The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [January 2009]

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This is the past pulse of mainstream country music. Each week, I take a look at the Billboard Country Airplay Chart (or, “Hot Country Songs” as it used to be called) from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the past top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. The grade I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9 [+4], 8 [+3], 7 [+2], 6 [+1], 5 [0], 4 [-1], 3 [-2], 2 [-3], 1 [-4], 0 [-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the past state of mainstream country music and determine if it was better or worse compared to now. To see the full list of the top 30 country airplay songs for this week, click here. While I did wish to go back even further in time with our past pulse, I unfortunately ran into time constraints. Therefore, we will look at a more recent time in country music history. This week I will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Hot Country Songs from January 3rd, 2009.

  1. Rascal Flatts – “Here” 0
  2. Montgomery Gentry – “Roll With Me” +3
  3. Sugarland – “Already Gone” +3
  4. Zac Brown Band – “Chicken Fried” 0 (At least it launched their career and showed they had better songs. Oh wait, hello “Beautiful Drug”…)
  5. Brad Paisley & Keith Urban – “Start A Band” +3
  6. Alan Jackson – “Country Boy” -1 (I hate giving Alan a negative score but fair is fair)
  7. Billy Currington – “Don’t” -2 (For country. As a whole, I actually somewhat like this)
  8. Dierks Bentley – “Feel That Fire” 0
  9. Jamey Johnson – “In Color” +5 [Best Song]
  10. Blake Shelton – “She Wouldn’t Be Gone” +3 (One of the last songs I would grade as a positive for Blake)
  11. Toby Keith – “God Love Her” +3 
  12. Keith Urban – “Sweet Thing” -3 [Worst Song]
  13. Kenny Chesney & Mac McAnally – “Down The Road” +4
  14. Brooks & Dunn – “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” +2 (Was I the only one who liked this?)
  15. Lady Antebellum – “Lookin’ For A Good Time” -2
  16. George Strait – “River Of Love” +2 (See Brooks & Dunn)
  17. Randy Houser – “Anything Goes” +4 (Now he’s talking about kicking up dust in the mud or some shit like that)
  18. Pat Green – “Let Me” 0
  19. Taylor Swift – “White Horse” +3 (Prepare the pitchforks folks. I’m ready.)
  20. Darius Rucker – “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” +3
  21. Lee Ann Womack – “Last Call” +3
  22. Jake Owen – “Don’t Think I Can’t Love You” +1 (Docking points for not being overtly country, although I do like this)
  23. Jack Ingram – “That’s A Man” 0 (Too cliché)
  24. Miranda Lambert – “More Like Her” +2
  25. Josh Turner – “Everything Is Fine” +3
  26. Martina McBride – “Ride” 0
  27. Rodney Atkins – “It’s America” 0
  28. Jimmy Wayne – “I Will” -1
  29. Gary Allan – “She’s So California” 0
  30. Eli Young Band – “Always The Love Songs” +1

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: +39

Not a bad chart at all. In fact, quite a lot of good stuff here. Jamey Johnson, Lee Ann Womack, Josh Turner, Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, and George Strait were all still on the radio and we actually have a +5 song with “In Color.” Perhaps I’m being a bit generous with that top score but I truly do think it deserves it. Even the worst song here (“Sweet Thing”) would still only be one of the worst on the modern-day charts instead of the lowest we could go. All in all, a solid top thirty.

As always, if you have any questions as to why I gave a song a certain grade feel free to ask me. Also, let me know what you guys think of the chart in the comments!

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17 thoughts on “The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [January 2009]

  1. I agree mostly with your scores.

    I actually don’t mind the Rascal Flatts song in this instance, though it did seem like a bit of a rehash of “Bless the Broken Road.” Not a bad song, but nothing special. I’d probably give it a +1.

    I, too, like “White Horse.” I felt it was one of her best early songs and liked that she used the fairy-tale imagery but admitting that it was in illusion. One of her best songs, IMO.

