The 50 Best Garage Rock Albums of All Time

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The 50 Best Garage Rock Albums of All Time

I wasn’t alive in 1966, so I can only imagine what it must have been like for a music fan—or better yet, a budding musician—as the energy of garage-rock pioneers like The Troggs, The Monks, and ? and the Mysterians started taking over the airwaves. Popular music had been dominated by the commercial juggernaut of the Brill Building sound, pairing professional songwriters with company singers and musicians. Suddenly, groups of friends were forming bands, amateurs with a love of rock ‘n’ roll, some raw talent and a basement or garage to plug into, and their music was somehow finding its way to the radio.

Inspired by the original British Invasion, young musicians in places like Tacoma, Wash. (The Sonics); Austin, Texas (The 13th Floor Elevators); Los Angeles (The Standells, The Electric Prunes); and Boston (The Remains) found regional success before ascending to varying degrees of national recognition. But even when they “made it,” they clung to the looseness and vigor that the phrase “garage rock” brings to mind. The psychedelic movement pulled bands away from those structurally simplistic beginnings of guitar/bass/drums/vocals, but as you’ll see from the dates of the albums below, there have been almost as many “garage-rock revivals” as there have been young dreamers with a guitar and way too much exuberance.

As short lived as that first wave of garage rock was in the mid-1960s (it didn’t even have a name until critics in the 1970s got nostalgic), few genres have branched into more great music (punk, psychedelia, post-punk, power pop, etc.) or had the staying power of garage rock. The editors and writers at Paste have voted for our favorite garage-rock albums since , defining it with our individual votes (“If you think it’s garage rock, then cast your ballot accordingly”). And while there are plenty of albums from the 1960s making the list, every decade since is represented, including one LP released just last year. As always, we limited the results to two albums per band in order to spread the love.

If you’re a young musician starting to explore your instrument, you could do worse than drink from this particular well of inspiration.

Here are the 50 Best Garage Rock Albums of All Time:

standells-dirty-water.jpg 50. The Standells: Dirty Water (1966)
Music scenes were still very much regional when The Standells released “Dirty Water,” a 1965 single about Boston. Funny enough, the band was from Los Angeles, and none of the musicians had ever been to the Hub when the song came out. A classic of the form with an instantly recognizable guitar riff, “Dirty Water” is easily the best-known song on the band’s 1966 album by the same name. Even so, “Rari” deserves a nod for its organ vamp and airy backing vocals, while “Pride & Devotion” channels the Byrds channeling Bob Dylan. —Eric R. Danton

the-remains.jpg 49. The Remains: The Remains (1966)
Good as Mick and Keith were at reimagining rhythm & blues as hard rock on The Rolling Stones’ 1964 debut, they didn’t hold a candle to what The Remains would deliver two years later. Had these Boston bad boys stuck it out beyond their 1966 debut, we might today be calling them the World’s Greatest Rock ’n’ Roll Band. As it is, The Remains most certainly are America’s greatest lost band, with ’60s New England regional classics like “Why Do I Cry” and “Diddy Wah Diddy” from slipping into obscurity. Of course, any modern-day White Stripes fan who’s heard the original Nuggets psych-rock compilation should be familiar with The Remains’ gritty classic “Don’t Look Back.” But The Remains weren’t just another one-car garage band. The songs here range from radical remakes of hits by Petula Clark (a seething “Heart”) and Charlie Rich (a “Lonely Weekend” that conjures both The Box Tops’ ragged soul and the Stones’ satanic sneer) to such balls-to-the-wall rockers as “You Got a Hard Time Coming” and the Kinks-like “Once Before.” At times, The Remains—guitarist Barry Tashian, bassist Vern Miller, keyboardist Bill Briggs and drummers Chip Damiani or N.D. Smart II—performed with a raw power that could make even The Stooges seem docile by comparison. Lead singer Tashian’s spirited rap during the break of “Don’t Look Back,” comes off like Detroit testifier Mitch Ryder backed by the dirty-ass guitar riffs of Entertainment-era Gang of Four (and this more than a decade before the punk invasion). Even The Remains’ mellowest songs, such as the gorgeous “Thank You,” burned with an edgy intensity that wouldn’t show up in pop music for another year, when The Velvet Underground released its first album. —Mark Kemp

