection (perhaps prompted by West Coast Screen Gems head Lester Sill), “Saturday’s Child” was written by David Gates.  Gates began writing songs in the late ‘50s, and by the time of “Saturday’s Child” he had racked up an impressive array of credits, including work with Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and Bobby Darin.  Gates later went on to form the group Bread.

David Gates (songwriter): “I had known Davy Jones and had produced a session with him before The Monkees – a really nice guy.  I also knew Michael Nesmith before the group – also a really good guy and a very talented musician.  I was a staff writer at Screen Gems when The Monkees were being formed.  ‘Saturday’s Child’ had been under consideration for their first single, but they put out ‘Last Train To Clarksville’ instead.”

Historical note: Around the same time that The Monkees cut “Saturday’s Child,” Herman’s Hermits recorded a similar version of the song for their There’s A Kind Of Hush All Over The World album.  Micky Most, the producer of Herman’s Hermits, had actually turned down the opportunity to produce The Monkees around the same time as this session.  It is possible that “Saturday” Child” was one of the perspective songs he had been asked to cut for The Monkees project.  Most also recorded Boyce & Hart’s “If You’re Thinkin’ What I’m Thinkin’” during that period, leading to further speculation about whether these tracks may have been originally intended for The Monkees.

“Papa Gene’s Blues” is a Michael Nesmith song that dates back to his days as Michael Blessing – an acoustic guitar-strumming and harmonica-blowing folkie, à la Bob Dylan.

Michael Nesmith: “A Different Drum” period song, far pre-Monkees.  I brought that into The Monkees’ environment.  The Gene should be spelled Jean.  It refers to a girl that I went to school with whose name was Jean.”

Historical note: Recorded under the working title “Brand X,” this song is notable for the inclusion of Peter Tork on acoustic guitar – the first Monkee to appear instrumentally on a “Monkees” recording.  Ironically, even Nesmith did not play on his own early tracks, as he was consumed with his role as producer on these sessions.

(Album Version)
Recorded the same day as the “fast” version, this ballad take of “I Wanna Be Free” was included on The Monkees’ self-titled debut album, released in October 1966.  The Boyce & Hart song, which became a trademark for Davy Jones, features a lovely, albeit uncredited, string arrangement by Don McGinnis.

Bobby Hart: “He was in the office every day, and we were encouraged to try him by Lester Sill.  He turned out to be great with whatever we asked him to do.  He did nice, nice work.  We told him we wanted a ‘Yesterday’-type string-quartet arrangement, and he came right in with it.”

Micky Dolenz: “I remember wanting to sing ‘I Wanna Be Free.’  I really loved it, but I had too many songs on the album.  Davy became the balladeer.”

Michael Nesmith’s second cut on The Monkees’ first album emanated from a one-off collaboration with master songsmiths Goffin & King.  This teaming was suggested by Kirshner, who had hoped it would produce a more commercial sound from Nesmith.

Michael Nesmith:  “I think ‘Sweet Young Thing’ is a good song.  I liked Gerry and Carole quite a bit.  It was not the sort of songwriting alliance that I would continue to any great effect.  You know, I’m just not a big fan of their songs.  Well, that’s not true.  I am sort of a fan of their songs.  I was not a fan of the writing environment.  I didn’t like being cast in with some other folks and being told, ‘Write with them.’  Gerry and Carole had very strong songwriting styles.  I really enjoyed working with them; it was just the circumstances that were tough.”

Historical note: Like Micky Most and Snuff Garrett, Goffin & King had originally been offered a shot at producing The Monkees.  However, after writing “Sweet Young Thing” with Nesmith, the duo clashed in the studio with Michael.  They returned to New York with out completing any recordings for the first album.


Recorded toward the end of the first album sessions, Boyce & Hart’s “Gonna Buy Me A Dog” had already been attempted at an earlier Nesmith session but was left incomplete.  Similarly, Boyce & Hart’s production could barely be perceived as a finished one.  Nevertheless, the freewheeling spirit of Micky and Davy’s loose performance made the song a group favorite, managing to capture the irreverence of their TV show on record.

Micky Dolenz: “Originally that was supposed to be done straight.  Davy and I just started goofing on it, and they ended up using the goof rather than the straight version.  That happened an awful lot in the television show.  They would use the outtakes.”

Bobby Hart: “We were trying to follow the whole Beatles formula all the way.  What Bob and Bert had told us in our first meeting with them was, ‘We’re going to do an American Beatles for television.’  So that’s basically the way we looked at The Monkees project.  We tailored the whole album that way.  ‘I Wanna Be Free’ was our ‘Yesterday’ with a string quartet.  (With ‘Gonna Buy Me A Dog’) we felt like we needed a novelty cut, à la the Ringo Starr cuts on The Beatles’ albums.  They didn’t understand the song; they thought it was real stupid.  They were just basically making fun of it.  That’s what usually happened when there were at least two of them in the same room.  They would try and outdo each other with cutting up.  We thought it was great and kept the jokes in.”


