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Mark Blackburn


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I had a thread here that was 'this close' to half-a-million 'views.' (Once I had a railroad, now it's gone, brother can you spare a dime?) Reminded of "IF" -- my favorite poem by Rudyard Kipling:

"If you can make a heap of all your winnings, and risk it on one turn of 'pitch and toss' 

and lose – and start again at your beginnings, and never breathe a word about your loss ….


I was nine when I first read that poem by 'The Jungle Book' guy; its insights into the human condition (and its perfect cadences) entered my memory without effort that day, and are still there 60 years on.

Recalling too, a moment half a century ago when Sinatra started his own “Reprise” record label with Warner Brothers – and was suddenly, for the first time in his life, a really wealthy man – at the peak of his financial powers: That's when he shared with his first born Nancy his favorite line from that Kipling poem (mine too!)

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same”

I'm 72 now, still singing "I Thought About You" to my three youngest grand daughters, who indulge me with smiles when I say, "That's by Johnny Mercer. He'll be your favorite too!"  I like to write about great melodies, great lyrics and great renditions.  "Without the rendition," said Jule (Just in Time) Styne "there is no song."  To borrow a line from John Mercer: I hope you won't mind my bending your ear.

My postings are appreciations – celebrations – of The Great American Songbook – usually prompted by what Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio channel 71 is playing “right this minute.” Or else by “you liked THAT, you may like this too!” offerings from the shuffle play miracle that is YouTube circa 2019. Hope you enjoy!



Edited by Mark Blackburn

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Connick's SOME ENCHANTED EVENING – still 'enchanting' ten years on

As I type this Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio is playing Harry Connick Jr's SOME ENCHANTED EVENING – a mid-tempo swing masterpiece -- a gorgeous orchestration reminiscent of Nelson Riddle's 'heartbeat' arrangements for Sinatra. But no. This one is enchantingly arranged by Harry himself, for an album so great it has its own Wikipedia entry chock full of fascinating facts (below). While we count the days till Harry's next long-anticipated album, while hoping it measures up to THIS. To coin a phrase: My favorite version -- yours too?


'Your Songs' is a studio album by American jazz singer Harry Connick Jr. that was released by Columbia. It was released first in the United States on a limited edition double vinyl LP on August 25, 2009,[5] then on CD on September 22.

Most of the songs were chosen by record producer Clive Davis, who aimed towards classic, familiar songs, as contemporary as possible. Davis had expressed an interest in working with Connick. Connick had an idea of bringing in a famous arranger for the album, but Davis suggested Connick do the arrangements himself.

The song "Bésame Mucho" was suggested by Connick's father, Harry Connick Sr., a former district attorney for the Parish of Orleans. They sang a duet on the album New Orleans...My Home Town (1998). Branford and Wynton Marsalis contribute to the album. Both are multiple Grammy winners. Both are childhood friends of Connick. Trumpeter Wayne Bergeron and guitarist Bryan Sutton also play on the album.

Connick said in a radio interview that "Smile" was dedicated to a girl named Nicola. She and her mother attended one of Connick's shows in Paris, France, several years before. Nicola was seven at the time, and Connick took her on a tour of Paris. They stood under the Eiffel Tower. Although she was blind, she knew where she was and had a smile on her face.[7]

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"Hey Tony!" said Hank on the phone: "Why you go and ruin my song?"

Hit the "back one hour" button on Sirius streaming in HiFi on the computer (the novelty will never wear off!) and it's Tony Bennett addressing an adoring audience . . .

“Mitch Miller was the first musician I knew, to realize that there was 'gold' in Country music – because of one man, Hank Williams: Mitch had me record Cold, Cold Heart.”