jon-spencer-orange.jpg 48. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion: Orange (1994)
Context counts for the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s fourth album: even at peak grunge, these tunes stood apart for their greasy, leering abandon, flavored by punk, blues and rockabilly. Spencer, Judah Bauer and Russell Simins swaggered through Orange with startling self-assurance, skinned-knee guitars tangling with overdriven harmonica, theremin for some reason and yowling vocals, held together with taut, spare drumming. They’re the guys who crash your party, dance with everyone’s dates and slip out just before the cops come to shut down what everyone agrees was a legendary time. —Eric R. Danton

ty-segall-st.jpg 47. Ty Segall: Ty Segall (2017)
The prolific California shredder offers no overarching concepts, themes or consistent styles on his 2017 self-titled album. Instead, the nine songs distill his many talents into his most concise album in years. Opener “Break a Guitar” is a ripping statement of purpose, the kind of bombs-away rock ‘n’ roll fans can always depend on Segall to unleash, regardless of which genre he’s tinkering with. The album’s secret weapon comes in the not-so-subtle touch of ordained punk saint Steve Albini, whose crisp, low-end touch forces the crushers to flatten and the gentler songs to ring bell clear. While Albini allows the crunching tenacity of “The Only One” and combustible licks of “Freedom” to truly pummel, it’s the openhearted lead single “Orange Color Queen” that really steals the show. Ty Segall provides a neatly packaged summary for why the singer is a modern rock ‘n’ roll treasure. —Reed Strength

those-darlins-screws.jpg 46. Those Darlins: Screws Get Loose (2011)
Whether you thought they were a quirky-obnoxious novelty act or a gang of infinitely charming, boots-are-made-for-rockin’ Americana party girls, forget your initial impression of Those Darlins. For a few years, the band became the spirit of rock ’n’ roll incarnate—a slightly older, wiser, modern-day Southern-garage version of The Runaways. “Why should the boys have all the fun?” their mere presence seems to shout. “We will out-drink, out-party and out-rock all of you!” Screws Get Loose was a major creative breakthrough for the Murfreesboro, Tenn.-based Darlins. The opening title track, an alternately desperate/shrugging ode to holding it together on the road, is an instant garage/power-pop classic that would make everyone from Iggy Pop to the Apples in Stereo to King Tuff proud. With its unforgettable melody, chiming strums, erratic detuned anti-guitar solo and a bell part that channels the hypnotic piano lick from The Stooges’ “Gimme Danger,” “Screws Get Loose” was a perfect statement of purpose, kicking off an album that redefines what Nikki Kvarnes, Kelley Anderson and Jessi Zazu, who died from cancer in 2017, were capable of. —Steve LaBate

raconteurs-consolers.jpg 45. The Raconteurs: Consolers of the Lonely (2008)
Although Jack White had previously played the part of both the coy adolescent and the Southern-gentleman-on-the-skids, the lead White Stripe’s work with the Raconteurs is perhaps most akin to late musical puberty. Given the former Jack Gillis’s preoccupation with stage character, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to hear the Raconteurs as an acknowledgment that White needed a new creative persona to deal with the tingly arena-rock feelings he’d been having. With a machine-gun groove, parts of the opening title track on Consolers of the Lonely, sound like the “love gun’s loaded” bridge to Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottom.” And while one can easily imagine smoke machines spurting during many of the album’s 13 other tracks, there is no irony in the mix. Just fun. After all, it’s Jack White and the dudes: indie-pop charmer Brendan Benson and the Greenhornes’ Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler. Sometimes, White and Benson play off each other in pleasingly predictable ways. On “You Don’t Understand Me,” they pull a Lennon/McCartney: White digs into a typical put-down ballad before they alight into a rich, obvious Benson chorus, eventually combining to echo one another. There’s also the spitfire joy of “Salute Your Solution” and plenty that sounds like it could’ve been on a Stripes disc, like the Stonesy refrain of “Hold Up.” The negative space White carved between the Stripes’ peppermint swirls remains such a strong gravitational force that it all but carries the record. The Raconteurs make big, joyous songs with all the trappings of delicious summer jams. —Jesse Jarnow

