Chic, “Le Freak” and Studio 54

We all experience those freaky coincidences from time to time don’t we, when we start thinking of a song we might not have heard in ages, only for it to pop up on the radio a few minutes later. I had such a freaky coincidence this week, which ironically involved the 1978 Chic song, Le Freak.   

Over at My Top Ten, Rol has resumed his Hot 100 Countdown. Every week he chooses a song to represent a number, counting down from 100 to 1. This week suggestions were sought for songs that mention the number 54 in the title or lyrics. As expected quite a few of these suggestions included Le Freak, as the lyrics include the lines: 

Just come on down, to 54
Find a spot out on the floor

A reference of course, to the legendary Studio 54 in New York City, which in the late 1970s was probably the most famous nightclub in the world, the home of disco, and frequented by A-listers from the worlds of music, film, art and fashion. 

As a suggestion for a 54 song, it was a good one, so I too offered it up in the comments boxes. I also left a lame remark about how I had loved Le Freak back in the day, but had no idea at the time what the reference to 54 meant, coming from rural Aberdeenshire as opposed to The Big Apple. Needless to say, once I had slept on it, I realised I could have yet again made a bit of a naïve faux pas, perhaps not realising the number 54 was code for the kind of hedonistic activities that went on there during its heyday (I have been caught out with this number malarkey before). I wasn’t even up yet, but I decided to do a quick Google search on my phone, to find out what the 54 in the song was all about. Yes, you’ve guessed it, just as I clicked on the first entry thrown up by the search engine, I hear the words “Ah…, Freak Out” coming out loud and clear from my new radio alarm. 

As a coincidence, I thought this was an extreme one, but Mr WIAA merely brushed it aside, saying these things happen all the time. Personally I think we have far more influence on the world around us than we will ever understand, and because some of us were collectively thinking of the song Le Freak for Rol’s countdown on Tuesday night, the gods of radio playlists picked it for the Wednesday morning schedules. Oh, and for the record, I hadn’t actually been naïve after all, as it turns out Studio 54 was located at 254 West 54th Street, so that’s how it got its name. But enough about freaky coincidences, how about we actually listen to the song?

Le Freak by Chic:

I think most of us have watched reruns of TOTP2 often enough by now to know the story behind the song, but it seems Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers of Chic wrote it after being denied admission to Studio 54, even though they had been invited along by Grace Jones. Their earlier hit Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah) was played often inside, but they weren’t on “the list” so the doorman, who didn’t recognise them, turned them away. It was New Year’s Eve, 1977, but they now had nowhere to go, so ended up writing this song as a reply to the doorman. They called it “F**k Off” but when they decided to record it, to appease Bernard Edward’s sensibilities, they changed it to “Freak Out”. Incidentally, the “stomping at the Savoy” line in the song makes reference to Edgar Melvin Sampson, nicknamed The Lamb. He was an American jazz composer, arranger, saxophonist, and violinist born in New York City, his most notable composition being Stompin’ at the Savoy

The disco genre was massive between 1977 to 1978, when I was in my final year of school and heading out every weekend to socialise with my friends. Even in rural Scotland, the venues (local hotelier’s unused function suites) were transformed overnight into mini-Studio 54s, complete with a DJ, glitter balls and floors with flashing lights. We’d also now had the films Saturday Night Fever, and Thank God It’s Friday, which had kind of made disco go mainstream. Young people want to get together and meet other young people at the weekend, and this was a really easy and accessible way to make it happen. (Link here and here to my previous disco-related posts.)

The band Chic were probably the most stylish of all the disco acts at the time, and of course Mr Nile Rodgers is still doing his thing today, having worked with some of the most successful acts of the last 40 years. Back then, they were inspired by Bryan Ferry’s “look” after watching him with Roxy Music, but safe to say, nowadays Nile has adopted the look of a street hippie, and looks very comfortable in his skin I must say. 

Getting back to Studio 54 and its history, it apparently first opened in 1927 as the Gallo Opera House, but it was short-lived. After changing its name several times it eventually became a CBS radio and television studio. Then, in 1977, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager created the space that became the world-famous nightclub and discotheque. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on professional lighting design and kept many of the former TV and theatrical sets, creating a unique dance club that became famous for its celebrity guest lists and restrictive (and subjective) entry policies, based on appearance and style.

I am reminded of a scene from the film American Hustle when one of the main characters, Bradley Cooper, has a night off from his FBI duties and takes Amy Adams dancing at Studio 54. I remember being impressed at how many of the details they got right in terms of fashion and hairstyles for this movie. It reminded me that even in rural Aberdeenshire, back in 1978, the boys took to having their hair permed. A strange sight back on the building sites on a Monday morning (and no doubt a lot of teasing from their older workmates) but ’twas the times. Tough to find a suitable clip, but this one gives a feel for what it must have been like in its heyday.