At YouTube, first 'live' performance offering – is another version with a different spoken intro, worth transcribing, in which Tony adds that “In those days Country music just stayed in the 'Bible Belt.' [Because of Mitch] Rosemary Clooney and I were really the first 'American Idols'! He really started us off and . . . anyway, he had this Hank Williams song – Mitch showed it to me – and I said, 'It's a great song, Mitch. That Hank Williams really knows how to write songs . . . BUT I'm a city boy, and I wouldn't be able to sing a Country song.' Mitch said, 'If we have to tie you to a tree, you're going to have to sing this song, whether you like it or not!' So he tied me to a tree! It was the first Country song to sell internationally all over the world.”

Look beyond the dated limitations of an MSNBC video tape recording someone made 13 years ago. The sound is mighty fine!


Below the video, an informed note from a kindred soul

Sauquoit13456 (5 years ag)o
On this day in 1951 {November 3rd} "Cold, Cold Heart" by Tony Bennett peaked at #1 {for 6 weeks} on Billboard's Best Sellers chart... He replaced himself at #1; his "Because of You" had been #1 for 8 weeks on the Best Sellers chart... On May 12th, 1951 the song's composer, country legend Hank Williams, took it to #1 on Billboard's Country chart... R.I.P. Mr. Williams {1923 - 1953} and Mr. Bennett, aka Anthony Dominick Benedetto, celebrated his 87th birthday three months ago on August 3rd.

Next offering on the YouTube shuffle -- the 'making of' Tony's duet version with Tim McGraw (the late producer Phil Ramone, stage right) 

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JIMMY WEBB -- my new favorite "Playing Favorites" show on Siriusly Sinatra

A year ago I acquired Jimmy Webb's late-in-life book about songwriting – the best of its kind, I say.  On the drive home I turn on Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio radio – just in time to hear Mr. Webb reflecting on his most precious moments with our favorite singer.
'MacArthur Park' is one of my borderline controversial songs, with probably equal numbers of fans and detractors. I think that one of the things I like about it is that, embedded in the center of this rather lengthy work, there's a little ballad – that really stands on its own. And it was Mr. Sinatra who came along and (during one of our 'soirees') said:

'Listen . . . you wouldn't mind if I just did the CENTER section, would you?'

Of course I said [laughing at the memory] 'Of course not!' I could barely SPEAK when I was in the same room with the guy! So I said, Of course not! And the result is THIS lovely track – which is, I think really the HEART of it. And he was wise enough to know that: All he really had to sing, was this little 'song' – which is really called, 'After All The Loves in My Life.'

“Many times I would be invited up to Las Vegas as Mr. Sinatra's guest when he was playing Caesar's Palace . . . and literally EVERYTHING was taken care-of: from the time I got out of my car, until the time I left, my money was 'no good.'

“We would meet in the afternoon. He would, maybe, smoke a cigarette. He was not a heavy smoker. But he might have a cigarette, a Jack Daniels 'straight' – and sit and listen to me, play the piano.

“He loved songwriters and he would sit there all afternoon. Until the sun was going down, sometimes. And out of one of those 'sessions' came his affection for this ballad which I wrote when I was . . . probably 17, 18 years old. It's one of the few songs I ever wrote words & music at the same time: I mean literally spitting out the lyrics while I'm humming the melody.

“At the time I was driving my car from L.A to Newport Beach: I think I was probably a hazard to normal traffic that day – 'cause I was this 'wild man' – singing this thing, and trying to drive, and trying to REMEMBER it! Because I was afraid I was going to forget it.

“When I got down to Newport Beach I went running into this house (that I'd rented with some of my fraternity brothers) and – we had a piano, and I sat down and started playing this perfectly manifested song: Fleshed-out, polished, finished – and the guys are looking at me with their mouths hanging open, saying 'Where did THAT come from?' I have to tell ya, I don't KNOW where it came from! But I know it was a wonderful 'gift.'
“But THIS is, in my mind," says Mr. Webb, "the classic recording of 'Didn't We'."

Edited by Mark Blackburn

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Incidentally,  that final note on DIDN'T WE is the second lowest note Frank ever sang! Just as an aside:   Like Oscar Peterson (and very few other people I know) my oldest grandson Thomas has perfect pitch. We'll be watching television, a musical commercial and I'll say, "What's that note?" "B-flat" says my 22-year-old musical wizard (a better guitarist than his funny old Grumpa ever was). We go to the keyboard and check. He's always right. The novelty will never wear off!

