The Over/Under: The Kinks


The Wilco Over/Under was really well-received. So much so that somebody calling himself “sgtpepper64” on ViaChicago, the Wilco message board, lavished this praise on MAGNET’s Roob (you’d know him if you saw him): “What a dick who doesn’t know shit.” The Robert Pollard Over/Under was really well-received, also. So well-received that Pollard’s wife deleted Roob from her Facebook friend list, no doubt furious over the part where he called Pollard “the greatest songwriter who ever lived.” The R.E.M. Over/Under went well, too. So well that some guy called “haggis” on Murmurs, the R.E.M. message board, wrote, “This is crap. The guy obviously has serious R.E.M. issues” after Roob said that R.E.M. was one of his favorite bands ever. OK, so on we go with the Kinks. As the years go by, it becomes more and more apparent that the Kinks were equal to—if not superior to—the holy trinity of the Beatles, the Who and the Stones. When all is said and done, the Kinks just may be recognized as the greatest band ever. But for now, they’re just more fodder for MAGNET’s weekly Over/Under. Hopefully, Pete Quaife’s wife doesn’t zap Roob from her Facebook friend list after this one.

:: The Five Most Overrated Kinks Songs
1. “Celluloid Heroes” (1972)
“Celluloid Heroes” gets the same big, giant asterisk treatment that we gave Robert Pollard’s “Subspace Biographies” back in February. The problem isn’t the song, it’s the arrangement. The studio version pretty much renders a brilliant song unlistenable. Ray Davies penned a stunning tribute to the actors and actresses whose lives were torn apart by the same Hollywood machinery that made them stars, then he ruined it with a John Tesh-ian wash of synths that drown out the song’s power. Nothing wrong with keys in Kinks music. A bunch of early Kinks tracks were beefed up with some glorious barrelhouse piano, much of it provided by Nicky Hopkins. But here, John Gosling’s keys detract from an otherwise classic Kinks song. If we want synths, we’ll pull out Rick Wakeman’s Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. They don’t belong here.

2. “Come Dancing” (1983)
Davies mined the same territory—sentimentality with a twist—far better before and since. “Come Dancingis a tough listen, one of the few flat-out duds in the Kinks’ vast catalog. For a songwriter who was so brilliant at creating these lonely images of pedestrian life in small-town England, “Come Dancing” tries too hard to tug at the heartstrings and conjures up an image of happy times that have slipped through one’s fingers. Gotta admit, by the time this track ends, I’m glad they knocked down the damn palais.

3. “Juke Box Music” (1977)
Davies is a god at crafting devastatingly beautiful choruses. Nobody in the history of pop music wrote such unforgettable verses and then just blew you away with an even more heart-wrenching or uplifting chorus. And then there’s “Juke Box Music,” with its chorus of “It’s only juke box music/Only juke box music/Only juke box music/It’s only music/Only juke box music/Only juke box music.” Etc. And so on. The verses are pretty meh, too, but this is the worst chorus in Kinks history. Other than maybe “Rock ‘N’ Roll Cities.” And that doesn’t count.

4. “Destroyer” (1981)
I had a girlfriend in college who loved Harry Chapin. OK, stay with me here, this is difficult for me. I’d be in my apartment blasting Uriah Heep or King Crimson, and Janet would sit there studying, then politely ask if we could listen to “Verities And Balderdash” next. Anyway, when tickets went on sale for a Harry Chapin show at Ohio State’s Mershon Auditorium, I had no choice. If I refused to go, she’d refuse to give it up. Come to think of it, she refused anyway. But the point is, Chapin sucked, and the low point of the evening was this pathetic song he did where he took the characters from that morbid “Taxi” song and continued the story years later. It was called “Taxi The Sequel” or “Taxi II” or some such crap, and the realization struck me at that moment that the worst thing any artist can do is recycle old material. It’s sad and it’s pathetic and it’s an open concession that, “Hey, I just got nothing anymore.” So when “Destroyer” starts out, “Met a girl called Lola, and I took her back to my place,” I hearken back to Mershon Auditorium and Janet and that horrifying “Taxi” sequel. Come on, Ray. Not another Lola song. It’s not funny, it’s not clever, it’s not necessary. Of course, “Destroyer” also lifts the “All Day And All Of The Night” riff, so now you have a rare case of multiple self-pilfering. Harry Chapin would have dug it. Janet probably would have, too.