von-bondies-pawn.jpg 44. The Von Bondies: Pawn Shoppe Heart (2004)
“No you really haven’t lived life yet / If you ain’t got no regrets” lead singer Jason Stollsteimer wails on the opening track of Pawn Shoppe Heart, and while the band called it quits in 2011, there’s one regret that still follows them to this day: the Von Bondies’ first album was produced by the White Stripes’ Jack White…who later assaulted Stollsteimer at a Detroit club. As White’s star was already on the rise, the publicity from this altercation turned the Von Bondies into a frequent footnote in White Stripes features. Pawn Shoppe Heart, their first album without White’s touch, proved that there was much more to the Detroit scrappers than hospital visits. Sporting a slicker production than many of their contemporaries, The Von Bondies melded their garage-rock roots with poppy boy-girl vocal switches, propulsive plucking from guitarist Marcie Bolen and Stollsteimer’s deceptively wide vocal range, which lapses into a Glenn Danzig impression at just the right moments (like the entirety of “Been Swank”). At a time when most garage acts were looking toward the genre’s origins, the Von Bondies cast a wider net over rock and blues; songs like “C’mon C’mon” swing just as hard today as they did in 2004. —Steve Fox

ty-segall-manipulator.jpg 43. Ty Segall: Manipulator (2014)
With Manipulator, the oft-frenetic visionary Ty Segall slows his cadence to a coherent, deliberate pace. He trades chaotic cacophony for clarity. And instruments actually ring out with precision, which, for Ty…is kinda weird. The shift may be a polarizing phenom for longtime fans who fell in love with his motor-oil-soaked backwash-pop. To be clear, that backwash splashed down gloriously. But it sounded, at times, like a glorious accident. Manipulator sounds intentional—and for a dude who is used to burying his soul in a murky ocean of fuzz and reverb, that takes serious balls. “Who’s Producing You?” rides on sharp snares and twisty, wet guitar noodles. Its melody sticks, but not as committed as the viscous vibes in “The Faker.” “Faker” gallops on a tumbling beat, directly to the action. Ty’s vocals lack the visceral, animalistic snarl past releases showcase. Instead, he takes on a sleepy indifference. With Manipulator, Ty takes a chance and tidies up the raucous bedlam. He didn’t lose his edge; he just squired a little antiseptic along the jagged ridges. —Beca Grimm

paul-revere-revolution.jpg 42. Paul Revere and the Raiders: Revolution! (1967)
These Northwest natives were experienced hitmakers by the time they released Revolution! The album was the band’s seventh, and session musicians who played on it included Glen Campbell, Ry Cooder and Van Dyke Parks. So these tunes were more refined than the music many of the band’s contemporaries were making, but there’s a definite garage tone in the guitar licks and harmony vocals on “Him or Me (What’s It Gonna Be?),” one of the album’s two top-40 singles (the other, “I Had a Dream,” bears the unmistakable influence of co-writer Isaac Hayes). With more sophisticated songs and more expansive musical arrangements, Revolution! offered a glimpse of how garage rock could mature—not that it needed to. —Eric R. Danton

king-tuff-was-dead.jpg 41. King Tuff: Was Dead (2008)
Though it’ll turn 10 years old this year, Was Dead is ageless. The debut release by Kyle Thomas’s project King Tuff sounds like it could have been recorded any time in the past 50 years, so long as you take out a few modern sound effects. It is psychedelic enough to have fit easily in 1968 but polished enough to live freely in the aughts and beyond, marinating forever in modern garage rock folklore. Start with “Animal” for Thomas’s raspy vocals encapsulated in relatable, simple lyrics or perhaps try the breakout hit, “Sun Medallion,” for a hazy, distorted thought-provoking dive. The album is relatively short and over before you want it to be, so don’t be afraid to listen twice. —Annie Black

