What you need to know about the Beatles in mono

Earlier this week Michael Fremer via his website www.Analogplanet.com dropped the news that most Beatles fanatics/nuts/collectors/all around music lovers, have been waiting for.. the release date for the release of the UK versions (Parlophone) of Beatles mono catalog on vinyl… But something most of “us” (I will lump myself into the catagory of obsessive collector because I have gone down that rabbit hole) weren’t expecting was that the set would be mastered in all analog without any digitizing and sourced from the analogue master tapes. Wait what?

In 2012 the stereo albums were re-released on vinyl for the first time in a long time, and of course the versions were the UK albums that most American’s got via import, or some never even bothered to own because they loved their Capitol albums, and it’s all they ever knew. However the albums, when released, we met with lukewarm reception. Some loved them, some didn’t. I purchased quite a few of the releases, Sgt Peppers, Magical Mystery Tour, and the “White Album/The Beatles” to me were the best sounding of the bunch. But they were digitally sourced, many complained about pressing issues (non fill, warps, etc)

Finally, we (the obsessive compulsive collectors) are getting the mono mixes, on vinyl, and sourced correctly (and honestly), done right. I look forward to this set because for years I collected and wanted the best possibly version of The Beatles albums on the format I love, which is vinyl……. of course. I never thought I’d be able to walk into a record store in the year 2014 and purchase a new copy of “The Beatles aka the white album” on vinyl, in mono, and it being sourced AAA, and for less than $35. That is how one needs to look at this release. Try buying an original UK white album, on mono, via eBay or Discogs and see how much it will set you back.. Same goes for any mono Beatles album on the Parlophone label.

You can pre-order the complete set here: Soundstagedirect.com and also the albums will receive a separate release as well.

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The Best of New Music: Timber Timbre – Hot Dreams

Believe it or not I used to watch television. Despite being fed and clothed and shuttled off to school by my parents I feel like television, more or less, raised me. I learned some valuable life lessons from the likes of Optimus Prime, and Jack Tripper (I was allowed to watch reruns of Three’s Company in the afternoon on KTLA Channel 11.. those were the days) I don’t watch TV that much anymore. I am one of “those people” who have “cut the cable”. However, I like great episodic television shows, but I have to wait for them to eventually find their way to Netflix streaming. It is hard living a spoiler free life, but I manage. In 2008 I guess I was fortunate enough to watch Breaking Bad when it debuted. There was an odd comfort in crawling into bed on a Sunday evening and following the exploits of high school chemistry teacher turned meth dealer Walter White & Jesse Pinkman and looking forward to new episodes on a weekly basis. Obviously I was one of the many that also really wanted to just see the acting range of acto we all knew as “the dad from Malcom in the Middle” which, as we now know, his range was/is incredible. He pulled the role of Walter White off quite well.

Like most great and memorable television moments, they’re made great by how they’re filmed and acted (obviously) and also excellent choice of accompanying music. Music and cinema – that’s an obvious marriage, and one that spans many decades since the silent era of film into the advent of “talkies“. When done right it leaves an indelible mark on the viewer. Sometime during season 3 of Breaking Bad there was an excellent scene in which there was no dialogue but only a music score that accompanied the scene, and that music was provided by the band Timber Timbre and their song “Magic Arrow” off their 2009 self titled album “Timber Timbre“. Totally make sense.

The song, its overall mood, and sound – it struck the right chord with me.  I immediately filed it away in my incredibly disorganized, but still able to pull out from for future record purchases, mental filing cabinet. But, twist!  – I never purchased that album.

I did however end up “liking” Timber Timbre on facebook though. But in another twist, it was a few months ago that the NPR Music facebook page, not the band’s, that actually linked to the streaming page for Timber Timbre’s new album, “Hot Dreams”. It was upon the first listening that I would have one of those “Ohhhh” moments, and I’d find myself listening to the album a lot via the NPR music page and I was hooked. Then NPR stopped streaming it and I had to go out of my way to find my “fix” (going somewhere with this..) It would be a while, however, that I’d actually end up getting the album on vinyl.

