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About This Time 60 Years Ago… It’s The Hits Of June-ish 1964!

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The Hottest Hit On The Planet:

It’s “My Boy Lollipop” by Millie!

“My Boy Lollipop.” It makes my heart go giddy-up. It is as sweet as candy. It’s my sugar dandy.

“My Boy Lollipop” is a very silly song.

It’s not often that silly earworms sung by teenage girls are deemed to be of historical importance – the exception of course being when we are specifically discussing the history of silly earworms sung by teenage girls a la “Wannabe” or “… “Baby, One More Time” – but “My Boy Lollipop” is a supremely Important and Influential record.

For “My Boy Lollipop” was the first big global ska hit!

Without “My Boy Lollipop” we may never have had, well, ska…

No Toots & The Maytals, no Prince Buster, no Specials, no Madness, no Rancid, no No Doubt, no Mighty Mighty Bosstones!

Without “My Boy Lollipop” we may never have had ska’s-offspring, reggae – no Bob Marley, considerably less Clash – no rocksteady, dancehall, dub… probably no trip-hop or drum’n’bass. Maybe.

Or maybe it would have all happened anyway.

After all, by the time Millie Small had her one global ska hit, Jamaica – from which both Millie Small and ska originated – had a fascinating, vibrant and well-developed music scene.

A music scene based on rival sound-systems, in a constant state of war against each other. Battling it out in great big “sound clashes,” to see who could get the crowd more amped. Sound systems with names such as Tom The Great Sebastian and Duke Reid The Trojan! Using bass as a weapon. And also, on occasion, using more conventional weapons as weapons.

This was the strategy popularized by Duke Reid The Trojan who liked to fire revolvers into the air during his sets. It wasn’t long before the sound systems started acting less like entertainers and more like gangs of hoons. At one point one of Duke Reid The Trojan’s hoons cracked Prince Buster’s head open. It was madness!

The lengths to which sound systems would go to establish and maintain sound-clash supremacy were likewise mad. DJs – “selectors” in the parlance of the patois – would travel over to the United States to find the hottest records. Then they’d scratch the label off the records so that competing sound systems – and their spies! – wouldn’t know what the records were and buy a copy for themselves.

Assuming, that is, that other copies were available. In many cases they were not. In many cases the record the sound system was playing had been recorded exclusively for, and quite frequently by, that specific sound system. Possessing a pumpin’ record that only your sound-system could play was a sure way of winning a sound clash.

Many of these early Jamaican records were produced by Edward Seaga, who – a couple of decades later – would become the leader of the Jamaican Labor Party, and then, later still, Prime Minister. Jamaica is quite a small country.

The sound systems of the 50s are curious looking things; both futuristic, yet sometimes also featuring a phonograph horn.

These sound classes were being fought with some pretty scrappy equipment.

The leading and loudest sound system, for example, was that of Mutt & Jeff – named after the cartoon strip – whose speakers were built by the kids at Alpha Boys School.

The idea of feuding sound-systems battling with each other with their booming bass probably sounds far more exciting than it actually was. This is the 1950s we are talking about. These sound-clashes were being fought using the music of the 1950s. They were playing a lot of Fats Domino records because he had a heavy-left hand. They were playing a lot of calypso. There weren’t too many truly bass-heavy tracks around yet; so those records possessing the requisite quantity of skank were played multiple times a night.

It probably wasn’t exactly how James Murphy imagines it.

Ska was largely invented as a Jamaican attempt at creating their own version of American R&B, right down to many of the earliest ska records being sound-clash enhanced covers of specific American R&B hits.

Which happens to be, more or less, also the story of “My Boy Lollipop.” For “My Boy Lollipop” was a ska cover of an American R&B song. An American R&B song laced with dashes of doo-wop.

“My Boy Lollipop” was originally written by one of The Cadillacs, most famous for their 1955 hit “Speedo,” a record whose bass was surely prominent enough to be an early “sound clash” classic. Being guys, their version was called “My Girl Lollipop,” but they never got around to recording it.

Instead, here is where the mobsters come in.