    The Miranda Lambert, George Strait, and Martina songs I’d personally go up one point on each. I’d probably go down a point on the Zac Brown Band song…I wasn’t a big fan of their debut.

    There’s no doubt that this was a much better chart than anything we get today, though.

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  2. Ok I must be the only person who likes “Looking For a Good Time”. I found it very playful and Charles and Hillary sounded great.

    Also I’d give “More Like Her” a +5 and the distinction of being the best song. A vulnerable production and Miranda Lambert nails it out of the park as she does heartache really well, I might also like it cause it has kinda happened to me so I can relate to it more than “In Color”.

    For worst I’d give “Country Boy” I just never liked it and radio completely butchered it. Cliché lyrics although that isn’t Alan Jackson worst single that distinctive honor goes to the dumpster fire, “I Still Like Bologna”

    Other scores, I’d give “Ride” a +3 for actually sounding energetic from Martina McBride instead of another power ballad. “White Horse” a +4. “Down The Road” a +5, and “God Love Her” a 0 (I never cared for it).

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    • “Looking For A Good Time” is easily one of my favorite singles of theirs to date. My top five would probably go like this:

      *

      1: “Love Don’t Live Here”
      2: “Lookin’ For A Good Time”
      3: “Need You Now”
      4: “Goodbye Town” (Their most underappreciated single to date.)
      5: “We Owned The Night”

      *

      “I Still Love Bologna” is definitely and easily among Alan Jackson’s worst singles too. He doesn’t have many singles I dislike as he usually hits it out of the park or at least sounds enjoyable, but he had a high share of them throughout the “Good Time” era.

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  3. ‘Anything Goes’ is a truly great song and would get +5 for me. ‘Down The Road’ is also a really good song and is reminder that Chesney has had many really good songs mixed in with the beach and beer garbage. ‘Last Call’ is really good and I would give it +4 with the only drawback being it’s thematic similarity to “I May Hate Myself In The Morning’ which may be one of the greatest country songs of all time. I also like ‘Cowgirls Don’t Cry’ and it’s biographical connection to Reba McEntire adds to the appeal.

    Overall this chart has several really good songs and a bunch of zeros after that. Makes me wonder if when the whole thing started falling apart if it wasn’t the bottom that went first and for a little while the quality stayed at the top before it too caved in.

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  4. I don’t have enough time right now to provide detailed reviews of each track, but here’s a concise version where I only remark on songs that leave more of a specific impression::