I have to pick up my guitar (always in tune) and check -- a moment ago, the final low note on Frank's recording of the first eventual hit song Jimmy Webb wrote, DIDN'T WE. Our favorite singer takes it down to a low F-major. What about WAVE? Thomas could hear them once and tell me with certainty that "he's two tones lower" on WAVE: E-flat.

That would be THIS.  From his second album of A.C. Jobim songs, and yes, still my favorite song composed (words and music) by the fellow I call "The Cole Porter of South America." 



Edited by Mark Blackburn

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I can't clear my throat without saying the words "My favorite" (or "Mom's favorite"). I got my love of superlatives from my Mom's English-born father -- who when I was little would tell me about the fastest bird ("The Swift" -- 200 mph in a dive) or "the fastest car" (the 'Reid Railton Special' driven by English furrier John Cobb who -- the year of my birth, 1947 -- briefly topped 400 mph in setting a two-way record at Bonneville (394 mph) that lasted for decades! That car ended up in a museum in Birmingham England -- Grampa Fortington's home town. To coin a phrase, What a coincidence!

There are moments when I'm listening to Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio and thinking (one song after another)  "No, THAT is my favorite version."  Including (recently) "These Foolish Things" -- sung by Rod Stewart. I was at a party once and amid the ambient noise I could clearly hear a male singer's voice singing this English standard. I checked to see which singer was able to penetrate that much noise. The unique sound of Rod Stewart. Frank and Ella wouldn't have penetrated through that joyful noise the way the husky delivery of Rod Stewart does. In that particular way, you could say "Rod is the best!" In any case he had the good sense to record "my favorite version" as a video. Delightful, you may agree.



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Like Johnny Mercer listening to obscure French melodies and turning them into hits (like Autumn Leaves) a lesser-known American lyricist Carl Sigman rescued a German tune from sure oblivion with a new English lyric.  Best version of ANSWER ME, MY LOVE was a symphonic treatment of 30 years ago -- Joni Mitchell with a 70-piece orchestra arranged by Vince Mendoza. 


According to Wikipedia:  "Answer Me" is a popular song, originally written 1952 (with German lyrics) under the title "Mütterlein" by Gerhard Winkler and Fred Rauch. The English lyrics were written by Carl Sigman in 1952. After the song was recorded by David Whitfield and Frankie Laine in 1953, the "religious" version was banned by the BBC after complaints.[1] Nevertheless, it still reached number one on the UK Singles Chart,[2] after another version was written by Sigman in which, instead of directing the question to God about why the singer has lost his love, the lyric is addressed directly to the lost lover. In the new lyric, "Answer me, Lord above..." is changed to "Answer me, oh my love..." with other appropriate changes.

The new song, entitled "Answer Me, My Love," was again recorded by Laine and Whitfield, but became a bigger U.S. hit for Nat King Cole in 1954.[3] Whitfield's version reached the top spot in the UK Singles Chart first, followed swiftly by Laine's. On 13 November 1953, for the first but not only time in chart history, one version of a song was knocked off the top by another version of the same song.[2] Four weeks later, for the only time in British chart history, the two versions of the same song were at number one together.[2] Joni's version played this morning on Sirius '71

And who was Carl Sigman? You know some of his songs by heart! [A partial Wiki list] 