Something I never knew before, were the names of the two girls who sang lead on Le Freak. For the record they were Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin but in the Chic Choir we also had future luminaries such as Luther Vandross and Jocelyn Brown. The Chic Strings completed the line-up.

So, “What’s It All About?” – I think I have opened a can of worms here, as there was just too much information to get through in order to write only one post on the whole disco phenomenon. If I have a rummage in the loft, I’m sure I’ll be able to find some pictures of me in my dancing gear (basically a leotard, footless tights and a wraparound skirt), and the diary entry reviewing my first night out in one of Aberdeen’s new nightspots. Most of the cinemas had seen better days by the tail end of the ’70s so they were being converted to places like Ruffles (on Diamond Street) and Fusion (on Bridge Place). I think I was unusual in that I truly went to dance, and could often be found hogging that sweet spot in front of the DJ, along with the boys who, like John Travolta, enjoyed a bit of “showboating”.

I will leave you with another Chic clip, this time featuring Norma Jean Wright on lead vocals. Everybody Dance got to No. 9 in the UK Singles Chart in April 1978. Enjoy.

Until next time…

Le Freak Lyrics
(Song by Bernard Edwards/Nile Rodgers)

Ah, freak out!
Le freak, c’est Chic
Freak out!

Ah, freak out!
Le freak, c’est Chic
Freak out!

Have you heard about the new dance craze?
Listen to us, I’m sure you’ll be amazed
Big fun to be had by everyone
It’s up to you, it surely can be done

Young and old are doing it, I’m told
Just one try, and you too will be sold
It’s called le freak, they’re doing it night and day
Allow us, we’ll show you the way

Ah, freak out!
Le freak, c’est Chic
Freak out!

All that pressure got you down
Has your head spinning all around
Feel the rhythm, check the rhyme
Come on along and have a real good time

Like the days of stomping at the Savoy
Now we freak, oh, what a joy
Just come on down, to 54
Find a spot out on the floor

Ah, freak out!
Le freak, c’est Chic
Freak out!

Now freak!

I said freak!

Now freak!

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team Bacharach and David - The opening line to that song was "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

26 thoughts on “Chic, “Le Freak” and Studio 54”

  1. I saw blues guitarist Johnny Winter play at the former studio 54 in a gig sponsored by Michelob (not a beer I enjoyed). It was December 29th, 1989 and I still have the ticket stub though it’s somewhat faded now. But you can still see the address 254 West 54th Street.

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      1. Of course, like stomping at the Savoy, another reference to something from a previous age. They were very clever Nile and Bernard – It’s no surprise that Nile has been so successful over the years. Sad that Bernard died so young.

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    1. Wow, didn’t expect a comment from someone who had actually been there, especially someone from the Granite City which was home to Ruffles and Fusion!

      No matter that the ticket stub is from 10 years after its heyday. Quite a bit of memorabilia.

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      1. I was a rare visitor to any of the Granite City’s night clubs, preferring to attend live music shows. I get a bit annoyed with the whole disco thing being said to be an invention of the mid 1970’s as I used to go to the Holburn Discotheque (shortened to Holburn Disco by its patrons) above the Holburn Bar in Aberdeen. I was just under age for drinking at the time (as were most of the folk there) so that would have made it about 1968. The Holburn Disco had a sizeable (sprung) dance floor but nobody with record decks – just a jukebox with mostly all Motown, Stax and Atlantic singles and EVERYBODY danced. Around the same time there was a club called “The Place” in Rose Street which had live gigs and a disco. Radio Clyde used to host live shows from there.

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        1. No I didn’t think you would have been a patron of Ruffles or Fusion back in the day, and to be fair, I only went before I became a student, after which the Union on Schoolhill became our venue of choice.

          Of course there were Discotheques (what a great French name) before then and I remember there was a cartoon strip in one of our DC Thomson magazines (Diana) for pre-teens featuring Disco Kate in the late ’60s/early ’70s. I suppose it was just that there was such an explosion of disco-inspired records/films being made between ’77-’79 that it became mainstream and all the old dance halls and cinemas were rapidly converted to nightspots of the Studio 54 persuasion.