    *

    1: Rascal Flatts: “Here” 0
    2: Montgomery Gentry – “Roll With Me” +2 (It’s given plenty of room to breathe, and Five For Fighting also adds some nice backup vocals.)
    3: Sugarland – “Already Gone” +2
    4: Zac Brown Band – “Chicken Fried” -1 (I’ve never bought into the hype for this song. The lyrics suck in that they are pandering at their most desperate. The acoustic instrumentation was somewhat of a big deal at the time of its release, but it’s not enough to make it enjoyable.)
    5: Brad Paisley & Keith Urban – “Start A Band” +1 (Eh, a bit too boilerplate to my ears. Still, great guitar solo at the end.)
    6: Alan Jackson – “Country Boy” -3 (By far the worst single of his career, hands down. The opening couplet is enough reason to hate this where he says: “Excuse me ma’am, I saw you walkin’. I turned around, I’m not a stalker…” What the f***? Everything else about this essentially pre-dates the lamest of bro-country cliches from a lyrical standpoint, though the instrumentation and production is still clearly country. The latter can’t even save the fact this is a really bad song, and thank Jove Alan immediately came to his senses from there on out.)
    7: Billy Currington – “Don’t” 0
    8: Dierks Bentley – “Feel That Fire” 0
    9: Jamey Johnson – “In Color” +4 (Perhaps I’ll get some heat for this, but I think Johnson’s vocal performance comes off too monotone for this to strive for +5 perfection. With a better performance or different vocalist, this definitely would have been a +5 as I’ve heard plenty of vocal performances from Johnson that are better than this. Still, a powerful song about honoring one’s loved ones.)
    10: Blake Shelton – “She Wouldn’t Be Gone” +1 (It’s better than most anything he is putting out now, but the production still holds it back in how bland and loud it comes across.)
    11: Toby Keith – “God Love Her” +2 (It’s a bit loud. But all in all, it just sounds infectious and Toby Keith’s vocals really come alive here with roll-down-the-windows-on-a-hot-day enthusiasm. The lyrics are simplistic but, given the type of song it is, there’s no need to knock it for that.)
    12: Keith Urban – “Sweet Thing” 0 (This isn’t bad: just feels out of place on the format. But there’s nothing objectionable about the lyrics or Urban’s performance given that it’s really just a ditty about the sentimentality of young love.)
    13: Kenny Chesney & Mac McAnally – “Down The Road” +3 (Doesn’t Chesney just sound great when he isn’t trying too hard and is backed solely by an acoustic guitar? Mac McAnally also elevates the track with a well-worn maturity to his vocal.)
    14: Brooks & Dunn – “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” +2 (No Zack, you’re not. Yes: the lyrics are kind of cliched and needlessly veer a bit too far toward the schmaltzy. But damn if the production and earnest vocals don’t get to me. Honestly, I think Reba McEntire’s abrupt surfacing in the bridge really makes this song and actually makes my eyes water up a bit. So yeah, I enjoy this too.)
    15: Lady Antebellum – “Lookin’ For A Good Time” +2 (This errs decidedly more towards rock than country. But this has a certain energy driving it that has always made it one of their most enjoyable singles to my ears and I also appreciate the vocal interplay that, at the time, you didn’t see a lot of in mainstream country.)
    16: George Strait – “River Of Love” +1 (Though I can kind of see why this song would irritate many of his fans, I’ve never minded it much. Sure, it IS a mostly pointless island country song. But hey, for generic island country songs, the fact the production is mostly dialed down and George Strait is singing it makes it instantly better than most other hypothetical scenarios. I’ll gladly take this over “Give It All We’ve Got Tonight” any day.)
    17: Randy Houser – “Anything Goes” +3 (What a great barroom piano ballad. Hopefully he pivots back towards tracks like this, “In God’s Time”, “Route 3 Box 250D” and “The Singer” for his next album after he realizes how commercially unsustainable it is to bank your career off of poor-selling pandering to radio trends.)
    18: Pat Green – “Let Me” 0 (Good God, I’m relieved he has sojourned back to his Texas roots recently. “What I’m For” was a painful album for the most part. That said, this was the least offensive of the album’s singles in that it’s merely just generic Dan Huff-esque ballad pap. And, to his credit, he sounds great on the first verse against a comparatively sparser arrangement. But of course he then had to go on and allow a point to be deducted by succumbing to “We Are The World Syndrome” in the final stretch.)