"A Marshmallow World" (collaboration with Peter deRose) "Arrivederci Roma" "The All American Soldier" "All Too Soon" (collaboration with Duke Ellington) "Answer Me" "Ballerina" "Buona Sera" "Careless Hands" "Civilization" (aka "Bongo, Bongo, Bongo, I don't want to leave the Congo") "Crazy He Calls Me" (1949 collaboration with Bob Russell) "Dance Ballerina Dance" (collaboration with Bob Russell) "A Day In The Life Of A Fool" "The Day The Rains Came" (1957) "Ebb Tide" "Enjoy Yourself" (1948) "Fool" "How Will I Remember You" (music by Walter Gross) "I Could Have Told You" (collaboration with Jimmy Van Heusen) "If You Could See Me Now" (collaboration with Tadd Dameron) "It's All In The Game" "Losing You (English lyrics)" "Music from Across the Way" "My Heart Cries For You" "Pennsylvania 6-5000" (collaboration with Glenn Miller) "The Saddest Thing Of All" "Shangri-La" "Till" "What Now My Love" "(Where Do I Begin?) Love Story" "The World We Knew (Over and Over)" "You're My World"

[p.s. Deepest thanks to the Wise Men here who managed to change the platform (if that's the term) for the better, here at the world's biggest website for musicians. Most grateful for the improvements!  Sincerely, etc. Mark B of the frozen North]


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The Carol Burnett Show -- SHOE SALESMAN (Don Rickles)

Every now and then I think back to the Carol Burnett show with actors who managed to keep a straight face while the studio audience was convulsing with laughter -- I think back and ask, Was it really THAT funny? Carol, and Harvey Korman, and Tim Conway -- were they really that much better than anything on TV today?

Answering my question, a mind-reader at YouTube just sent this my way. Don Rickles in his greatest-ever comedic role (see if you don't agree) as the SHOE SALESMAN. I actually hurt in the ribs. If I laugh any harder I will cry.

Look for these lines (improvised!):

[tap, tap, tap] "Is there a train coming by?" [and] "Last time I saw a foot that big, there was a bear attached to it."


As "Thud Thud" said in the comments: "There's no way Harvey Korman could survive that barrage" from Don Rickles (and keep a straight face).
(We now return to our regularly-scheduled programming)
Edited by Mark Blackburn

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From the movie that opens with a policeman pronouncing James Bond dead in bed: “Well, at least he died on the job; he'd have wanted it this way.”

Al Martino's little girl Alison for her 'Playing Favorites' show on Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio today shared her favorites "from The Great American Songbook: Alison spoke at length about (drummer) Hal Blaine: "I remember he performed, at the 'Baked Potato' (on his birthday, February 1st) 'Be My Little Baby' and 'These Boots are Made for Walking.' To be able to see Hal perform these classic songs in front of our eyes and ears was just . . . to melt with joy!

"Nancy and Hal were actually quite close: Hal toured with Nancy even during his extremely busy (recording) schedule – with his name always on the marquee – Nancy made sure of that! They made a lot of music together – collaborated a lot, everything from THESE BOOTS ARE MADE FOR WALKING, to her collaborations with Lee Hazlewood.

"Yes, it was really hard for me to pick my favorite Nancy song today – I'm such a fan of her music! But I wanted to go back (again) to songs from films: and one of my favorite 'Bond' songs – if not my favorite – is Nancy singing YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. This is also the very first non-British vocals for the entire James Bond series. In fact, the film's producer originally wanted Frank to perform this song. But Frank suggested that they use his daughter instead. Wise choice!

"This is such a powerful theme – an enchanting and haunting melody – and one of Nancy's best! It has some kind of . . . magical, mystical quality. And here's something [to notice] – the string section kicks in at double-oh-seven seconds!

[The oldest YouTube upload of the song has the most millions of “views” for any Bond theme; this more recent “Hi Def” version (which includes the film's opening moments) is 2,706,079 views and counting:]


Wiki note: "Alison Martino (born December 15, 1970) is a television producer, columnist and Los Angeles historian. She is the daughter of the late singer Al Martino and his wife, American Airlines flight attendant and model Judi Martino . . . "

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Christmas Memories: my favorite Christmas carol written for just for Frank

So grateful to Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio for this “conversation” (replayed this hour):

CHARLES PIGNONE: Another song you collaborated on was Don Costa's Christmas Memories. Was that another one specifically written for Frank?
ALAN BERGMAN: Yes. They were on the road together when Costa said I have this melody and Frank replied, Could you write it as a Christmas song? And so we did (Marilyn & I).
CHARLES PIGNONE: That will be on the (upcoming) CD – it's a wonderful song!