Watch Paste’s 2015 interview with King Tuff:

reatards-teenage.jpg 40. The Reatards: Teenage Hate (1998)
Music was almost a cudgel for Jay Reatard (born James Lee Lindsey Jr.), and the Reatards’ debut LP was like a blackjack upside the head: Reatard shrieked out lyrics over muddy guitars, the drums were barely audible in the background and the whole thing sounded like he recorded it with a broken boombox from the bottom of a well. More than most of the albums on this list, Teenage Hate is about catharsis, and these songs have a frenetic urgency about them, as if Reatard had no choice but to fully purge himself. He had 12 years to live. —Eric R. Danton

kills-no-wow.jpg 39. The Kills: No Wow (2005)
This is the album where British duo The Kills became lethal. Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince deemphasized the silly nicknames (“VV” and “Hotel,” respectively) they went by on their debut, and focused instead on menacing songs packed full of tightly coiled guitar riffs, minimalist electronic beats and a paralyzing tension that teeters between sex and violence. “Your Love Is a Deserter” is taut and hypnotic, while the rumbles of guitar circling Mosshart’s vocals on the title track hint at the turbulence that erupts into full view on “I Hate the Way You Love,” a masterpiece of garage-rock savagery. —Eric R. Danton

japandroids-post.jpg 38. Japandroids: Post-Nothing (2009)
Japandroids  duo Brian King (guitar) and David Prowse (drums) wrote and recorded their debut Post-Nothing with no touring experience and no real expectations that anyone outside of Vancouver would ever hear it. They’d met in college in Victoria, British Columbia, and neither of them had played in a band before. Prowse didn’t even learn to play drums until his third year at university. They connected over a passion for music, and after graduating they reconvened in Vancouver with the intention of starting a band, initially planning to bring on a third member to sing so they could focus on jamming as hard as possible on their respective instruments. But experience isn’t everything, and Post-Nothing is an album defined by raw energy. The lyrics are spare and carefree, centering primarily around girls and drinking but doing so within the context of larger issues like big dreams, warding off old age through rock ’n’ roll and the struggle to break free of the suffocating clutches of one’s hometown. “I don’t want to worry about dying, King sings on “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” “I just want to worry about those sunshine girls.” —Ryan Bort

Listen to Japandroids’ 2009 Daytrotter session:

thickfreakness.jpg 37. The Black Keys: Thickfreakness (2003)
The Keys’ second album throws its first punch right away, with Auerbach’s guitar revving up like a coal furnace and erupting into the title song. “Thickfreakness” remains one of their best songs, a prowling blues with a face-melting rock bridge (especially in concert). It also encompassed the general direction at this point: sticking with faithful (and volcanic) blues covers (Richard Berry’s “Have Love Will Travel,” Junior Kimbrough’s “Everywhere I Go”) and leaning to classic rock (“Thickfreakness,” “Hard Row”). At this point, though, the Keys were happy to be riff monsters, with Auerbach tearing off one after the other on lonely-boy tales like “No Trust,” “Hurt Like Mine” and “If You See Me,” all with the prodigious boogie that set these guys apart from the start. Patrick Carney’s drumming leaps a mile from The Big Come Up, adding a harder-rock dimension to songs like “Set You Free.” The album was recorded in a single 14-hour session in Carney’s basement, and there’s no room for extravagance or decor. —Matthew Oshinsky

coathangers-suck.jpg 36. Coathangers: Suck My Shirt (2014)
The Coathangers  kick off their fourth album of elemental punk and garage rock with “Follow Me,” a burst of slashing guitar and brutal, stomping drums. It manages to convey both the relentless energy of primitive punk rock and an endlessly listenable charm. Formed before they ever learned their instruments, the band that made a splash with “Nestle in My Boobies” pushed the jokiness out of their music, but without losing that attitude. Guitarist Julia Kugel (Crook Kid Coathanger), bassist Meredith Franco (Minnie Coathanger), drummer Stephanie Luke (Rusty Coathanger) and departed keyboardist Candice Jones (Bebe Coathanger) might have started off as the jesters of second-generation riot grrrls, but The Coathangers grew more expansive in sound and scope, experimenting with tempos and singalong melodies. The attitude on “Shut Up” summarizes the album’s lyrical focus. Hinging on the band’s unassailably independent streak, the songs issue fierce, self-assured cut downs to a series of fakes, losers, abusers, wimps, chumps and those who find themselves aimlessly in the band’s way. —Eric Swedlund