(First Recorded Version)
Although his collaboration with Goffin & King quickly turned sour, Nesmith managed to squeeze more than just “Sweet Young Thing” out of the short-lived union.  In particular, “I Don’t Think You Know Me” was a song that Goffin & King were eager to cut with The Monkees, and that is most likely the reason why Nesmith produced his own recording of the tune in June 1966.  Not only was it an excellent vehicle for his vocal and production style, but the song also served as a blueprint for the arrangement of his classic “You Just May Be The One.”  The similarity of the songs was not apparent at the time, because no Monkees version of “I Don’t Think You Know Me” was heard until 1987’s Missing Links compilation.

Historical note: Later in 1966 Goffin & King got another chance to produce The Monkees, with the tracks to be cut in New York without the group’s involvement.  “I Don’t Think You Know Me” was rerecorded with lead vocals by Peter and a version with both Davy and Peter singing.  Neither was deemed fit for consumption at the time, and the Peter-sung version was later included as a bonus track on the reissue of More Of The Monkees.

Neil Diamond’s “I’m A Believer” is The Monkees’ most popular song of all time.  As a single it was one of the most eagerly anticipated releases of the 1960s.  Astonishingly, more than a million copies of the 45 were sold in advance without buyers ever hearing a note.  “I’m A Believer” was also the first Monkees release to be cut on the East Coast by producer Jeff Barry.

Neil Diamond (songwriter): “‘Cherry Cherry’ was my second chart record, and that caught Don Kirshner’s ear. Don Kirshner liked the song very much and asked if I had something The Monkees could do.  So I sent him over my version of ‘I’m A Believer.’  It was originally a song that I wrote for my second album.  It was a simple self-expression, happy kind of thing.  I didn’t think too much of it.  I just liked the title – that’s how the song came.  I was involved a little bit in the mixing of it, which Jeff Barry did with Don Kirshner.  I remember we did it late at night and had it finished by a deadline.  It was very exciting because we knew ‘I’m A Believer’ was gonna go all the way.  For me it was particularly exciting because I was in a recording room with Don Kirshner, who two years before I couldn’t get an appointment with.  Now I’m sharing what will be the biggest hit of the year with him and Jeff Barry, who was one of my idols.  As a songwriter I was very pleased about having them do it.  Of course, when I reported back to Bert Berns, who was head of (my label) Bang Records, that I had allowed The Monkees to try the song out, he went ballistic.  He felt it would have been a giant hit for me.  But I think they did a great job with it, and I have no regrets at all.”


Boyce & Hart were slowly getting edged out of their production role by Don Kirshner and show creator Bert Schneider.  It was Schneider’s assertion that Boyce & Hart were cutting too much material of questionable commerciality.  Meanwhile, Don Kirshner enjoyed making records closer to home in New York City, and therefore he preferred to work with East Coast producers such as Jeff Barry.  In spite of that, it was hard to question Boyce & Hart’s songwriting prowess and commercial instincts on “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.”  As a high-charting flip side of “I’m A Believer,” the tune gained considerable exposure and became one of The Monkees’ trademark songs.  It is also one of Boyce & Hart’s most covered compositions, with recordings ranging from The Sex Pistols to Paul Revere & The Raiders.

Bobby Hart: “‘Steppin’ Stone’ was written ahead of time.  We were thinking of Paul Revere & The Raiders when we wrote it.  It was the biggest garage band song we ever wrote.  It seems like a lot of kids cut their teeth on that.  It was easy changes. I don’t know what else. Maybe that was the biggest reason: the changes were easy.”

15. SHE
Another unquestionably classic Boyce & Hart track, “She” is one of only two songs Kirshner selected from the duo for inclusion on the group’s second album, More Of The Monkees.  This was unfortunate because Boyce & Hart had almost an entire album’s worth of solid material already in the can.  Prolificity aside, in interviews Tommy and Bobby would often boast of their ability to come up with songs in the most unlikely places.  Case in point: “She” was supposedly written in a library.  Bobby Hart later said that these claims were not entirely true.

Bobby Hart: It wasn’t actually in a library… We often went to the park on nice days to write outside.  We’d sit on the grass with Tommy’s guitar and a pad and pencil.  This was another song that we had written before The Monkees project.  It was during the period when some of the groups playing on the Strip in L.A. were like The Leaves.  Several local groups were experimenting with a kind of psychedelic rock.  It never really made it nationally.  The Doors were the ones that did.  We were hanging out on the Strip a lot in those days and were inspired by these psychedelic trends that were happening.”