    19: Taylor Swift – “White Horse” +2 (Bring the pitchforks on! Either way you look at this or Taylor Swift’s catalog as a whole, this is one of her best singles. The writing is very sharp and intimate and serves as sort of a deliberate rejoinder to her own “Love Story”. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the whiny melodrama surrounding her and Kanye West and her unfortunate selling out to Max Martin and Shellback, and take for granted that she is among the more intuitive and incisive songwriters to have initially come out of mainstream country music. This is only one such example of that.talent)
    20: Darius Rucker – “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” +2 (It’s definitely a bit too schmaltzy than I’d prefer. It’s clearly a track clinically designed to tug at the heartstrings of parents. But you know what: it works in spite of how deliberate the intention is. How can you not get emotional, if you’re a parent with a more sensitive child, thinking back to that time you first took your kid to kindergarten or first grade and then feeling your child cling to your leg or hug you and not want to let go? Rucker gives a solid performance here and the production wisely keeps low-key for the most part.)
    21: Lee Ann Womack – “Last Call” +3 (There’s nothing about the songwriting that’s groundbreaking. But what still makes this great is the marriage of Womack’s fragile vocals with some gorgeous production that achieves the perfect balance between the traditional and modern. There’s definitely a gentle pop sensibility to this but it still allows itself to be driven by the instrumentation first and foremost and we get a generous dose of mandolin and pedal steel. It just makes for a sort of compelling musical Norman Rockwell painting
    22: Jake Owen – “Don’t Think I Can’t Love You” +1 (The vocals and bluesy tones to its production makes this charming.)
    23: Jack Ingram – “That’s A Man” 0 (It’s that sort of song that definitely has its heart in the right place and deserves some points for authenticity, but nonetheless falls flat due to the cheesy execution of its vignettes. The production sounds, at times, hilariously like something you’d expect out of an insurance ad or maybe a tourism pitch for any Midwestern state. And by the time he gets to the end and belts: “Put God’s share in the collection plate man!”, I can’t help but chuckle. Still, Ingram is definitely charming as a vocalist.)
    24: Miranda Lambert – “More Like Her” +3 (This remains one of her best singles to date as an earliest attempt to express more vulnerability..)
    25: Josh Turner – “Everything Is Fine” +3 (Damn, Turner has to be the master of making what would otherwise be mediocre songs such outright enjoyable listening experiences. This just has a warm, well-worn feel to it throughout and I also love how he never even tries to strain for a higher key and simply lets his distinctive vocals carry the song forward. Because, y’know, everything is fine with him around.)
    26: Martina McBride – “Ride” -1
    27: Rodney Atkins – “It’s America” -2 (Huh? What? What the hell is “it’s” supposed to mean in these lyrics? You can’t just supplant “it’s” in front of a bunch of Fourth of July-friendly fell-good cliches and expect us to just go along with them. And what’s the frickin’ point of singing that we don’t always get it right when all you’re going to do is say there’s no place else you’d rather live your life? And you do realize that communities in other parts of the world will gladly help their neighbors in need after any natural disaster too, right? I’m sorry: the lyricism is way too dumb and lazy to make this passable.)
    28: Jimmy Wayne – “I Will” -1 (What’s with the jarring hot-cold sink faucet dynamic in its production? This goes from making me want to catch Z’s in the verses to suddenly trying to ape a heavy rock ballad in the chorus and bridge. He has a good voice: it’s just a shame he wasted it on the most banal material imaginable.)
    29: Gary Allan – “She’s So California” +1 (Allan, too, has certainly cut his share of lightweight tracks in the past, and this is certainly one of them. It’s essentially just another laundry list song except, this time, it’s Golden State cliches. How original! Still, some pedal steel and the fact this is Gary Allan singing accomplishes enough to make this a fairly enjoyable, if forgettable, listen.)
    30: Eli Young Band – “Always The Love Songs” 0