The first track on Hot Dreams is the odd, impressionistic and cinematic, song “Beat The Drum Slowly” with lyrics like:

“Deco tower, rainbow fountain showers
Crystal columns, silver tabloid entry
the celebrity cemetery..

A faded trail of a golden age
that flickered out into celluloid ashes
phantasms fantastic…”

…It’s not hard to see and hear how Timber Timbre can evoke cinematic images its music and would be used in film and television.. and the song continues with the refrain:

“Outran the avalanche… To the cameras rolling..”

From there the album plays out like a movie. Each song, a brilliant scene. If I had to compare Timber Timbre to another artist in order to explain their sound to someone who has never heard Timber Timbre (pronounced Timber Tamb-ER) I would liken it to mid 90’s Nick Cave, but with a flair for the weird, the darker, the spookier, etc. A bit “folkier” I know, Nick Cave’s music is all those things as well (except folk). I am sure that makes sense, to someone.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSxZy_7Ps90

The album has been out for a while. Initial pre-orders for the vinyl sold out quickly, but should be readily available from their website now. I didn’t get my copy until recently (via Amoeba.com) and ever since its arrival on my doorstep it’s been on constant rotation in my home. Prior, I was only able to listen via my tablet or laptop as I lulled myself to sleep at night to the soothing sounds of this cinematic album. I am not a big fan of listening to music through mobile devices or computers, but I needed my fix (another subtle reference to how this article started, look at that!)

Of note, and in all seriousness, this album really does sound great on vinyl. It is of course pressed on 180 gram black vinyl, and I do find it a little odd that it actually seems to be slightly larger than 12 inches as the album has a little bit of extra “lip” hanging off my platter when placed on said platter. It is a nice “slab of wax” quiet, flat, and no defects (no warps, or scratches from pressing plant debris, thankfully).

As we head into mid year we’ve had some great releases so far in 2014 with more to hopefully come.

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The Needle and The Damage Done

I believe in karmic justice. And I wont lie; this post came about simply because at 11:40 a.m. like some sort of divine moment the thought came to me that “the needle and the damage done” would make a great title for a blog entry about records that are a little worse for wear due to mistracking, mishandling, etc. And like some sort of karmic justice as I got up off my couch to change side 3 to side four of Radiohead’s 2001 album Amnesiac I placed the needle down on the 10″ record lead in groove and wouldn’t you know it, the needle slid off and landed on my acrylic platter producing the scariest noise ever to a record owner/collector. if I could spell out the sound right now it would be – Skrrrrchchhhhtttjkltch.  I would like to think that the karmic justice was served because my clever idea for a blog entry title is more than likely a title used by many “real” bloggers and music journalists, clever, but probably unoriginal. Or maybe not. Maybe I am that clever. I doubt it. But anyway, I quickly rescued my cartridge from being obliterated by skating against the the platter.

So that does actually lead me to the point of this post. In 2011 my stepmother had passed away and left the planet to a much better place, I imagine spiritually and I also imagine her reincarnated as a cat. She loved cats. With her passing on my father took a while to get his life situated and began his efforts to ultimately move on like most people do when their spouses depart from this world. Being that she was a teenager in the 60’s and I imagine a great time to be a teenager she soaked in the music of the era and she had records. She managed to hang on to her records despite not having a turntable anymore in the late 80’s and beyond as most people, including her, ditched their turntables for cassette players and CD players. Well, I inherited her modest record collection. I would say she owned owned somewhere between 50 – 60 albums… and again like most teenagers during that time she liked both The Rolling Stones and The Beatles..

The bulk of her collection were actually the original US mono releases by “The Stones” which when I brought them home and cleaned I was maybe not too surprised that the albums were well worn. Because, to be fair, it was the 60’s she was a teenager, she probably had a modest turntable and more than likely didn’t really care or know about tracking weight. She bought the music, she played it, it brought her joy and that is all that mattered. It’s funny looking back on my father and step mother’s relationship and marriage. She was all about The Rolling Stones. To her they were a bit more dangerous than the Beatles who were great musicians, but safer and cuter.. I guess.