In a bid to appease his increasing demand for musical autonomy, Michael Nesmith was allotted his standard two cuts on More Of The Monkees.  In particular, “Mary, Mary” was used as an example of the group’s musical role in their records when a reporter from Look magazine was invited to watch Michael produce Micky, Davy, and Peter overdubbing backing vocals onto the song.  The outcome was predictably chaotic: Mike and Peter argued, while Micky and Davy spent most of the evening clowning around, singing things like “‘Mary, Mary’ written by Mike Nesmith, copyright 1966 by Screen Gems.” 

Meanwhile, Don Kirshner and Lester Sill, who were seated on either side of Mike at the controls, kept a watchful eye on the proceedings.  The caption for the photo included in Look contains the classic Nesmith quote: “These guys from New York, they bug me.”  Although the results of the night’s recordings were deemed unusable, Lester Sill told Look: “It’ll be okay.  If you gotta girl’s name, you got a lot goin’ for you.  Think of how many Marys there are.”

Michael Nesmith: “The Monkees’ version was one of the early studio bands coming together.  Glen Campbell played the guitar part.  That was really a blues lick that I had wanted to incorporate in a very straight-ahead blues type of song.  He just had the dickens of a time gettin’ it because he was a country player, not a blues player.  So it ended up with The Monkees’ version flavoring the thing off into a country vein as well.  At the end of the day the version I like of it best is Paul Butterfield’s.”


After sitting on the sidelines for most of the group’s early sessions, Peter Tork was finally given a lead vocal role on Jack Keller and Diane Hildebrand’s “Your Auntie Grizelda.”

Originally offered to Tork by Screen Gems’ Lester Sill as a protest number to suit his folk background, “Grizelda” was in reality the silliest “19th Nervous Breakdown” sound-alike ever.  Predictably, Tork did not appreciate the song’s novelty flavor, though he would later establish a creative link with Hildebrand.

Jack Keller (songwriter): “That was the first song that Diane and I wrote together.  We were introduced by Lester Sill in 1966, and we were kind of surprised it ended up being done the way it was.  I thought The Monks would cut it like “19th Nervous Breakdown” with Micky singing lead, or Micky and Davy.  It turned out to be a total surprise to me when it came to the session, and Jeff Barry said, ‘Peter’s going to sing it.’  It was a total comedy thing.  He did that all in one take – no second take, that was it.  He made up the whole thing.  I was in a total state of shock when I heard it.”

Peter Tork: “Lester came to me and said, ‘We’ve got a kind of protest song for you.’  It certainly wasn’t what you call a protest song.  That was what they thought a protest song should be for The Monkees.  I believe it was Jeff Barry (who) got me to do that.  He had me doin’ those funny vocal things in the middle there.  I tried it and it worked out – kind of.”

Jack Keller: “The tracks were recorded at American Studios, where Three Dog Night used to record with Richie Polodor, who was the engineer.  At that time The Monkees were only dealing with Jeff Barry.  So Donnie said, ‘Hey, do you mind if you split the production with Jeff ?  Because he can get Davy to come in and sing.’  I didn’t know that he was going to use Peter on ‘Your Auntie Grizelda.’  ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’ went right out the door, but I got used to it.  Over the years it became a #1 on Dr. Demento, and so I thought, ‘Well, this is pretty cool.’  Now my kids like it.  To this day it’s one of the good ones.”

18. OF YOU (Previously Unissued Mix)
“Of You” was written by brothers Bill and John Chadwick and originally copyrighted on October 28, 1965.  Bill Chadwick was a bandmate of Michael Nesmith’s in 1965 and had actually auditioned for a part in The Monkees alongside Michael.  When Chadwick missed out on a role, he remained close to the project, writing songs, playing on sessions, and traveling with The Monkees.  Nesmith actually recorded “Of You” the very same hour that Boyce & Hart were cutting “Last Train To Clarksville” at another studio a few blocks away.  Although the song was not released at the time, Nesmith did return to the track in 1969 to replace his old lead vocal.  “Of You” first appeared on Missing Links, but this box set makes the first release of the song’s original 1966 mix.

Davy Jones: “Mike Nesmith had a problem for the first year and a half. He was singing like it was coming out of his nose.  During the course of The Monkees’ first year he had his tonsils out.  If you listen to it, it’s very nasal, very throaty.  It all sounded as if he had a cushion in his throat.  That was why he had a different quality when he went on to do his later stuff.  He had ‘em out, (and) his vocal presentation changed.”

Michael Nesmith: “My tonsils were so big that if you listen to the first episodes it all sounds like that.”