5. “Catch Me Now I’m Falling” (1979)
Low Budget as a whole is underrated. Ironic that it took a British band to provide the most perceptive musical chronicle of the U.S. circa Jimmy Carter’s presidency. But “Catch Me Now I’m Falling,” built around the legendary “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” riff, is a low point here. I have no problem with borrowing a riff from the Stones and tweaking it to fit a new song. Think of World Party’s “woo-hooo” bit in “Way Down Now,” which cops from “Sympathy For The Devil” without stealing. But this is flat-out robbery. And a band that created so many unforgettable riffs—from “All Day And All Of The Night” to “You Really Got Me” to “She’s Got Everything”—just shouldn’t have to resort to it. This was Ray and brother Dave Davies—while still fine songwriters—admitting that they had run out of riffs, so they just shrugged and used somebody else’s. Still bugs me. Not only that, this is the worst couplet in Kinks history: “Now I’m calling all citizens from all over the world/This is Captain America calling.”

:: The Five Most Underrated Kinks Songs
1. “Plastic Man” (1969)
At first glance, a totally ridiculous track, almost novelty. But it turns out “Plastic Man” is much more. It’s not only a biting social commentary on the disingenuous dirtbags who invade our lives on a daily basis but a great little rocket-fueled music-hall rave-up with a gazillion beefy chord changes and a healthy dose of hyperkinetic drumming courtesy of the underrated Mick Avory.

2. “Mindless Child Of Motherhood” (1970)
The first Kinks show I saw was at the long-forgotten Westchester Premier Theater in Tarrytown, N.Y., in 1978. About 40 minutes into the set, Ray introduced Dave, who was about to sing his crowning achievement, “Death Of A Clown”: “This is me brother Dave, and he’s going to sing ‘Death Of A Clown’ now. It’s a great song, but he’s actually not much of a songwriter. Just got lucky with this one, then, didn’t you Dave?” Dave was clearly pissed, but the show went on without any fisticuffs. “Death Of A Clown” may be Dave’s masterpiece, but he penned a few other terrific Kinks songs: “Living On A Thin Line,” “Susannah’s Still Alive” and “Mindless Child Of Motherhood,” to name a few. The latter, originally released as the flip side to the “Lola” single, is a tightly wound powerhouse mid-period Kinks track that holds its own against the best of Ray’s 1966-1969 songs. Luck had nothing to do with it.

3. “Sunny Afternoon” (1966)
The magnificent “Sunny Afternoon” has never been accorded the same legendary status as Ray’s finest songs—”Days,” “Waterloo Sunset,” “Victoria,” et al—but it belongs in that category. “Sunny Afternoon” came along in the summer of 1966 and showed remarkable growth for a band that just two years earlier was releasing straight-ahead covers of songs like “Long Tall Sally.” Now, Ray was emerging as a master storyteller and melodicist, and “Sunny Afternoon” was one of the first and finest of his richly detailed vignettes of everyday life, rising atop an unlikely musical amalgam of Vaudeville, ragtime, pop and Broadway. It would prove to be fertile territory for the Kinks over the next decade, but they never did it better than on “Sunny Afternoon.”

4. “Shangri-La” (1969)
Ray never really needed to put out that endless string of late-’60s/early-’70s theatrical concept albums, because he had this remarkable ability to condense an entire theatrical concept into one song. He didn’t need the 40-minute form because he could so remarkably use the five-minute form. Consider “Shangri-La,” which outwardly is yet another Davies tale of a British suburban loser and his mundane life. But musically, “Shangri-La” is astonishing. It starts out with Ray singing over a little acoustic guitar, then some horns kick in, then a harpsichord appears out of nowhere as the whole thing speeds up and changes key, a device that usually destroys pop songs but here deftly creates musical tension. Then comes Dave’s otherworldly “you can’t go anywhere” harmony—with apologies to the Pips for their work on “Midnight Train To Georgia,” I submit that this is the greatest harmony vocal in pop-music history—setting up the triumphant hook. And that’s just the first minute and a half. After another verse, with more insanely great Dave harmonies—check out the “TV set and a radio” bit—and another chorus, the thing changes key again, then descends from music-hall pop into a hammering hard-rock verse, then morphs into the “la-la-la-la” version of the chorus. Then we skid to a halt, slow down and get one more chorus, with Dave’s “you can’t go anywhere” harmony just falling impossibly out of the sky and twisting itself into Ray’s lead vocal. There’s so much happening here, but it all works together, thanks to the genius of the brothers Davies. “Shangri-La” was released as a single but didn’t go anywhere, except in the Netherlands, where it peaked at number 27. But 40 years after it was released, “Shangri-La” stands as an epic, sprawling, five-and-a-half-minute mini-opera unto itself. A masterpiece.