Morris Levy – maybe not officially a mobster, but certainly shady enough that we might as well call him that – bought the song and claimed that he wrote it himself.

He did that kind of thing a lot.

Morris then sold “My Girl Lollipop” to certified mobster Gaetano Vastola, who had discovered a white 14-year-old-girl, Barbie Gaye, singing in Coney Island. I don’t know what Barbie was singing in Coney Island – probably “Put Another Nickel In The Nickelodeon” and “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?” – but Gaetano decided to turn her into a cheerleading rock’n’roller. It was, after all, 1956.  

It was Barbie’s job to turn “My Girl Lollipop” into “My Boy Lollipop,” changing some of the lyrics – referring to her lollipop as a “sugar dandy” for example – as she did so.

Barbie’s version of “My Boy Lollipop” was quite heavy on the bass, at least by 1956 standards. In fact, I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that Barbie Gaye’s “My Boy Lollipop” was the most rockin’ record by a teenage girl of 1956! And this record was definitely played at the Jamaican sound-clashes!

We know that, because Chris Blackwell…

… an Englishman, born into wealth, who had spent much of his childhood in Jamaica, and was the founder of Island Records…

…in between other activities such as getting shipwrecked and rescued by Rastafarians, and being a location scout for Dr. No – imported copies of the record and sold it to them. Chris sold them a lot of records. This was, at least initially, Island Record’s primary business strategy. Until, like everyone else in Jamaica, they started to produce their own records. Such as Laurel Aitken’s sort of ska, sort of R&B, 1959 hit “Boogie In My Bones.”

Chris did this for a few years before heading on back to London. But he kept an eye on the Jamaican music scene, which is how he became aware of the existence of a relentlessly perky teenage girl called Millie Small.

Millie Small, one of a great many daughters (six in total, and there were even more sons) of a sugar plantation overseer, had been trying to break into the Jamaican music industry since she was 12.

Whether her choice of material was influenced in any way by her father’s occupation I don’t know, but her first record was called “Sugar Plum.”

Millie’s key selling point in the Jamaican record market was that she sounded a lot like Shirley, from Shirley & Lee, of “Let The Good Times Roll” fame, another sound system banger. Which basically meant that she sounded like an especially squeaky child.

Shirley & Lee were weirdly popular in Jamaica in the early 60s. So popular that the island was filled with the sound of male-female duos trying to replicate the Shirley & Lee magic. At least two of those duos featured Millie Small.

Since the pop charts of the early 60s were full of girls who sounded like squeaky children, Chris Blackwell seems to have landed on the concept of marketing Millie as a sort of Jamaican Lesley-Gore -type. Soon Millie was on a plane to London for elocution and deportment lessons.

Okay, maybe not deportment. But Chris did try to get her to learn to dance. It didn’t really take, but it didn’t really matter. Millie was at her best when she just bopped up and down and jerked from side to side, always looking as cute as a bug. Also always looking faintly and delightfully confused.

Millie acted just as you’d expect a teenage girl to act if she woke up one morning to the news that she was a pop star. She looked as though she was having the time of her life.

She was a little ray of sunshine. Everyone loved her. Even those who thought the actual record was a little annoying.

There are quite a few videos of “My Boy Lollipop” on the Interwebz, and they are all absolutely adorable.

This one is the most adorable, and thus, the best.

Or… maybe it’s this one:

Or this one…

Such energy levels couldn’t last forever of course, and Millie was soon suffering from exhaustion.

Also, from lack of additional hit singles.

Despite everyone seeming to adore her, and despite the sense that she might become a huge star – enough of a huge star that British music show Ready, Steady, Go filmed an hour long special titled Millie In Jamaica, telling the story of her triumphant return home, and for Madame Tussaud’s to make a wax sculpture of her:

It was apparently impossible to find Millie another “My Boy Lollipop.” Lollipops do not grow on trees.

Still, Millie In Jamaica did happen, and it featured a whole bunch of Jamaican ska artists. Prince Buster for example. And Jimmy Cliff. As thus British audiences were exposed to more Jamaican rhythms. This would bear fruit later on.

“My Boy Lollipop” is an 8.