          Thanks for your memories as ever – I like hearing about the Aberdeen of old. Wonder where The Place was on Rose Street – Quite a few nightspots in that neck of the woods when I lived there but not one on Rose Street. Have you ever seen this?:

          https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/lifestyle/name-it/401970/15-aberdeen-pubs-clubs-went-80s-arent-anymore/

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          1. Alyson – The Place was in a former church part of which was on the junction of Rose Street and Skene Street (I think it’s flats or offices now) opposite the Aberdeen Grammar School which was boys only way back then. I recall Radio 1 deejay Stuart Henry (one of the original Radio 1 deejays – and Scottish! – doing a few live shows from The Place, although even back then I was a musical snob and felt Radio 1 was an insult to my intelligence.

            I recognise most of those pubs from the 80’s but I tended to frequent Ma Cameron’s, The City Bar, The Kirkgate Bar (or the KGB as it was known) The Harriet Street Bar (home from home for Gray’s Art School students with a truly fabulous juke box – it even had Blue Horizon label 45’s on it!) and The Grill – proper drinking pubs as opposed to the Earl’s Court which was memorably described in a 1970’s guide to Aberdeen bars as “full o’ blokes you could blaw ower wi a sook”! (Translation from the Aberdonian available on request)

            The Tappit Hen in Back Wynd was previously known as The Elite Bar and in the 1970’s, the upstairs part – The Elite Lounge – was a thriving live music venue with singers and bands every night and great lunchtime session on Saturdays. There was a similar set up at the ABC Bowl in George Street (a bowling alley with a huge lounge bar – the owners obviously realised that Aberdonians were more interested in alcohol than ten pin bowling). A band called Hedgehog Pie was the resident band there (their vocalist Frank Robb is still doing his singing and songwriting these days) and some big names of the British folk and folk rock scene used to turn up for the Saturday lunchtime sessions is they were playing a gig in the city.
            Throughout the 1970’s, almost every bar and lounge in Aberdeen had live music and I have to say – biased though I am – that those were the best times for live music. I still keep in touch with some of the local musicians from those days via Facebook.

            As for the rest of those 80’s pubs, most of them had undergone name changes since the 1970’s (a tradition that continues in Aberdeen to this day and gets me all confused). I always though the Belmont Lounge was a depressing place – like an underground bunker. Was Cafe Ici renamed The Nile? I got barred for life from there after a night celebrating the going away of a female Northsound news presenter who moved on to greater things. She got barred first and I was barred for trying to argue clemency on her behalf. Radar’s was more of a cafe than a bar and I think it got a reputation as a place for scoring drugs. Oh Henry’s was an occasional strip joint and the owner was a bit dodgy. Or maybe that was Sir Laffalot’s? Neither of those were places I frequented, unless I was chasing a news story.

            Apologies for rambling on but you bring out the crashing bore in me!

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            1. I know where The Place was then as I used to live in Esslemont Ave overlooking the Grammar. I’m getting all nostalgic reading about these old haunts. Yes I was a frequent visitor to Ma Cameron’s and the Kirkgate Bar as well but also the Blue Lamp as I think it sponsored the boyfriend’s football team. I was once challenged to go up to the bar in The Grill to buy a round, which I did, not realising what a massive deal that was. They did serve me, but a rare event for a woman to even be in there, let alone get served.

              The owner of Radars lived near our village and he once asked my dad to transport a large fish, flown over from America, back from Aberdeen in his van! What was inside the fish?! Sir Laffalots had a stupid entry code and the boyfriend wasn’t allowed in wearing trainers. He had his football boots in his bag though so he changed into them and inside we went. For a brief nano-second I was one of Aberdeen’s cool crowd and was there for the opening night of Café Ici as we knew the owner. His assistant had been sent down to London to acquire one of these new-fangled coffee machines that could make espressos etc – All very new and trendy!

              On a Friday after work we did ABC pub crawls – It was the Athenaeum, Bentleys, Carafe then down to The Drift Inn (is that where Frank Robb performed as well?). Can’t remember now what E was but we perhaps didn’t often get that far. I know the Harriet Street bar was H though so we must have sometimes had the stamina.

              I have also rambled on a bit too much now, but funny to think back that far and remember. I now very rarely step inside a bar and barely drink a drop – Changed days obviously!

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  2. I think I would have liked Chic’s music better if I’d danced to it during the 70s. Hearing it without a party doesn’t feel right as it’s music to move to. Even the lyrics tell you to dance 🙂 Good decision to change the title to “Freak Out” instead!

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    1. Indeed Chris, you were born too late for the whole disco phenomenon. Then again very few of the boys we were friends with at school back then liked disco anyway, as this was also the era of punk. It was a very confusing time really for us girls, as we liked to hang out with the boys, and listened to their Elvis Costello and Stranglers albums, but some of us also liked going out dancing to music of the “disco” persuasion, by bands like Chic and the Bee Gees. By ’79 it was all over really, and by then I was a student. No self-respecting student in the early ’80s would have dressed in shiny clothes and gone to nightclubs, so my time in front of the DJ was done!