5. “Better Things” (1981)
By the early 1980s, with outstanding comeback records Misfits and Low Budget fading in their rear-view mirror, the Kinks had ceased being a relevant band, and Give The People What They Want was the first in a string of desultory records that continued with State Of Confusion, Word Of Mouth, Think Visual and UK Jive. But each record seemed to have one damn good track buried somewhere within—often at the end of side two. Think Visual had “Lost And Found.” Word Of Mouth had “Do It Again.” State Of Confusion had … hmmm … I’ll get back to you. And for anybody who dared make it to the end of Give The People What They Want, there was “Better Things,” a vintage Kinks track with hopeful lyrics, old-school Kinks harmonies and a poignant Ray vocal. Sentimental without being cliché. That’s what Ray always did best, and with “Better Things,” he conjured up his old brilliance and did it one last time.

Read our 2008 Ray Davies cover story and Dave Davies feature. Plus, MAGNET had Black Francis, Robyn Hitchcock, Neko Case, Of Montreal and others write about their favorite Ray songs, and then we picked 10 overlooked Kinks tracks you need to know.

38 replies on “The Over/Under: The Kinks”

i never thought of “sunny afternoon” as an underrated track as I seem to recall hearing it a lot in public places, and it’s bound to be used in a commercial soon if it hasn’t already. anyway, i think these tracks are better and maybe more underrated:
“She’s Got Everything”
“King Kong”
“20th Century Man”
“Creeping Jean”
“Berkely Mews”
“Sittin’ On My Sofa”

I don’t really know what qualifies something as underrated though.

I still don’t have the pleasure of listening to their last true studio album, “Phobia” – the only album I don’t own by The Kinks. But I did hear the songs from the album on their box set and I was taken back by just how amazing the song “Shattered” is. Truly a contender for underrated song. =]

Check out the cover of “Mindless Child Of Motherhood” by Monkeypox!

the kinks made records in the seventies? who knew – i thought they broke up after “something else…” – oh wait, i just wish they did.


Phobia is a great album. It’s eclectic and it has the most Kinks songs of any single album. It was their first album recorded with a 60 minute CD in mind. Like most Kinks albums it has some good material, three or four masterpeices (Shattered is one and then take your pick of the others) and then some quirky stuff that you need to be a fan to appreciate and won’t “get” until you listen a few times.

The title track Phobia is a great rock arrangement and has hilarious lyrics once you realize that it’s a satire on Freudian psychology. In fact, it’s a send up of all of Ray’s “paranoia” lyrics ever written rolled up into one song and then some.

The other highlights are Dave Davies two lead vocals. “It’s Alright” is of the best Kinks songs ever. I love the subtexts: “It’s Alright!” (If you don’t think about it … If you just don’t look at it … etc.) Forget that it a song about environmentalism — it could be a commentary on the human condition in general. And of course, “Close to the Wire” (Dave’s compostion) and “Hatred” are great too. I like a lot of the silly quirky songs on the album simply because they are silly quirky Kinks songs. “Somebody Stole My Car” was annoying at first listen and now I love it. It’s driving rockabilly with social satire on Western economic attitudes.

Phobia was critically acclaimed but didn’t sell well. The Phobia tour had the band playing at their peak live. Then they broke up. The problem with the album is that it sounds like a superior verison of their “post-punk” Low Budget material. But musically and lyrically it’s the best album of that period following three of their worst albums.

The album is an interesting bridge to Ray’s recent solo efforts and most resembles Working Man’s Cafe in some places.