Meanwhile, in Girl Group Land:

“Chapel Of Love” by The Dixie Cups

Pop-tunesmith Ellie Greenwich must’ve been feeling on top of the world! In every known aspect of her life, she was kicking goals. She’d already co-written a tonne of classic hits, mostly with Jeff Barry – “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Then He Kissed Me,” “Do Wah-Diddy,” “Be My Baby” and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home.)”

Together they had joined forces with Leiber and Stoller:

Two guys who seemed to be, in one way or another, responsible for half the pop classics of the previous decade, ever since Big Mama Thornton recorded “Hound Dog.”

And together they’d started girl-group-specialist label, Red Bird Records. She had the girl-group game in a chokehold!

Even the little things were turning out right for her. Little things such as “My Boy Lollipop” being a big hit. Ellie obviously had nothing to do with the writing of “My Boy Lollipop.”

But she had loved the original Barbie Gaye version of the song so much that, when she first tried to break into the music business, she had called herself Ellie Gaye. Also possibly because she was sick of people mispronouncing her name as Green Witch.

I imagine Ellie heard “My Boy Lollipop” on the radio and felt it was a sign. That the universe was trying to tell her something. That she was headed on the right path.

Also she had gotten married:

To her fellow pop-tunesmith Jeff Barry. Together they would make beautiful little pop song babies.

I like to think that “Then He Kissed Me” tells the story of their courtship. I like to think that Jeff walked up to Ellie and asked her if she wanted to dance. And that Ellie thought he looked kind of nice, and so she said she might take a chance.

Ellie was clearly over-the-moon about this whole getting married development. She’d written a song about it. A song which captured the giddiness of getting married better than any other song ever written. Ellie Greenwich had written “Chapel Of Love.” A song in which the narrator is so overwhelmed with joy about her upcoming nuptials that she has convinced herself that the birds in the trees are singing just for her. A song sprinkled with love dust, or at least with shimmering wedding bell chimes.

The kind of adorable song that could only be a hit for a group with a similarly adorable name: The Dixie Cups.

Their name could have been even more adorable: Up until their first recording session, the girls had been calling themselves Little Miss and The Muffets. A missed opportunity I think. Quite why they thought naming themselves after a disposable paper cup would be an improvement, I can’t even guess. I mean, sure, they came from New Orleans – aka Dixie – but still…

You knew that The Dixie Cups were from New Orleans because they also recorded Mardi Gras classic “Iko Iko,” a song that they learnt from their grandmother. A song about a battle between two “tribes” of Mardi Gras revelers dressed as “Indians”… although what this has to do about a man dressed in green being a lovin’ machine, is anyone’s guess.

The story – the legend! – of how “Iko Iko” was recorded might just be the most adorable aspect of the Dixie Cups entire short pop career: Lieber and Stoller had gone out to lunch, leaving the girls on their own. Believing that they were alone, with no grown-ups to frown at them, the girls started to play around.

They started to sing and bang on stuff.
They banged on a chair.
They banged on a metal ashtray.
They banged on a Coke bottle.

They were unaware that the tape was rolling, producing a live recording of three teenage girls at play, almost as though they had been recorded jumping rope, whilst chanting a nursery rhyme.

The story is mostly true.

Although it turns out they had to play it a second time to record it for posterity and profit. Naturally, to promote it, they had to dress up like Mardi Gras Indians too.

“Chapel Of Love” sees the same sense of playful innocence that the girls brought to singing about flag boys setting flags on fire, to the more conventional pop concern of never being lonely anymore. Was not having your sister and cousin hanging around you all the time not company enough?

As best as I can work out, the three members of The Dixie Cups were all around 18 or 19 at the time.* They sounded painfully shy. They sounded nervous. They sounded like three teenage girls taking their first steps out into the big world.

This wasn’t just an act. The Dixie Cups naivety in relation to marriage was reportedly matched only by their naivety in relation to showbusiness.

When on a Dick Clark tour, The Shirelles took pity on The Dixie Cups and adopted them, teaching them some of the more important aspects of pop stardom. Aspects about which, neither they, nor their manager – Joe Jones, who, funnily enough, had also discovered Shirley & Lee – had any idea. Such as where to buy a wig.