    FINAL SCORE: +30

    *

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  5. No pitchforks here. I think “In Color” in one of the best songs of the 2000’s. I’m seeing Jamey Johnson tonight and am stoked.

    Also dirty little secret among pop country haters is re-visiting early Taylor Swift after the past few years of crap; Still not great, but ok and not nearly as bad as FGL, Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett, etc.

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    • Also naive me was happy Eli Young was actually being played on the radio. Little did know this would be their last worthwhile song. I was way less cynical about radio 7 years ago.

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    • I found more to like than dislike about Taylor Swift even in her earliest years.

      She has always been a more incisive and shrewd songwriter than most in the mainstream, with an exceptional talent at describing the emotional setting of young relationships and the ups and downs that entail them, while also having quite the knack at the technical side of composition.

      I will admit she has been selling herself short most recently with her doubling down on Mainstream Top 40. But still, a song like “Style” or “Wildest Dreams” still reminds you why she’s a cut above most lyrically, whether it be pop or mainstream country, when she’s not pandering a la “Shake It Off” or “Bad Blood”. Though I’d prefer she stays away from country entirely if she insists in doubling down on the Shellback/Max Martin formula………………….if she wanted to at least pen songs for current country artists, I’d certainly take hers over those of Sarah Buxton, The Peach Pickers and even the Warren Brothers most any day as long as it isn’t another “Shake It Off” or “We Are Never Getting Back Together”.

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  6. Man, Montgomery Gentry was who I constantly jammed to through junior high and high school, so I’d elevate Roll With Me to a +4. But that’s me being a fan more than a unbiased critic.

    I also enjoyed Sweet Thing to an extent. Probably a 0 from me. And Blake Shelton a +3?? Man if someone was born yesterday and exposed to only newer Blake Shelton music and this website, they’d never think he would be within shouting distance of a positive score. But yea, that’s a great song. The way he sells the line of ‘beating on the dash’ you can just picture him slapping the crap out of the dashboard. Lots of reminiscing going on reading this chart, being as it fell during my early high school years.

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    • “Playboys of the Southwestern World” remains my favorite Blake Shelton single to date, with “The More I Drink” ranking second.

      How appropriate that both of them rank among his lowest-peaking singles to date! =P

      Here’s how’d I rank his ten best singles and ten worst singles:

      *

      ***************The Best***************

      1: “Playboys of the Southwestern World” (This just ALWAYS sounds fresh and adventurous no matter how much you play it. It may have been a flop on the charts, but I’m glad Shelton at least understands it’s something special by continuing to play it every once in a while.)
      2: “The More I Drink” (See? Shelton CAN produce a quality song that’s ALSO hilarious and rich in personality. One of my longtime criticisms of Shelton is that, for as colorful a celebrity as he is in real life, his music almost never reflects that and instead makes him look like a bore. I’m all for more quirky songs like this that also don’t insult your intelligence.)
      3: “Austin”
      4: “Ol’ Red”
      5: “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking” (His best “Voice”-era single by far.)
      6: “The Baby”
      7: “Don’t Make Me”
      8: “Nobody But Me”
      9: “She Wouldn’t Be Gone”
      10: “Mine Would Be You”

      *

      **************The Worst*****************

      1: “Boys ‘Round Here” (Some will disagree with this since the song at least has personality, and I respect that. But to my ears, this is still obnoxious and, thus, is more agonizing than the following selections.)
      2: “Hillbilly Bone” (I had a hard time deciding between these top two, but I guess the fact this sounds more country was the tie-breaker.)
      3: “She’s Got A Way With Words”
      4: “Over” (I consider it particularly bad in how dreadfully boring and sterile it is and has no memorable, distinctive qualities whatsoever.)
      5: “Sure Be Cool If You Did”
      6: “All About Tonight”
      7: “Home” (You’re probably surprised this is even here. But I’m standing by this choice because Shelton puts absolutely no effort into making his cover distinctive from that of Buble. Thus, it has always sounded like a desperate Hail Mary pass to recover commercially that has absolutely no point to it. It personifies along with “Over” how lazy and complacent Shelton usually insists on being.)
      8: “My Eyes”
      9: “Came Here To Forget”
      10: “Neon Light”

      *

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  7. I’d give Lambert’s “More Like Her” a higher score — a great song and one of her best. I also like B&D’s “Cowboys Don’t Cry” and Strait’s “River of Love,” as a nice little venture from his usual material. Chesney teaming-up with McAnally is fantastic and a far cry from his recent team-up with Pink, which is one of the lamest songs I’ve ever heard.

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  8. I admit that this is right around the time I became a lot less interested in mainstream country, so when I saw the year 2009, I expected this chart to be awful. And while I’ll be honest in that I’m indifferent to about half of this chart, there isn’t much to outright dislike, and the other half is pretty damn amazing.