I don’t really play her records, I house them, and I will keep them in honor of her. She was a great person and treated me well and cared about me. But that leads me to another point. While most collectors who actually take the time to examine the records they’re buying can instantly see a record that is obviously damaged by needles skating across the record, and other crazy mishaps, somethings aren’t so easily identifiable on the surface. Like the quiet neighbor who looks professional and happy when you see him leaving for work he could be quietly falling apart, in debt, or maybe even a serial killer.. Sometimes a record upon visual inspection might look pristine, which is something I fell victim to years ago when I found what looked like a great used copy of John Lennon/Plastic Ono band for $3.00 only to get it home and throw it on my turntable and be subjected to incredibly harsh surface noise over the music contained within the grooves.. Which is the moment I learned about “groove damage”. There is no cure for it. It just happens when people listen to records with their tracking set wrong, or on cartridges that have worn out needles.

Like a lot of aspects of my life I need to change at the moment, one of them, really on the bottom rung of what is really important to me is that I do need to change my cartridge. I’ve been listening to music on the great Ortofon 2M red cartridge for a few years now. I think on average I listen to 10-15 hours of music a week, multiplied by 3 years and there is some math there somewhere. You know what phrase/saying I hate? “You sound like a broken record” broken records don’t repeat themselves.

Some new music reviews coming soon this weekend as well as continuation of “The Vinyl 100” stay tuned!

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Mini Update

Just a mini update before the weekend. I’ve been soaking in some recent music purchases and also prepping the next “Vinyl 100” entry to follow the recent epic entry detailing U2’s Rattle and Hum’s place in my life.

Aside from the new Curtis Harding and the new War on Drugs album Timber Timbre recently released “Hot Dreams” their follow up to 2011’s “Creep On Creepin’ On” which I streamed first from the NPR website and pretty much listened to a lot on my tablet and laptop. It’s nice, real nice, to finally have it on vinyl. So a write-up will be forthcoming.

Also, today is Friday the 13th. My favorite watch strap broke at work, among other things that happened today. I am not superstitious, but yeah. Just sayin’.

 

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The Vinyl 100 #92: U2 – Rattle and Hum

With Father’s Day a week away (I actually thought it was today for some reason..) now is a good time to reminisce about the joys of being a young man who wasn’t old enough to drive but old enough to beg his father to take him to the record store (or as we called them back in the early 90’s, the CD store). With that said, lets continue on with the Vinyl 100 and discuss album #92 U2’s 1988 companion and somewhat of a soundtrack piece to their film “Rattle and Hum”.

In the summer of 1993 I was deep into my U2 obsession. Grunge was, for all accounts, at its height of popularity in America – and would burn out rather than fade away with the suicide of Kurt Cobain and a music industry that milked the Seattle grunge scene “teet” dry. West Coast and East Coast rap was taking off, and captured the fascination of both white and black America (Dre’s The Chronic and Snoop’s Doggystyle) and bands like Guns N’ Roses were starting to lose their appeal to me, well, I will be honest I lost interest in GNR alone. U2 at the time seemed like a band that I could get into and take seriously and I did.

U2 themselves were deep into their “Euro/techno/Brian Eno” phase with the release of Zooropa in the summer of ’93, an album that bared no sonic similarity to anything they’ve released prior, or for that matter anything else released by American music acts 1993. I was in full on historian mode and backtracking through U2’s 80’s catalog as best I could with a limited allowance and free time. I was totally fascinated with the fact that at one time U2 were simply a group of four lads from Ireland championing “rock” and its saving graces for a majority of the 80’s. So, in the 90’s, when “rock” was back, so-to-speak, U2 consciously, if not wisely, produced music that was the opposite of anything guitar orientated. That fascinated me. The earliest memories I have of U2 were actually from 1988 as I recall my aunt had a cassette collection and somehow I ended up with her copy of U2’s Rattle and Hum.

I have vague memories of seeing U2 on television or in magazines during 1988 (I was 10 going on 11 and getting over my Beastie Boys/Run-D.M.C. phase), and after all they had just broken through with The Joshua Tree released in 1987 – so they were pretty much, as Time magazine called them “Rock’s Hottest Ticket.” and all over the place.. I just missed that media blitz. From what I do recall and I think being so young at the time in 1988 and as U2 were deep into their fascination with American “roots rock”,  I honestly thought that they were a throwback 60’s band.