Watch The Coathangers perform live at the Paste Studio:

parquet-courts-human.jpg 35. Parquet Courts: Human Performance (2016)
Parquet Courts  have shown little interest in straight lines. On their 2016 LP, they fold disparate impulses into 14 songs (including one digital-only track) that are impressively balanced among hooks, smarts and sharp edges. There’s some of each on opener “Dust,” a hypnotic tune piling catchy unison guitars and droning keyboards over a propulsive rhythm that feels like it need never stop. “Outside” is as simple a song as Parquet Courts have written musically, yet singer Andrew Savage crams a lifetime’s worth of existential uncertainty into a minute and 46 seconds, and makes you want to hear it again. But for all their obvious musical ability, the band’s real skill here is blending so many unexpected elements into a coherent whole that is at once adventurous and accessible, even if—or maybe because—you have to hustle a little to keep up. —Eric R. Danton

flat-duo-jets.jpg 34. Flat Duo Jets: Flat Duo Jets (1990)
Dex Romweber has never really gotten his due, and not for lack of effort: the singer and guitarist is still grinding it out after 35 years. Flat Duo Jets’ debut LP, a lo-fi marvel released seven years after Romweber and drummer Crow began tearing up stages in North Carolina and the southeast, proved revelatory to Jack White for chaotic guitar rave-ups tinged with surf and rockabilly influences, Romweber’s lugubrious crooning and the way the band put a modern twist on a vintage sensibility. Flat Duo Jets was reissued in 2017 as Wild Wild Love, a deluxe version that includes the original album, outtakes and the band’s 1985 demo EP In Stereo. —Eric R. Danton

33. Grinderman: Grinderman 2 (2010)
On Grinderman’s eponymous 2007 debut, Nick Cave howled, “I don’t need you to set me free.” Three years later, Grinderman 2 finds the godfather of macabre rock ’n’ roll having a hell of a time. The ragged nine-track album rages with songs that build from taut guitar jams to full-blown tantrums. Cave touches on religion and consumerism with his signature smirk, but he seems more focused on primal concerns. Guitars squeal and writhe, bass lines slither through the mud and Cave coos about “hanging around your kitchenette” so he can “get a pot to cook you in.” Lead single “Heathen Child” (about a girl who “don’t care about Buddha / She is the Buddha”) boasts guitars that blare like police sirens, but the album’s M.O. is summed up by the title of its shortest whirlwind: “Evil.” It feels good to be this bad. —Justin Jacobs

japandroids-celebration-rock.jpg 32. Japandroids: Celebration Rock (2012)
Japandroids’ eight-track, zero-percent-fat Celebration Rock is bookended by the triumphant sounds of fireworks, but the real explosions lie in the chemistry of duo Brian King and David Prowse, filling out the record with just guitar, drums and vocals. Celebration Rock exists as a testament that chant-along, simple rock songs still have a place in the greater discussion of music, and you’d be hard pressed to argue otherwise after hearing “The Nights of Wine and Roses” and “The House that Heaven Built.” Like on their debut Post-Nothing, Japandroids remain relentless from the get-go, infusing their pulsating anthems with epic sing-alongs as they shout out choruses that “yell like hell to the heavens.” —Tyler Kane

libertines-up.jpg 31. Libertines: Up the Bracket (2002)
As the baffling boyband/poptart craze was finally fading into oblivion, this filth-ridden, substance-addled masterpiece of a rock record was projectile-vomited onto the U.K. charts by brilliant but reckless London band The Libertines. Following in the footsteps of their classic-punk heroes (The Clash’s Mick Jones produced the record), the Libertines preferred their sound raw and their subject matter wounded and depraved. Sadly prophetic, the band’s name was derived from the Marquis de Sade’s Lusts of the Libertines. But before Pete Doherty’s infamous binges derailed what might’ve been one of the greatest bands of the modern era, he and co-frontman/songwriting partner Carl Barat (along with drummer Gary Powell and bassist John Hassall) cut this simultaneously apathetic and adrenaline-jacked speedball. On “Vertigo,” Time for Heroes” and “What a Waster,” The Libertines cut their spitting three-cord punk grit with greasy rockabilly and UK psych, leading the inevitable British response to the Strokes-led rock revival coming out of the U.S. —Steve LaBate