Such naivety may have fit the zeitgeist of 1964, but that year was probably the last that such a cheery bridal waltz could become a global hit. The final year before the cynicism set in. Before the year was out Ellie and Barry and the rest of the Red Bird crew would produce an even bigger – if far more morbid – girl-group classic. In two years, Ellie and Barry would divorce, Red Bird would dissolve, and the girl-group era would be over.

Ellie Greenwich would still keep on kicking goals – not everyone can claim to have sung backing vocals on Blondie’s “In The Flesh” for example – but she could be forgiven for occasionally looking back on the summer of ’64, and sighing; remembering that time, so long ago, when a generation of teenagers skipped down the sidewalk, humming and whistling, that they were going to the chapel, and they’re, gonna get married.

“Chapel Of Love” is an 8

* Not a single member of Dixie Cups has their own Wikipedia page, so I had to work their ages out from their obituaries, a very more depressing means of researching “Chapel Of Love” than I was anticipating.

Now, from one city famous for its Mardi Gras to another city famous for its Mardi Gras! My baby must’ve just smiled at me, because we’re going to Rio!


Meanwhile, in Bossa Nova Land:

It’s “The Girl From Ipanema” by Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto & Astrud Gilberto!

Ipanema is a beachside neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It’s a couple of minutes’ walk from another famous beachside neighbourhood, Copacabana. It’s a land of sun, sand, palm trees, and the soft sound of a guitar, strummed to a bossa-nova rhythm. Also a very refreshing lime-flavoured drink known as a caipirinha.

It was there that a 17-year-old girl by the name of Heloísa Eneida Paes Pinto Mendes Pinheiro lived with her mother, for whom she would buy cigarettes from a café – the Veloso Bar if you happen to be in the neighbourhood – where a songwriter by the name of Vinicius de Moraes used to sit with all the other old guys, and wolf whistle – not sigh, as the song might have you believe – as she walked out the door.

Here she is, looking quizzical, as if to ask, “who is this guy who watches me so sadly? Who would give his heart gladly?” You will notice that, although she is clearly walking to the sea, she is not, for once, looking straight ahead.

Here she is with Vinicius himself.

What do you think she is thinking? What is Vinicius thinking? Is he wondering how he can say that he loves her? Is she thinking “oh… is this the guy? Ew… bummer.”

So, tall and tan and young and lovely, “The Girl From Ipanema” was the perfect song to be the bossa-nova national anthem of Brazil. From an American consumer point of view – particularly if said American consumer was in possession of a bachelor pad – it perfectly complimented their existing collection of 50s exotica and Harry Belafonte calypso records.

It wouldn’t have been the only bossa-nova record in their collection either. By 1963 the bossa-nova had spread from Copacabana Beach to Copacabana the New York nightclub and – via Brill Building popsmiths – into the charts with “Blame It On The Bossa-Nova” by Eydie Gorme, a song that made “The Twist” sound downright seductive in comparison (it’s a 4).

A year before that Quincy Jones had composed and recorded “Soul Bossa Nova,” which, at the very least, was popular enough for Judy Garland to dance to on her television show (it’s a 10)

More sophisticated jazz purists may have bought Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd’s “Jazz Samba” album. Charlie Byrd was a jazz guitar player who had just toured Brazil on a “diplomatic tour.” He’d found some bossa-nova records there, including this one by Joao Gilberto, a very quiet guitar strummer and an even quieter singer.

Back in New York, and mingling at a party, Charlie bumped into big deal jazz saxophonist Stan Getz. Stan was such a big deal in the jazz world that he recorded albums with Dizzy Gillespie – “Diz & Getz” – and Chet Baker – “Stan Meets Chet” – and got equal billing for his efforts. Charlie insisted that Stan just HAD to hear these bossa-nova records that he’d brought back from Brazil.

“They’ll change your life!” he probably promised. And indeed they did. Stan loved those bossa-nova records so much that he dedicated much of the next few years trying to make some bossa-nova records of his own.