I am not sure what U2 songs in 1988 I might have liked. I think I wore out the first half of that tape listening over-and-over again to their cover of The Beatles “Helter Skelter” by all means it wasn’t that great of a cover, Bono flubbed a few of the lyrics, and also it opens with one of the most poignant/cringe worthy statements from Bono (…”This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles, we’re stealing it back…) that statement, along with others, might have annoyed Beatles fans and music critics alike. I also recall liking the live performance of “Pride (In The Name of Love)” as well because I was a sucker for those anthemic songs that U2 were so good at crafting.

In all fairness, U2 came from the late 70’s post punk new wave era of bands and music. Their contemporaries at the time were the likes of Joy Division, The Clash, and Echo and the Bunnymen. When Joy Division died along with Ian Curtis New Order was born. Where Echo and the Bunnymen were about go blow up, they did the opposite. The Clash suffered the same fate. Where others failed, U2 succeeded. U2’s debut in 1980 was of its time and does serve as one of the best debuts of a band who would go on to greater heights. There was a restless energy with that album that came from youth (the average age of the band at the time of its release was 20 years old) and it came from a band with equal or more parts of restlessness within them. U2 pushed hard, toured hard, and evolved in the 80’s. Their musical restlessness and “desire” to evolve resulted in hiring the services of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois which in turn lead to both producing 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire with its atmospheric and multi-layered textures of music it was a precursor of what was to come in 1987…

By 1987 U2 were to ascend from being just a great band to rock legends with The Joshua Tree. An album that couldn’t have been more perfect for the time (the Reagan era 1980s), and yet, so timeless as well. With 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire there was an unfocused waking from a dream quality and aspect to that album. With the Joshua Tree things came into focus and to quote In God’s Country “We need new dreams tonight.” because Reaganomics killed hopes. U2 tapped into imagery of deserts dry, love and loss, God, escapism, etc. U2 blew up. Still fresh off that album’s success and whirlwind nature of the business and being championed “band of the 80’s/the only band that matters” the public eye was on the band. So either wisely, or unwisely, they decided to document their 1987 Joshua Tree Tour. And that’s where things could have fallen apart.

 

Rattle and Hum the film and companion album/soundtrack documented aspects of that era perfectly, almost too perfectly, flaws included. Reviews weren’t particularity kind to the film:

If U2 have a flaw, they are, or at least Bono is, very self aware. While the 9 studio songs that make up the album are really good, and some of the live tracks that make up the album are really good as well, Rattle and Hum was bloated by idea and concept and execution. A tour video diary turned into a tour movie. A movie that required people paying admission and seeing in a theater. To further compound things a lot of the best tracks were left to the film only and not released on the album, which lead to the 16 year old version of myself to track down and also lead to a statement from my father that I can’t help but always think of as I am now approaching 37 years old.. it went something like this:

16 year old David: Hey dad, can you take me to the CD store?
David’s Dad, tired after working all day: Ughh maybe, what CD do you want?
16 year old David: Uhm, a U2 CD..
David’s Dad, now trying to be funny: U2? Me too!
16 year old David: Ugh, the CD I want is called Rattle and Hum..
David’s Dad, now going all out with comedy: You know, if you don’t get a good job when you get older you’re going to end up with a job you hate and a car that “rattles and hums..”

Yep. So, after that life affirming exchange, we ventured to the CD store. I picked up Rattle and Hum in CD format, which was $18 dollars in 1993 money, and also didn’t have the song I was hoping for (The awesome live version of Bad that is in the film) but it did provide some good listening. As great as U2 was in the early 90’s during their Zoo TV phase of being ironic and shunning their own 80’s image, I actually was enjoying and discovering their 80’s image and sound. I didn’t mind Bono’s save the world antics and the fact that Rattle and Hum was just U2 discovering bands that most Americans knew of (Dylan, Cash, BB King, etc) and deciding to film it. I had the film on VHS and played it a lot. After all, U2 were a good live band at least a great visual tour documentary was made. Even if it did capture some cringe worth moments, like the now famous line from Bono during the live performance of “Silver and Gold” that goes “Edge, play the blues!” and then Edge proceeds to not play anything remotely blues style on guitar.