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    1. I thought it was a pretty big set of odds that it would have happened that way but my other half kind of brushed it aside – A billion to one you think?

      Always happy to provide new facts and figures and with this piece of info you’ve got both! Yes, have a great rest of the weekend yourself.

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        1. If I have only got to “know”, on average, one new song per day since I was the age of 5 that would mean I have around 20,000 in my arsenal, so to speak. Looking at my digital database alone, that seems a low number, but I don’t necessarily “know” them all well. Glad you brought that number up now, as I think we’ve worked out the chances were more likely to be about one in 20,000 – I should go out and buy a lottery ticket this week!

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  3. Ooh, that was spooky. And I like spooky. I also like your suggestion that some kind of collective thought transference influence the radio gods… although since the radio gods are all computerised these days, it would have to be a ghost in the machine. Deus ex machina.

    The only flaw in your theory would be that I think you’d need more of a mass consciousness than the 3 and a half hardy souls who read my blog on a daily basis to affect this kind of psychic transference. L. Ron Hubbard and Tom Cruise are hardly ready to start a new religion based on this occurrence….

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    1. Yes, it was spooky wasn’t it – I was reeling from it for the next hour, although the other half thought these things happen all the time. A Ghost in the Machine you think? I am pretty sure that in a few hundred years time, the humans of the future will look back at us and laugh, as we do when we remember people used to think the earth was flat. Their part human/part android selves will say, “Can you believe that people in the 21st century didn’t believe in a collective consciousness”. Oh yes, how they will laugh. As for the 3 and a half souls, you know there are more than that, and many more who just don’t leave comments so who knows, there may have been a psychic transference.

      Just to take this freaky phenomenon a stage further, here’s another one. I was first to visit Saturday Snapshots this morning and the one I recognised instantly was The Small Faces. The clue had to refer to the song Lazy Sunday I thought, but I wasn’t sure whether the title included Afternoon or not. What should be lying in front of me but my Encyclopedia of Singles (the 1000 singles to have made most of an impact blah, blah..) and it was open at the page which told me all about Chic’s Le Freak as I’d been using it for this post. What was the entry right above it? Lazy Sunday (no Afternoon) !!! All very spooky indeed.

      Sorry a bit of a long comment here, but I’m starting to wonder if you hit me with another song title right now, it might be the one I’m listening to right now! Rol (Derren Brown) Hirst.

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        1. At 1.23pm today I was sitting in college trying to get to grips with the latest module on my course (first day of the new semester) so not thinking of songs BUT there is a bit of a freaky coincidence with this choice. I have abandoned my blogging notebook as there were just too many ideas for blog posts building up there. I now set up a new post and leave it in draft form until the following Saturday and the current one does involve Abba! Two ideas rolled into one actually – If I sort my digital database by album (which I did recently), at the top comes the one they recorded and simply called ABBA. My song choice from it was going to be SOS. The other idea I had was about how ladies like me really feel their age nowadays, because just about everyone of my vintage (and older) on telly and in film, has had work done, so to quote my other half, “They look great for their age”! Cher is one of these ladies so I was going to write about her longevity in the music business. She recently popped up in the latest Mama Mia film (with the skin of a 25 year old grrr…) and has released her own album of Abba songs, so SOS by Abba and SOS by Cher it was going to be. Not far out in an alpha list of their singles but not quite Voulez Vouz.

          Another long drawn out comment and think I’ve now blown next Saturday’s post. Got too much on my plate again anyway so might have to have a week off. Enough of all these freaky coincidences now.

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  4. I like spooky too, and coincidences are just part of that whole inexplicable magic that comes in life, I love them! I wrote a little post about coincidence some years back just in case you’re interested too; https://sundriedsparrows.blogspot.com/search?q=coincidences
    Also I’m a massive fan of Nile Rodgers. Everything I’ve ever read about him, or seen him on, just increases that. Did you see that 3-part documentary on him on BBC Four a while back? – it was superb, and covered a lot about him and Chic that I had been previously unaware of. But the main thing that came across was just what a great person he is, so likeable, so natural. And, for some reason, Chic just sound better and better with the passing of time. Perhaps, for me anyway, all the associations with the disco scene and the sorts of people I knew in the ’70s who were into that – the people who were the opposite to me in so many ways – have dissipated now and what remains is just the purity and quality of the songs themselves.