But Stan and Charlie had a problem. Neither of them really knew how to play this stuff. Neither did anyone else in the United States. They ended up having to use two drummers – Buddy Deppenschmidt and Bill Reichenbach, very clearly neither of them Brazilian – simply to get the complicated rhythm right. But it, and particularly “Desafinado” – written by Ipanema-royalty Antônio Carlos Jobim – was a huge hit.

As in a huge Top 40 hit, not something that jazz records were typically prone to be (it’s a 9.)

Their Jazz Samba album even reached Number One – on the “stereo chart” – for a single week, interrupting the 54-week run of the soundtrack to West Side Story. Bossa-nova music was big business!!

It was at about this point that Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobin headed up to New York to play at Carnegie Hall – presumedly to show the Americans how this stuff was supposed to be played – and they also ended up recording an album with Stan.

The sessions did not exactly go smoothly. Stan was still having trouble with the bossa-nova rhythm. At one point Gilberto is alleged to have said, in Portuguese, “tell this gringo he is an idiot”. Jobin politely declined to provide an accurate translation, instead choosing to go with: “Stan, João is saying that his dream always was to record with you.”

All of which suggests that “The Girl From Ipanema” – the most popular bossa-nova song of all time – is not even close to being pure, authentic bossa-nova. But these are the sacrifices you must make, and the frustrations you must deal with, if you want to break into the American market.

But it’s Joao’s wife Astrud who provides “The Girl From Ipanema” with its secret sauce. Astrud sings the tune with such a clumsy, charming ASMR murmur, that for a long time I thought that “The Girl From Ipanema” was moving “like a zombie”, when very clearly it’s “like a samba”.

If Stan on the saxophone didn’t seem to know what he was doing, Astrud really didn’t have a clue.

Astrud had never sung professionally before. She largely got the job because they needed an English-language version, and she knew how to speak English. But Astrud’s awkward detached cool is perfect for “The Girl From Ipanema.”

Astrud’s voice, unsullied by experience, is the aural equivalent to tall and tan and young and lovely Heliosa, looking straight ahead, not at “he.”

We never really learn anything about “he.” Is he a shy boy with an unrequited crush? Or is he a creepy old guy checking out young girls? We never find out.

So, “The Girl From Ipanema”… awkward cross-cultural collaboration in which everyone is lost in translation, or certified elevator-music classic? The soundtrack to a teenage crush, or creepy-old-guy music?

Whichever it is, it’s a 9.

Heloisa – who became a Brazilian Playboy Playmate in 1987 – still visits the Velosa Bar every day. It’s on Rua Vinicius de Moraes, because, yes, he got the street named after him. Try the caipirinhas. They are very good.


Meanwhile, in Summer Land:

“I Get Around” by The Beach Boys

Was I too mean about Mike Love last time?

Inferring that he was rock’s worst frontman? Suggesting that he might not be as cool as he thinks he is?

Clearly no-one was telling him that at the time, because “I Get Around” sees Mike Love boasting about how cool he is for the entire song! Building himself up as someone that even The Fonz might gaze upon in awe, cowering in the face of his coolness.

Musically, “I Get Around” is close to a masterpiece. But lyrically? It’s utterly unconvincing.

The Beach Boys had previously pretended to be surfers, even though they couldn’t surf. Or at least, only Dennis could. Brian, it seems, was especially terrible at it. This time they pretend – or probably more accurately, fantasize – they are the toughest guys in town, so tough that “the bad guys know (them) and they leave (them) alone.”*

This, of course, is simply unbelievable. I’m trying to imagine The Beach Boys in a dark alley – or even a sunny alley, this being California and all – facing off against “the bad guys” of this “new strip” they’ve found, “where the kids are hip”, Brian intimidating them by coo-ing in falsetto that he’s a “real cool head” and “makin’ real good bread” and “the bad guys” consequently backing carefully away, and… no, I simply can’t imagine this ever happening.

The Beach Boys are so cool – or at least, their car is so cool – that they don’t go steady!

Why?