[Frank -- to the perfect Costa orchestration]

Singing Carols! Stringing popcorn . . . making footprints in the snow
Mem'ries – Christmas mem'ries – they're the sweetest ones I know!

Cookies baking in the kitchen, cards and ribbons ev'rywhere
Frosty, Christmas mem'ries, float like snowflakes in the air . . .

[BRIDGE – old-fashioned mixed vocal chorus]

And oh! The joy of waking Christmas morning! The fam'ly 'round the tree
We had a way of making Christmas mornings as merry as can be . . .


The trouble with “official” releases – you'd be denied my favorite Christmas painting (this one, posted four years ago). Just look at the details; there's enough time (two minutes) to appreciate them all. That perfect moment in the life of a fire . . . one older sister and two younger girls snug and warm from the cold outside – a glimpse of snow on the panes of the opposing windows. The tree! (Didn't yours look just like that? Ours did!) The strings of popcorn above the fireplace. The blankets, and that warm area rug. I close my eyes and see . . .

FRANK: . . . shiny faces, of all the children, who now have children of their own: Funny, but comes December, I remember, ev'ry Christmas I've known.


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When opera met Sammy Cahn

In 1950, Ukraine-born film composer Nicholas Brodszky landed his first big musical film assignment -- commissioned to write all the music for Mario Lanza's “The Toast of New Orleans” which co-starred (drum roll -- be still my heart) Kathryn Grayson.

The studio wanted a new operatic song for its young star to sing – and ideally an Oscar-nominated song. Mr. Brodszky had the tune, and someone at the studio, in the proverbial 'we-need-it-by-tomorrow, suggested Sammy Cahn – Hollywood's go-to lyricist at moments like these. Sammy holds the all-time record of 26 “Best Original Song” Oscar-nominations (he won four). In a way, it was Sammy's most influential song – awakening a 'love of opera' for millions of film goers who didn't know pizzicato from pizza – but knew what they liked. From this moment on, if asked “Do you like opera?” they'd picture Mario and say Yes (or maybe 'sometimes' or just “a little”).

It was Mario Lanza's first million-selling Gold record -- eventually selling two million 78 rpm records. Obviously another “Best Original Song” Oscar nomination for Sammy Cahn. (It lost on Academy Awards Night to “Mona Lisa”).


Just as an aside: According to my Mom, when I was between the ages of two and three, I earnestly informed her – while looking at Kathryn Grayson's photo on an album of 78s (“Anchors Aweigh” I believe) – that I “will marry her” one day. Kathryn was then 26 years my senior. You could say I've always had this thing for older women!

A few years before her death I sent Ms Grayson a fan letter noting this fact. She was at that time associated with a university music program in Boise Idaho. I may have said, “No need to reply” and graciously . . . she did not. If we meet in heaven I shall request “Waltz Serenade” from that movie – surely the best-ever operatic, coloratura (highest of the sopranos) performance on the 'Silver Screen.' (Which is to say, My favorite – yours too?)


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JOHNNY MATHIS - All Through the Night

Each morning it seems lately, on my drive back home, just as I'm pulling up in the laneway, Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio INSISTS on playing something 'wonderful, wonderful' -- that I must hear “all through” to the end: Today it's from an early (1957) Johnny Mathis album aptly titled 'Wonderful, Wonderful.' The perfect voice of a 22 year old Mathis singing a Cole Porter song (from 1934) ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT. In deference to his musical elders, Johnny remembered to include the seldom-heard opening verse (the first 45 seconds) before the familiar main chorus's title words, All through the night . . .


Since the last time I searched for this album, there's an expanded Wikipedia entry recalling that Johnny's second vinyl LP “was initially only available in the monaural format” (and not released on a CD until 2001 in the UK).