(Previously Unissued Extended Version)
Neil Diamond’s “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow),” included on More Of The Monkees, was frequently featured on the group’s television series.  One particular episode, “The Monkees In Manhattan,” features a longer mix of the song, and it is now included on this box set.

Neil Diamond: “That was just one of the two or three things of mine that they recorded.  All of my songs then were basically built around four or five chords.  That’s just my style of writing.  I hoped it would become a hit, but it ended up on an album.  I don’t think it was ever released as a single.”


“The Kind Of Girl I Could Love” was another attempt by Screen Gems to steer Michael Nesmith’s talents down a more commercial avenue by teaming him with another pop-oriented writer.  The song was actually cut during the first album sessions and was cowritten with Roger Atkins.  As it turned out, Atkins (best known for such hits as The Animals’ “It’s My Life” and The 5th Dimension’s “Workin’ On A Groovy Thing”) yielded an intriguing, yet decidedly uncommercial Latin-country blend from Nesmith.


Although Goffin & King penned at least two submissions for More Of The Monkees, the one that made it onto the record was the sublime “Sometime In The Morning.”  Like many of the second album’s cuts, the backing track for “Sometime In The Morning” was recorded in New York – without The Monkees’ involvement – and later shipped out to Los Angeles for completion. 

On this particular track, Carole King sent a separate multitrack tape with her performing the three-part vocal arrangement for The Monkees to replicate for the final master.  While the group was always grateful for King’s excellent material, mimicking another artist’s performance left little room for input from them as performers.

Hank Cicalo (engineer): “In those days, you used to get a demo, and when Carole and Gerry sent us one it would have everything built into it.  A hell of a performance, some great hook – something that made it really great.  Inevitably, anyone who ever did a Carole King demo would duplicate it.  You had to, because that was what made that demo great.  Sometimes you’d get into situations where you’re trying to do something that’s not really you.  But that’s what Screen Gems would want them to do: ‘Gee, sing it just like Gerry sang that verse.’  I found at times they were forced into things that were difficult to deal with.”


This song sprang from a collaboration between Carole Bayer and Neil Sedaka.  Another track with New York origins, it was one of the final recordings completed for More Of The Monkees.  The song’s last verse features a hook borrowed from another Sedaka hit, “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” in which a second voice sings a counter melody to the lead.

Neil Sedaka (songwriter): “I love to sing with myself, and I loved having the two melodies going at once.  I thought that was innovative at the time for a pop song.  I though that Davy Jones was very professional and very charming.  Carole was delightful to work with, a gorgeous girl.  As a matter of fact, Davy Jones had quite a crush on her.”

23. DO NOT ASK FOR LOVE (First Recorded Version)
Michael Murphey, a friend of Michael Nesmith’s from Dallas, wrote the beautiful “Do Not Ask For Love.”  It had originally been composed for a group called The New Society, who recorded it on an album for RCA Records.  Interestingly, The New Society actually evolved out of another group known as The Survivors, a large folk ensemble featuring Nesmith and Murphey, Bill Chadwick, Owen Castleman, and John London, among other notables.  Unfortunately, The Monkees’ version languished in the can until Missing Links, Volume Two.  Murphey, Castleman, and London later teamed up as The Monkees’ Colgems labelmates The Lewis & Clark Expedition.

Historical note: In late 1968 a second Monkees version of this song (under the title “Prithee”) was cut by Peter Tork and producer Bones Howe for The Monkees television special 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee.

24. VALLERI (First Recorded Version)
The original version of “Valleri” was perhaps Boyce & Hart’s finest hour with The Monkees.  The song was a surefire hit with a great guitar solo from Louie Shelton.  It was recorded in August 1966, in time to be part of the More Of The Monkees album, but possibly held back by Kirshner as a potential single.  Nevertheless, after the song received a couple of airings on the television show, it remained in the can, apparently the victim of the brewing struggle between Kirshner and The Monkees.

Bobby Hart: “‘Valleri’ was specifically written for them.  We actually wrote it in the car going up Mulholland from Woodrow Wilson and Laurel Canyon over to the house that (Kirshner) was renting in the suburbs.  We cut the song just prior to the point where we were dismissed a producers.  The first was a better version.”


(First Recorded Version)
Another incredible track that fell afoul of the Kirshner/Monkees feud is “I’ll Be Back Upon My Feet.”  This More Of The Monkees-era recording was featured a few times on the show before being shelved.  Although the group seemed to like it, going so far as to attempt a new version during sessions for Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. (with Michael Nesmith on guitar), no finished takes were completed.  Ironically, by the time the group got around to recording a releasable take, they had returned to using session men for musical backing, which was the whole reason why this original version had gone unused.

The annotated Track-By-Track Notes for this disc can be found on a tab on the side or by clicking here.
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