This is a debate without an ending. There are amazing Kinks songs hidden amongst crappy ones – you can look at most of their albums for examples. The Kinks never had a really good producer, ever. UK Jive sounded pretty good at the time and Phobia is sonically the best album (too little too late). So, we need not argue whether one song is overrated or underrated. The band itself has been underrated for 40 years. Ray Davies is one of the greatest songwriters in popular music yet our kids won’t ever know that because no one treasures The Kinks like The Stones, Beatles and The Who.

It should also be mentioned that Ray Davies is one of the wonderful performers in the modern rock era-the best I have witnessed. For underrated songs listen to Dave’s, When you were a Child [Think Visual] and Ray’s In a Foreign Land [Misfits], a Jimmy Buffett-type escape song. And lastly, the “Dan is a fan” line in “Rock and Roll Fantasy”is for Dan McClain, aka County Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, who was President of the Kinks Fan Club, San Diego in 1972.

First off, Celluloid Heroes does not belong on the overrated list, even with the dated wash of synth. It is a classic Kinks track and a brilliant song. And Sunny Afternoon, one of the best (IMO) Kinks songs, is not really underrated. by anyone familar with the Kinks. Come Dancing is an easy target. How about having Magnet readers do these when your “critics” don’t have the depth? “Strangers” is a great pick for underrated. And I would argue that “Get Back in Line” is as well. And “Rock N’ Roll Fantasy” is on my overrated list.

The “London Song” is easily the most under-rated Ray tune of all time. I beleive to this day it would have been a major hit if someone had promoted it. I play that tune at parties and get alot of “what a great song-Who is that? The Kinks were banned from the U.S. and never had the managers or “payola” required to get “airtime” that even the shitty bands got back then. They soldiered on with talent, grit and amazing live shows. My buddies and I had the best times of our lives at Kinks concerts in Buffalo and N.Y.C. w/songs like “Demon Alcohol” and “Lola” w/Ray wearing a dress and staggering around the stage. What a ball-buster!

The live version of “Celluloid Heroes” off “One for the road” is so much better than the studio version. Dave’s lead parts at the beginning and middle are among his guitar work ever. I love how the Kinks re-worked many of their earlier songs when they became an arena rock band in the late ’70s-’80s.

My vote for most underrated Kinks song would be “Gallon of gas” off “Low Budget”. It still holds up, especially last summer when gas was over $4.00 a gallon. Plus, you gotta admit that the notioin of going to your drug dealer for a gallon of gas is, well…(wait for it)… a gas!

Most underrated kinks songs for me are: I Need You – Alcohol Live- Only a Dream – To The Bone – Apeman – Big Sky – plus alot more. The kinks in my book are better than the Stones or the Who – the kinks took chances with their music and had more variety than those 2 groups – I started out a Beatles fan in 64 but ended up a dedicated follower of the kinks my whole life – still love the fab 4 but the kinks have me heart and mind.

I must agree with Tim Cooper. “Get Back in the Line” is almost never mentioned. When I was about ten years old, it was that song…not Lola…that fell on my head like a ton of bricks. The depth of that tune was astonishing to me. “Bring You Home Some Wine”…indeed.

I think Did Ya from the EP that came out before Phobia is underrated, also Dead End Street, and agree about catch & me now I am falling, and come dancing. Though Lola is way more overated than Celluloid Heroes will ever be.
Sunny Afternoon is just classic.

God save the Kinks. How about one more tour to go with the box set.

There are so many but a few are Till the end of the day (at least equal to all of the day and all of the night), mr songbird, big sky, Mr Churchill says (inc one of Dave’s best solos ever) , misty water, and Lincoln county.

oh and just cos its catchy Have a Cuppa tea

I think the choices for overrated are pretty good except for Celluloid Heroes. For the life of me I can’t see how that song could be called overrated. The “synths” sound more like piano to me on the original studio version and are done rather tastfully. Perhaps you were thinking about the live version on One For The Road which is much more synth dominated.

As for the underrated, I think they are all great choices. The problem with discussing The Kinks and underrated songs, they have way too many. I could certainly add many to the list, but I’ll limit myself to a handful here. I’ve got to agree with others, Get Back In Line is an incredible Kinks song most people never heard of and is very deserving as the king of the underrated Kinks songs. Others that quickly come to mind; Too Much On My Mind, Sittin In My Hotel, Strangers, Some Mothers Son, Art Lover, No More Looking Back, Gods Children and about 4 songs on Phobia which itself is the most underrated Kinks record.