A lot of older U2 fans collections end with Rattle and Hum, and understandably, I guess. By the 90’s U2 changed their sound and image, and did it effectively, thus saving themselves the dreaded fate of other 80’s contemporaries like INXS, who more-or-less remained 80’s bands in many people’s eyes. But, at the same time, their embracing of irony and rock & roll’s indulgences might have thrown off fans who loved the “heart on their sleeve, save the world”, version of U2. I guess my fandom happened at the right time, I liked and enjoyed the best of both decades. I eventually saw U2 live in 2009 during the “360” tour and was surprised at the diverse age groups that came out for that show, which was filmed at the Rose Bowl, so there were about 96,000 people there that day on a warm October afternoon and evening. There were young and old fans alike. I felt like both. But there in front of me, as I happened to get relatively close to the massive stage, were the four musicians that I was fascinated with, admired, studied, read about and worshiped during my adolescence. Their music I listened to through my formative years of young adulthood. Their music pretty much ingrained in my life now. I continue through life, through failures, triumphs, set backs, good and bad luck. I do need to have my car tuned up.. because, it does, kind of, “rattles and hums.”

Go back in time!

#93 Charlie Haden – Liberation Music Orchestra
#94 Tom Waits – Small Change
#95 Captain Beefheart and his Magic and – Trout Mask Replica
#96 Fugazi – In On The Kill Taker
#97 Agent Orange “When You Least Expect It…
#99 & #98 The Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill & Run-D.M.C. Raising Hell
#100 History: America’s Greatest Hits

 

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The Vinyl 100 #93 Charlie Haden – Liberation Music Orchestra

The Vinyl 100 rolls on.. (Remember when it was 100 days of vinyl?) with album #93, plucked from my Ikea Expedit shelves, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra.

Released in 1969 and very much influenced by the politics of the time, as well as songs from the Spanish Civil War, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra is borderline avante-garde, free jazz, and political with intent and influence. Bringing together a group of jazz musicians to weave together some very diverse songs but with a unifying theme with a majority of arrangements written by Carla Bley I dare say a jazz album of its time is ahead of its time.. in a way…

Taken from the liner notes inside the jacket:
“The music in this album is dedicated to creating a better world; a world without war and killing, racism, without poverty and exploitation; a world where men of all governments realize the vital importance of life and strive to protect rather than to destroy it. We hope to see a new society of enlightenment and wisdom and creative thought becomes the most dominant force in all people’s lives.”

I want to say, and I think it happened this way, I actually caught the tail end of one of the album tracks being played on KUCR 88.3 (college radio station in Riverside, CA) and it intrigued me. I like my jazz mostly chaotic and without structure. And if I can’t have it that way then I at least like modal jazz. I remember sitting in my car waiting to go into work and I had a tablet with me and had a faint wi-fi connection from the building I worked in and instantly “sound hounded it”. 2 copies later (I almost purchased a white label promo copy which would make it my third but I stopped myself) and it is an album that I dearly love and if I try, I can trace some of its influence to some post-rock bands I enjoy today… like A Silver Mt. Zion. But it’s only if I listen “hard enough…”

What I’ve covered so far:

#94 Tom Waits – Small Change
#95 Captain Beefheart and his Magic and – Trout Mask Replica
#96 Fugazi – In On The Kill Taker
#97 Agent Orange “When You Least Expect It…
#99 & #98 The Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill & Run-D.M.C. Raising Hell
#100 History: America’s Greatest Hits

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The Vinyl 100 #94 Tom Waits – Small Change

The Vinyl 100 (That sounds so much better) continues on, and isn’t slowing down anytime soon, with Tom Waits 1976 album “Small Change”.

I have to backtrack a bit here.. Years ago I had people, off-and-on, ask me if I ever listen to “Tom Waits”. Tom Waits, the idea of him, as well as his myth, grew in my mind as I failed to ever really listen to his music. But instead think about this guy that several people at several different periods in my life had suggested that I listen to him.