For those who still care to ask 'Who wrote that song?' [and] 'Who's that virtuoso soloist?' Wiki informs:

'Wonderful Wonderful' [was] released on July 8, 1957,[1] on the Columbia Records label but does not include his hit song of the same name or any of his songs that were released as singles that year. The liner notes on the back of the original album cover proclaim that "he stamps as his very own such familiar rhythm tunes as 'Too Close for Comfort' and 'That Old Black Magic', injects new life in well-known ballads such as 'All Through the Night', … it debuted on Billboard magazine's list of the 25 Best-Selling Pop LPs . . . and reached number four during its 26 weeks there.

As for the effect his voice had on listeners:

AllMusic's Joe Viglione had high praise for Mathis here. "Even at the outset of his career, the voice that would become so familiar is in control and not just flirting with perfection -- the instrument is perfectly tuned and full of life."[2] The reviewer also wrote, "The production is sublime and the album is a real treasure"[2] and that "Jimmy Abato's alto sax and Ernie Royal's trumpet do wonders next to Mathis's voice."[2]

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JAMES TAYLOR -- ART GARFUNKEL reprise The Everlys' Crying in the Rain

Left a note at James Taylor's Facebook page a moment ago, celebrating an old video he shared this day of "my favorite ballad of 1962."

Reprising outdoors a delightful duet that James & Art recorded in 1993 (for Art's 'Up 'til Now' album). Quite the nicest 'harmonizing in thirds' since the original by The Everly Brothers, Don & Phil (whose single “peaked at No. 6 on the US pop chart.”) Through his unique approach to finger-style guitar – always the perfect chords in a sequence he alone could devise! I believe The Everlys would have loved James' approach – as would their mentor, 'Mr. Guitar' Chet Atkins (who recorded the unforgettable rhythm guitar on their “Wake Up Little Susie” million-seller – and showed them how to play those chords quickly for upcoming TV appearances).

For those who still care to ask, Who wrote that song? :

Back in 1962, at New York's famous Brill Building, Carole King switched lyricists for a day – and wrote her only song with Howard Greenfield: You may not know his name (he died 33 years ago in LA) but if you are 'of an age' you know several of his best lyrics by heart. According to his Wikipedia entry:

Greenfield co-wrote four songs that reached #1 on the US Billboard charts: "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do", as recorded by Sedaka; "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" and "Breakin' in a Brand New Broken Heart", both as recorded by Connie Francis, and "Love Will Keep Us Together", as recorded by Captain & Tennille.

He also co-wrote numerous other top 10 hits for Sedaka (including "Oh! Carol", "Stairway to Heaven", "Calendar Girl", "Little Devil", "Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen", and "Next Door to an Angel"); Francis (including the "Theme to Where The Boys Are" and "My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own"); the Everly Brothers ("Crying in the Rain"); Jimmy Clanton ("Venus in Blue Jeans") and the Shirelles ("Foolish Little Girl"). Greenfield also co-wrote the theme songs to numerous 1960s TV series, including Gidget, Bewitched, The Flying Nun and Hazel.


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In 1977 'Mr. Guitar' Chet Atkins recorded a song James Taylor wrote for him – to sing as well as finger-pick in his inimitable style: ME AND MY GUITAR – I never heard another version in the intervening forty years. But if you're a guitarist, really – who else could do justice to a song which alludes to “you've got a friend” in the song's bridge/release – one of the prettiest JT ever wrote, says me!

Ev'ry now and then, I'm a lonely man, and it's nice to know that I've got a friend, who'll put his power right in my hand . . . and all I've got to do is the best I can (if I can).

Chet's arrangement may have pleasantly surprised James! – Funky sound, including 'chorus' effect on the vocal, and guitar stylings on the musical bridge that are artless (You think, heck I could play that: Oh no you can't!)

The lyric is a uniquely brilliant appreciation by an everyday Everyman playing guitar: “I am mostly flesh and bone and he is mostly wood . . . never does grow impatient for the changes I don't know. If he can't get to heaven, maybe I don't want to go!

Only version ever uploaded to YouTube (Thanks, “DaffyDoug”)




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