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    1. That’s a great blog post you wrote (although I too am struggling with the birthday thing) and shows that these weird coincidences happen all the time, but so freaky when they do – A Jamaican stamp no less.

      As for the whole disco thing, it got such a lot of flak, and the poor Bee Gees got parodied rotten, but all these years later their music is being seen as the stellar body of work I always thought it to be. Chic produced fantastic music, what with all that clapping, and the strings, and the choir. Nile Rodgers is a living legend really, and yes, he does come across as being a really lovely likeable chap.

      I know what you mean about the whole disco scene associations and quite see how it wouldn’t have been for you at the time. I spent two summers working away from home with my best friend (she’s been written about here before) and at the weekend, after we’d finished our shift, we went out to the local venues that had a function suite kitted out as a “discotheque”. All the local boys and girls came out to play at the weekend, as these venues had taken over from the old dancehalls as places to meet. It was the summer of the film Saturday Night Fever and there were definitely boys just like John Travolta’s gang amongst them, who did dull-ish jobs during the week, but got dressed up in their finest at the weekend (and permed their hair!), ready to wow the girls with their dance moves. As we only appeared in the summer we were a bit of a novelty, so got our fair share of dances from these pretty cool dudes (much to the chagrin of their usual dance partners). Come autumn we were back to school/college again, but my memories of disco are all tied up with those two summers.

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  5. Great post, Alyson. It’s fun to read your impressions of the disco era & Studio 54 since you were (physically) so far removed from that scene. I was still a double-digit-midget (aka pre-teen) during that time but living on Staten Island I felt close enough to Manhattan (and occasionally visited my parents at their respective offices) that I knew I would eventually be part of it. Of course by the time I started working in Manhattan (what we simply refer to as “the city”) things were very different, but I’m glad I got to see a number of rock concerts at The Ritz, which took over the old Studio 54 space in the late-’80s. My fondest memory was seeing Jimmy Page’s only solo tour at that venue. To be that close to one of my biggest musical heroes in a club and not an arena was pretty thrilling.

    As for Chic, I was a “disco sucks” kid when they were popular but by my early 20s I came around to them and now I think they were pretty amazing. I have a wonderful 2-CD anthology of their music which has everything you could ever want to hear from them.

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    1. Hi there – This is what I love about blogging. You can end up having conversations with people from totally different parts of the world and in the late ’70s your part of the world was “disco central”. Of course you would have hated it being a kid, but I think we all now realise how amazing some of the dance music was, especially that of bands like Chic.

      The first comment in this section was from Lynchie, who also seems to have visited Studio 54 in the late ’80s when it was The Ritz. How great you were able to see Jimmy Page there. Talking of your musical heroes, so far I’m afraid I’m out of my depth over at your place this year. Forty Year Friday was perfect for me, as you wrote about all the albums that were popular the year I turned 17 (and was listening to Saturday Night Fever, Chic and the Bee Gees as per the above) but when it comes to Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd – well, male gender music I feel, and not very knowledgeable about it at all. I love that you’ve found a means of starting up your blog again though, and as soon as you write about an album we have in common, I will no doubt jump in with one of my anecdotes! Thanks for dropping by with your stories of life in Manhattan.

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      1. I saw that earlier comment from your reader who was at The Ritz. Nice to know I’m not the only New Yorker hanging out here,. Yes, I relocated to North Carolina 3-1/2 years ago and love it here, but I will always be a New Yorker at heart. The Ritz had previously been downtown where I saw a few shows (Southside Johnny was one particularly great concert). That location was re-branded as Webster Hall and, I believe, still hosts concerts on a regular basis.

        No worries about not participating in the discussions in the Satur-debut series. I figured we would diverge on a number of titles, especially early on. I’m taking a mostly chronological approach so eventually I’ll arrive at your favorite decade(s).

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        1. Ah but the reader at the top who went to The Ritz is from Aberdeen (In Scotland) but was a music journalist for many years and must have made it across the pond for a visit.

          I will no doubt find something that pleases me In your new series soon. I think I worked out that for FYF, about 45% of the albums were by British artists. Wonder if it’ll go the same way in the new series. Time will tell!

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  6. I gave blood tonight. Whilst waiting for my arm to be drained ‘Le Freak’ came on the radio. The nurse bleeding me burst into song. And then, the nurse on my other side joined in! It was lovely, so spontaneous.

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    1. Good on you. I am now starting to think Le Freak has found its way into the upper eschelons of an automated radio playlist so is popping up on all manner of mainstream shows. Either that or it has been re-released, or is being used in an ad or something (hope not).

      Great that the nurses launched into song – Must have made the experience a whole less daunting (or is it just me that feels that way).

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