I don’t know what ever kept me from it during the mid 00’s when I was on a weird musical journey of trying to broaden my musical tastes. Tom Waits music seemed like it would have been a great soundtrack at the time, but in retrospect getting into him as I got older made much more sense. I guess Tom Waits had to find me.

I had fun drinking in the mid 00’s. I was a late bloomer in life, but a few years before turning 30 I had fun. Tom Waits had a lot of fun in the 70’s, and Tom Waits drank a lot in the 70’s, much like I did in the mid 00’s. Sometime in 2006 it was at a bar in Riverside California that a blurry blonde haired girl asked me if I ever listened to Tom Waits. I probably mumbled “no, I haven’t” as I tried to focus on my drink and everything around me and her explanation of just why I should. Who knows what ever happened to blurry blonde haired girl.

Strangely my introduction to Tom Waits didn’t come through a stereo speaker, or even a computer speaker, it came via a movie actually, on DVD: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Seeing him in that movie reminded me that I need to listen to Tom Waits. He was quite the character. Weird, I know. I decided to to purchase a Tom Waits “CD” because I couldn’t find any of his older albums, particularly “Small Change” on vinyl because in 2010 for some reason the 70’s albums were hard to find in the town I lived in. I even went to the Orange County Record Show in hopes of finding any, but nothing. Strangely it was a Best Buy in San Bernardino California that had a few Tom Waits CDS. The thing about me and CDS is that I do my best listening in my car. Tom Waits Small Change stayed in my car stereo for quite a while.

A lot of people know Small Change as the album with the “Waltzing Matilda” song which, in actuality, is titled “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)” and is the listener’s introduction to the album and the characters that inhabit that album. Tom, of course, is the drunken narrator. (Tom was drinking a lot around this time) Having time traveled with Tom Waits (such a great sentence) via his albums and working my way both backwards and forwards as a collector. I rank this album highly because, not only being my entry point, it is also a point where he blended jazz perfectly with his style of music at the time. It took hi a few years until the 80’s to really change his style all-together, but for me this album is my quintessential go-to album when I want to listen to something from his 70’s era.

Small Change, with its 2 track stereo tape recording under the production guidance of Bones Howe, really captured the essence of what Tom was doing in those days. I imagine the microphone reeking of bourbon after a vocal take done by Tom while recording “The Piano Has Been Drinking..” that is of course assuming he drank while recording. While Tom liked to, and poetically sang about society’s downtrodden and other assorted cast of characters (hookers, strippers, and small people..), he was sometimes autobiographical in his music.

When I did manage to finally find this album on vinyl it was actually in Riverside California at a record store that just barely opened up. Literally, I was sitting in my apartment with my then girlfriend/future wife/future ex-wife when we saw an add for a record store in a record collector newspaper and so we drove to the store and the owner along with his wife and friend were actually putting out records still, because they literally just opened. Nothing was even priced yet. But the owner was a cool guy and still is, and his name was also Tom. So I asked Tom if he had any Tom Waits and he sure did. Since he had no prices on the records he just randomly through out the price of $7 dollars each, so  I was able to score Small Change, Heartattack and Vine, and Blue Valentine all for the price of $7 dollars each. Tom’s store still exists and if anyone reading lives in the Riverside area I suggest checking it out, his store is called “Groovers”.

Small Change was the gateway album for me. It is definitely an album I appreciated more in my early 30’s as a young man who liked to sip bourbon at home and reflect on my 20’s when I’d go to clubs and bars. But more importantly it opened me up to exploring more of Waits music. For an artist that has been around since 1974, nearly 40 years now, exploring a catalog as rich and diverse as Tom Waits catalog is, is a pleasing experience… and that is why Small Change has made into my “Vinyl 100.” Tom Waits is going to make a couple appearances on the Vinyl 100.. as I have 93 albums to go. It is going to be a fun summer.

Keeping track? So far I’ve written about:
#95 Captain Beefheart and his Magic and – Trout Mask Replica
#96 Fugazi – In On The Kill Taker
#97 Agent Orange “When You Least Expect It…
#99 & #98 The Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill & Run-D.M.C. Raising Hell
#100 History: America’s Greatest Hits

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