shaggs-philosophy.jpg 30. The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World (1969)
When Helen, Betty, and Dorothy Wiggin, three sisters from New Hampshire, decided to form a band, it was clear that none of them could really play an instrument. At its best, their 1969 debut, Philosophy of the World is a ramshackle cult classic made up of disjointed yet charming garage-pop sounds; at its worst, some have found it almost unlistenable. Regardless of how you interpret their music, the Shaggs have endured in pop culture, from a “Gilmore Girls” reference to an unofficial stage musical to the admiration of Kurt Cobain and Frank Zappa, who were both reportedly fans. It’s for these reasons that while the Shaggs may not have been very good, they were certainly great. —Loren DiBlasi

king-khan-supreme.jpg 29. King Khan and the Shrines: The Supreme Genius of King Khan and the Shrines (2008)
It’s difficult to pinpoint the undeniable charm of The Supreme Genius of King Khan and the Shrines. The hour-long album, a compendium of 16 highlights from King Khan and the Shrines’ discography, is full of upbeat garage-rock jams, from the groovy “Sweet Touch” to the swinging “Outta Harms Way.” Toronto-born Arish Khan, a confident, swaggering frontman, belts out each song like a bar-band hero working overtime. He’s at his best when he’s confidently driving the Shrines, a large crew supplemented by horn players and a cheerleader(!),as they run through the triumphant ’60s-era soul of “Live Fast Die Strong” and devise lowdown themes like “Destroyer” and “I Wanna Be a Girl.” On The Supreme Genius of…, King Khan seems to enjoy playing a rock ’n’ roll cad. —Mosi Reeves

Listen to King Khan & BBQ Show’s 2012 Daytrotter session:

13th-floor-easter.jpg 28. The 13th Floor Elevators: Easter Everywhere (1967)
The second Elevators album straddles the (not particularly wide) gap between garage and psych rock even more than the first one, starting with the epic statement “Slip Inside This House.” This eight-minute masterpiece of droning guitars, ominous lyrics and hyperactive electric jug should be the soundtrack to whatever kind of ancient mystery religion Roky Erickson hoped to kickstart in Texas. (Also worth jamming: Oneida’s tremendous double-time cover from 2001.) There’s also a woozy cover of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” that sounds like it could be on the first Velvet Underground record. Easter Everywhere isn’t as raw or prickly as The Psychedelic Sounds, but it’s a weirder, more expansive record that shows one direction garage rock would head in as it lurched into the late ’60s. —Garrett Martin

Watch Roky Erickson perform live in San Francisco in 2009:

cramps-songs-the-lord.jpg 27. The Cramps: Songs the Lord Taught Us (1980)
A gleefully raw, thoroughly campy collection, the Cramps’ first LP showcased blaring guitars and Lux Interior’s unhinged vocals on songs steeped in the twin influences of rockabilly and garish B-movie horror imagery: “TV Set,” “I Was a Teenage Werewolf,” “Sunglasses After Dark” and “I’m Cramped” were weird, funny and loud, just like the band as a whole. Speaking of weird: Big Star’s Alex Chilton produced this album, which still seems incongruous nearly 40 years later. —Eric R. Danton

mikal-cronin-mcii.jpg 26. Mikal Cronin: MCII (2013)
Mikal Cronin  is a creature of his environment—sunny, foggy, fickle, evocative. His sophomore release, MCII, is a nuanced collage of quintessentially “California” pop songs—or, at the very least, how the rest of the country perceives such songs to look and feel. He wears many hats over the course of the 10 tracks here. On “Peace of Mind,” we meet an acoustic campfire strummer with the same sort of wet-behind-the-ears worldliness of American Beauty-era Bob Weir. On “Change,” Cronin becomes a sagging Dickies SoCal skate punk—maximum shred atop an out-of-the-box Guitar Center drone. Cronin is at once doe-eyed and contemplative, poppy and messy, inventive and derivative. He’s a seasoned musician who spends time in Ty Segall’s touring band, yet he has no qualms about utilizing elementary melodies to the best of their toe-tappery. And the record is better for it. But there remains just the right amount of depth to these summery sounds. Cronin’s lyrics, too, contain just the right amount of open-endedness. He asks questions that drift out into the ether and reappear as internal monologues—on a morning jog, during a shower, on a porch swing at twilight. And more often than not, as Cronin surely knows, these questions are more satisfying than their answers. —John Hendrickson

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