Twice above the song from Phobia was wrongly named, it’s “Scattered”, not the same as the Stones song, and it is indeed a late period masterpiece. Even though one can name hundeds of underrated songs by the most underrated and underappreciated band in rock history, I will go with;
Lavender Hill
Big Sky
The Way love used to be
Sweet Lady Genevive
Live Life
I Need You
Nothing to Say
Big Sky
Life on the Road
Autumn Almanac
Mr. Pleasant
Berkeley Mews
Around the Dial
and many many more…from Northern California’s biggest fan

It is 40 years since possibly the best Kinks album, Arthur, was released. Over the last couple of years Village Green has received many plaudits, however Arthur has several songs that are much stronger than anything on Village Green – most notable underated track on Arthur being Young and Innocent Days.

Sittin´In My Hotel
Get Back In Line
God´s Children
Next Door Neighbour
This Time Tomorrow
my list (and take the Lola versus…and Muswell H.-albums, if you need more to go with)
And cool down: Time will give Ray and The Kinks all the credit, they deserve.
Rock i s slowly dying these years, transforming into electronical exerecises.
Notes and words will stand. And Ray Davies is a master

Better Days has always been one of my favorite Kinks songs, for obvious reasons. I actually also enjoyed the album that spawned it, minus Destroyer, which just recycled old riffs with a predictable conclusion. I still think that Art Lover and A Little Bit of Abuse stand up well from that album, and don’t warrant the slagging that early 80’s Kinks efforts typically receive. Why this band lives in the shadows of the Brit “greats” of the time (Beatles, Stones, Zep, The Who) is beyond me, as growing up, I always considered them to be on par, if not a little more intense, as lyrically they always seemed to offer a slice of life that I can relate to. And I’m Canadian!!

from the early period: So long, I go to sleep, Something Better beginning and I need you
From the classic period: Berkley mews, to much on my mind, two sisters, star struck, this is where I belong, strangers, young and innocent days, some mother’s sun, dreams, moments, way love used to be, oklahoma USA, complicated life
from the RCA rock opera stage, Lady Genevieve, Daylight, Oh where oh where is love, mirror of love, you make it all worthwhile, holiday romance, I’m in disgrace, Headmaster,
From the arista years life goes on, stormy sky, misfits, rock and roll fantasy, little bit of emotion, yo yo, art lover, better things, property, Heat of Gold, long distance, do it again, good day,
From the final period lost and found, the Road, how do I get close, Hatred, Scattered, Only a dream, to the bone

The staggeringly brillant “This strange effect” and the awesome “I go to sleep”. Pop perfection and demos to boot ! When will we get to hear Wilco’s “Sitting in my hotel”?

Hang on there a minute, aren’t those the harmonies of Rasa Davies twisting around Ray’s lead vocals in “Shangri-La”?

People usually don’t understand Ray, but this writer got it mostly right. While I would submit that the Dave Davies track is alright, the rest of what he listed as under-rated is spot-on. I always thought I was one of the few people who enjoyed Better Things, but the more that The Kinks are written about in modern media, the more I learn that lots of people appreciate that great song.

I would replace Plastic Man with King Kong, the B side of that single. It is a really odd little ditty about the Dr.Strangelove character, and it’s a hoot. I would replace the Mindless Child Of Motherhood with Education off of the Schoolboys in Disgrace album. But all in all, the author did a great job.

underrated – Big Black Smoke, This is Where I Belong, Rosemary Rose, Two Sisters, Yo Yo, Scattered, Polly, End of the Season, Lazy Old Sun, Don’t Ever Let Me Go, A Face In the Crowd, Some Mother’s Son, Alcohol, Animal Farm, Good Day, Animal
overrated-SleepWalker, Hatred, Banana Boat Song, Destroyer

Add these gems to the underrated list :-
Pictures in the sand , Two Sisters,Property,Long Distance,
Heart of Gold,Dont Forget To Dance,Did You See His Name?
Such A Shame,Act Nice And Gentle and the ratherful wonderful Good Day . Give Phobia a break………..Scattered,Hatred ,Drift Away,Still Searching,Only A Dream and Over The Edge all sound like winners to these ears .