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  9. Not my week. Not so good music.

    Best track: “Down The Road” (prefer the Mac McAnally solo version, Album: Simple Life, 1990)
    Worst tracks: “Chicken Fried” & “It’s America”

    (Un-)popular opinion:
    – the voice of Gary LeVox is killing the majority of Rascal Flatt songs
    – Jimmy Wayne is singing the same ballad over & over again
    – Rrrrrriiiiiidddddeeeee…Martina…less is more
    – With “She’s So California” Gary Allan lost his “heart & soul”

    First Impression: Drake White – Spark – 12 tracks – Dot/BMLG – Released (08/19)
    Good voice but the production is not very helpful. Where is the personality? Not very country. “Elvis” is the rocker & “Makin’ Me Look Good Again” is the (blues/gospel) ballad. (6/10)

    My ReCurrent / Country Gold Playlist:
    – Aaron Parker – “Country Songs & You”
    – Tamy Cochran – “Better Off Broken”
    – Juice Newton – “You Make Me Want To Make You Mine”
    – Rebecca Lee Nye – “Gotta Say Goodbye”
    – Southern Post – “Love & Memories”
    – Deep Creek Road – “If You Only Knew Me When”
    – Tori Darke – “Crawl”
    – Foster & Lloyd – “Texas In 1880”
    – J.T. Hodges – “Sleepy Little Town”
    – Paul Brandt – “Didn’t Even See The Dust”

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  10. This is admittedly an aside, but…………….I’ve heard the new Florida Georgia Line promotional single “God, Your Mama & Me” with their childhood idols the Backstreet Boys…………………..and it’s yet another one of those frustrating cases where the song is hardly country whatsoever but I nonetheless think is fairly decent.

    It almost seems like Florida Georgia Line are desiring to take the place of Rascal Flatts all of a sudden. I mean, i’m pretty sure that we’ll get the obligatory two or three stupid party songs on their new album (most likely “Summerland”, “Heatwave” and “Good Girl Bad Boy”.) but their overall approach seems to admit what they were known for is no longer bankable and now they’ve concluded their best shot at longer-term viability is competing with Dan + Shay for Rascal Flatt’s heartland pop vein.

    Anyway, it’s not a bad song on its own. It’s like their attempt at a “Here”. It’s just a shame it doesn’t sound country whatsoever.

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  11. This was about the time I started tuning out of country radio, as I had just sprung for Sirius. Still some pretty good stuff here, though, namely the songs from Jamey Johnson, Randy Houser, Lee Ann Womack, and the Eli Young Band.

    Not real big on “River of Love” myself, either, but hey, even the best artists have clunkers. See also: “Country Boy.”

    I never got the appeal of Jimmy Wayne. Never heard anything in his music that even remotely resembled country music. Speaking of bad pop covers, this dude even covered Hall and Oates once.

    “Chicken Fried” was a lot of fun, but the lyrics were kinda meh. Would have been a lot better without that last verse about the troops.

    Also, since I don’t do Twitter: that new Metallica song smokes. I was completely not expecting anything like it, since Lars Ulrich said the new album was going to be “less frenetic” than Death Magnetic. I was halfway expecting more Load-type stuff. If this is what they define as “less frenetic,” then sign me up!

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  12. I too quite like “Cowgirls Don’t Cry.”

    “More Like Her” is one of my favourite Miranda Lambert songs, so I would rank it one point higher.

    As for Rascal Flatts, they are one of the few acts that I actively dislike. Most of the crummy mainstream artists I’m fairly ambivalent towards in that I just kind of ignore them and hope they’ll go away. But I can’t think of a single Rascal Flatts song that I would even consider ok. I’ve never heard this particular song, but I have no doubt that I wouldn’t like it. There’s just something about their sound and the whiny vocals that don’t agree with me.

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