Well, a couple of reasons. Since The Beach Boys never miss yet with the girls they meet, they don’t need a steady girl tying them down. If they were going steady, then they’d have to leave their girls – including their best girl, inferring that each Beach Boy is dating multiple girls at the same time – at home, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to pick up additional girls.

And The Beach Boys’ need to pick up girls because it’s fundamental part of their whole identity as guys who “get around.” Yeah, I’m sure they do.  

This may not sound especially chivalrous. But the way Mike sings it – and particularly the fact that he says “it wouldn’t be right” – makes it sound almost honourable. Mike Love truly believes that he has stumbled upon a viable moral code here.

The level of self-delusion, the sweeping, swooping, swooning harmonies… it’s all absolutely hilarious and gorgeous and that’s why I love it and it’s a 9.

*Even the fact that they refer to “the bad guys” as “the bad guys” – and not, I dunno, misunderstood “rebels without a cause” – seems a little nerdy, don’t you think?

To hear these and other 60s hits, tune into DJ Professor Dan’s Twitch stream!

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LinkCrawford
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LinkCrawford
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June 17, 2024 6:41 am

Hard to argue with any of this today. Great songs! Of course, I especially love the fantastic “Girl from Ipanema”. I only differ from you on “Blame it on the Bossa Nova”, because I think it’s a great song, but also because I think it’s a great concept to blame various arcs of your life on a song or a genre of music. And occasionally I like to pull that song title out of nowhere when someone asks about blame placement. But I acknowledge that dropping the title of a 60 year old minor hit usually doesn’t land the way I’d like it to. All these young kids don’t understand how funny my jokes are. (sigh)

Last edited 27 days ago by LinkCrawford
Phylum of Alexandria
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June 17, 2024 10:12 am

As a teenager, there was no band I hated more than the Beach Boys. It’s not like I heard them all that much, though overplay at Dorney Park surely factored into my distaste. More than anything else, I hated the idea of the Beach Boys. I hated the chipper, extraverted goodie-goodie energy that they exuded.

But in 1999, I saw the film Three Kings, and there’s a scene set to “I Get Around.” And for some reason, it finally clicked. This song is absolute genius. I got Pet Sounds soon after, but it was the mid-era stuff that first called to me. I had done acid a few times at this point, and the vocal intricacies of “I Get Around” sounded downright psychedelic to me. Still blows my mind in the best way, man.

I never heard “My Boy Lollipop” before. Loving it!

Another great write-up, DJPD.

Virgindog
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Virgindog
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June 17, 2024 11:44 am

Any of these songs could be an article on their own. The “My Boy Lollipop” and “Girl From Ipanema” stories are unlikely but true and deserve to be wider known.

My parents had “My Boy Lollipop” on 45 when I was a kid but I didn’t know that it was ska. I was five so I didn’t even know what ska was, I just knew I liked it. I wasn’t so keen on “Chapel Of Love” but, again, I was five and far too young to be thinking about marriage.

I can appreciate The Beach Boys’ vocal talents, but a lot of their songs were shallow. Not Pet Sounds, of course, but that’s essentially a Brian Wilson solo record. “I Get Around” is lesser Beach Boys. Give me Millie Smalls and Astrud Gilberto any day.

Zeusaphone
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Zeusaphone
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June 17, 2024 12:11 pm

the most rockin’ record by a teenage girl of 1956!

I beg to differ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-pQDHYGJIQ&t=1s

LinkCrawford
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LinkCrawford
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June 17, 2024 10:54 pm
Reply to  Zeusaphone

Zowie! This song is great!

JJ Live At Leeds
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June 17, 2024 2:36 pm

A great selection. Even if I’ve always had the same problem with I Get Around. That line about the bad guys leaving us alone has long threatened to derail the song. I’m momentarily transported away from California, cars, girls and American Grafitti in song form to thinking that the only reason the bad guys leave you alone is cos they got bored of beating you up so often and taking your car for a joyride.

mjevon6296
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June 17, 2024 4:43 pm

I am going to assume you all have seen these but when I hear “I Get Around” it is all I can think of anymore. The Beach Boys “unplugged” or “shred”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXF9O5Y76H4

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