If one Kinks song is really overrated, I think it is “Waterloo sunset”.
“Sunny afternoon” is one of their best and I can’t understand why someone would call it “underrated”? It’s up there with “Dead end street” and “Dedicated follower of fashion” from the same year. What a year 1966 was for pop music!

“Shangri-la” is also heralded as a masterpiece among Kinks fans so I wouldn’t call that one underrated either. Rather it’s a bit overrated to me. The melody is gorgeous in the beginning, but then the messy production ruins the song. Like someone said, Kinks never had a good producer. Shel Talmy produced the first three or four albums, then Ray produced every album himself, which didn’t always turn out so well, especially the 70’s albums could have been even better with a “real” producer.

phoebia is a great, underrated album. as far as underrated songs, i need you, she’s got everything, autumn almanac, sleepwalker, the hard way, do it again, village green, God’s children, livin on a thin line, stormy sky, going solo…..the beatles and beach boys were great, stones and who innovative, but the kinks music and lyrics have consistently been good since the 60s. Their harmonies are underrated, Dave is an excellent backup/harmony singer. Great riffs and hooks to their music. Hope they will do one more tour.

A well-written and thought-provoking list — you won’t get any insults from this Kinks fan. Just a few comments:

I’d have to agree with several above: I never thought of Sunny Afternoon as underrated, I think it’s cited very frequently in articles and such, perhaps more frequently than “Days…”

I also don’t exactly think of “Jukebox Music,” “Catch Me,” and, especially, “Destroyer’ as highly-rated songs, but if you say so…

Good call on “Mindless Child of Motherhood,” although I’d have to agree with Christian above — “Strangers” is even better.

Thanks for giving such a tribute to “Shangri-la” and to the Kinks in general.

Apart from a couple of forgivable duds “Close to the Wire”, “Babies”, “Somebody Stole My Car”, Phobia is a fabulous Kinks collection. Hatred is a pretty amazing song! Cat-fight central… Bitchy,Catty, Cocky, Sly, Puerile, Hilarious- a car crash waiting to happen . Would love to hear Oasis cover this song pronto. The ever prescient Ray Davies is as ever on the ball.

Two under the radar tracks — “Autumn Almanac”, a song that Andy Partridge once said he wished he wrote, and “Did Ya?”, which came out on a five-song EP that was released before Phobia and showed that Ray Davies had one more 1967-ish shot in his gun.

I’d disagree with “Come Dancing” being overrated. Yes, Davies had been nostalgic before, but there is a specificity to the song that makes it pretty evocative and it has a lilting melody that works quite well. And the video is fantastic and drives home the sentimentality, for better or worse.

I would have to say that the most underrated Kinks songs are:
Berkley Mews
Big Black Smoke
Susannah’s Still Alive
Johnny Thunder
Shangri-La and
This Is Where I Belong

All great choices. Polly is one of those underrated gems I have in my head for days every time I hear it.

I feel that The Kinks are a very charming group to listen to. I love the song, ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’. I also enjoy the songs, ‘Waterloo Sunset’, ‘The World Keeps Going Round’, ‘Such a Shame’, ‘Tin Soldier Man’, ‘Sunny Afternoon’, ‘She’s Got Everything’, ‘Most Exclusive Residence for Sale’ and ‘Wonderboy’. I also like how the song, ‘All Day and All of the Night’ is written almost like it’s written by a Cockney. I bought myself a cute pea green pea coat, that I can’t wait to wear to Stepping Stones today. It touches me to know that there are lots of Kinks fans out there, and it almost brings me to tears. They really are a charming group to listen to.

I love the Kinks. It wasn’t until after listening to their entire discography a few months ago that I realized how good they are. For years I was content to listen to a greatest hits tape I bought in London in 1993. Little did I know that I was listening to mere scant sampling of their great music. I would say they are the only band that could give the Beatles a run for their money as the top of the tops. Here are some great ones:

I Go to Sleep
Big Black Smoke
Village Green (not Village Green Preservation Society, which is also great)
Berkeley Mews
Phenomenal Cat
Some Mother’s Son
Shangri La
The Contenders
This Time Tomorrow
God’s Children
The Way Love Used to Be
Willesden Green
Complicated Life
Muswell Hillbilly
Better Days

They just blow my mind. The sheer volume of great music they have created boggles my mind. They make even the best bands look like amateurs.

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