If I Needed Someone

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"If I Needed Someone"
If I Needed Someone single face label.jpg
B-side of 1995 "Norwegian Wood" jukebox single
Song by the Beatles from the album Rubber Soul
Published Northern Songs
Released 3 December 1965
Recorded 16 and 18 October 1965,
EMI Studios, London
Genre Folk rock, pop rock,[1] power pop
Length 2:23
Label Parlophone
Writer(s) George Harrison
Producer(s) George Martin

"If I Needed Someone" is a song written by English rock musician George Harrison and first recorded by the Beatles for their 1965 album Rubber Soul. In North America, it was one of the tracks that Capitol Records omitted from Rubber Soul and instead included on the 1966 release Yesterday and Today. In the United Kingdom, the Hollies issued a recording of the song as a single on the same day as the release there of Rubber Soul. The Hollies' version became a modest hit by their previous standards, peaking at number 20 in the UK. Accompanying this release, Harrison was highly critical of the Hollies' performance, leading to a terse exchange in the press between the two English groups.

Harrison wrote "If I Needed Someone" as a love song to his fiancée Pattie Boyd, whom he married in January 1966. The ambivalent tone of the lyrics has nevertheless invited interpretation as a song addressed to a casual love interest. The composition reflects Harrison's nascent interest in Indian classical music at the time, while also serving as an example of the reciprocal influences exchanged between the Beatles and the American folk rock band the Byrds during the mid 1960s. In particular, Harrison based the song's guitar riff, played on a Rickenbacker twelve-string electric guitar, on the riff that Roger McGuinn had used in the Byrds' adaptation of "The Bells of Rhymney". Following its inclusion in the set list for the Beatles' 1965 UK tour, the song became the only Harrison composition performed live by the group during their years of international fame.

On release, "If I Needed Someone" was widely considered to be Harrison's best song to date. Aside from the Hollies, several artists covered the track in the first year after its release, including the American bands Stained Glass and the Kingsmen. A live recording by Harrison, taken from his 1991 tour with Eric Clapton, appears on the album Live in Japan.

Background and inspiration[edit]

The Rickenbacker 360/12, which the Byrds began using after hearing Harrison's use of the guitar with the Beatles in 1964.

In addition to reflecting George Harrison's interest in Indian classical music,[2] "If I Needed Someone" was inspired by the music of the Byrds, who in turn had based their sound on that of the Beatles after seeing the band's 1964 film A Hard Day's Night.[3][4] According to music journalist David Fricke, the composition resulted from "a remarkable exchange of influences" between the Beatles and the Byrds.[5] A friendship was formed between the two bands in early August 1965[6] when Harrison and John Lennon attended the Byrds' first shows in London,[7][8] after which Harrison lauded them in the press as "the American Beatles".[9][10] Towards the end of that month, the Byrds' Jim (later Roger) McGuinn and David Crosby met up with the Beatles in Los Angeles, where they discussed with Lennon and Harrison the music of Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar and American Indo-jazz pioneer John Coltrane.[11] The meeting led to Harrison introducing the sitar on Lennon's song "Norwegian Wood",[12] and to Crosby and McGuinn incorporating Indian influences into the Byrds' "Why"[11] and "Eight Miles High".[13]

I'll tell you about that song. It was just purely based on the Rickenbacker 12-string sound. Just as the Byrds were influenced by the Beatles, we were influenced by the Byrds.[14]

– George Harrison, 1987

Harrison later likened "If I Needed Someone" to "a million other songs" that are based on a guitarist's typical finger movements around the D major chord.[15][nb 1] The song is founded on a riff played on a Rickenbacker 360/12[17][18] – the same twelve-string electric guitar that McGuinn had adopted as the Byrds' signature instrument after seeing Harrison playing one in A Hard Day's Night.[19][20] In late 1965, Harrison acknowledged the Byrds' influence on his composition when he sent a copy of the Beatles' new album, Rubber Soul, along with a message for McGuinn and Crosby,[21] to Derek Taylor, the Byrds' publicist.[22] In his note, Harrison said that the riff was based on the one that McGuinn had played on the Byrds' adaptation of "The Bells of Rhymney",[23] and that the rhythm was based on the drum part in "She Don't Care About Time".[24][nb 2] McGuinn later recalled: "George was very open about it. He sent [the record] to us in advance and said, 'This is for Jim' – because of that lick [in 'The Bells of Rhymney']."[5][28]

Writing in The Beatles Anthology, Harrison commented on the difficulties he faced as a nascent songwriter during this period, relative to Lennon and Paul McCartney, both of whom had been writing "since they were three years old".[29][nb 3] He said he wrote "If I Needed Someone" as a love song to Pattie Boyd,[18][30] his fiancée and soon to be his first wife. The lyrics have nevertheless invited interpretation as being about a groupie or, in the words of music journalist Robert Fontenot, "some other attempt by the singer to juggle two affairs at once".[31]

Composition[edit]

Music[edit]

As recorded by the Beatles, "If I Needed Someone" is in the key of A major, over the verses, and B minor in the middle eights (or bridges).[32] The time signature throughout is 4/4. After its introduction, the composition consists of two verses, a bridge, three verses (the second of which serves as an instrumental break), followed by a repeat of the bridge, a further verse, and an outro.[33] The song is in the folk rock style,[34] but incorporates aspects of Indian music through the suggestion of drone over the main musical phrase[35] and its partly Mixolydian harmony.[31] Harrison uses a capo on the guitar's seventh fret,[17] thereby transposing the D major chord shape to sound as A major.[36]

The Mixolydian melody in the verses comprises the notes A, G, B, C and D, partly mirroring the riff, and delivered in the same syncopated phrasing.[33] On the fifth bar of each verse, a B melody note sounds over a VII triad, a chord that musicologist Dominic Pedler terms a G/A "slash" polychord, similar to that used at the start of "A Hard Day's Night".[37] The implied drone, or pedal point, continues under this chord change[33][35] as a result of the arpeggiated bass line remaining in A.[36] Despite the paucity of melody notes, the verses retain an ascendant quality due to the syncopated delivery,[35] the three-part harmonies in the vocal arrangement, and the constant bass figure.[38]

The bridge's adoption of a new key is set fully in the minor mode, avoiding the Dorian inflections present in previous Harrison songs.[39] These sections begin on an E minor chord, which represents a V minor in the tonic of A and a IV minor in the new key.[40] At the end of the bridge, the return to the home key is effected via an E major chord, marking the only use of the expected G note in the A major scale.[33]

Lyrics[edit]

Author Jonathan Gould describes "If I Needed Someone" as "a rueful rain check of a love song" and "an exercise in hypothetical romance".[41] He comments that the melody's phrasing on the off-beat and the "drastically arpeggiated" bass line mirror the lyrical theme of "right person at the wrong time".[38] The lyrics reflect the influence of Bob Dylan, in terms of tone[42] and content.[43] Further to the message of the song title, Harrison offers his love on the condition that time allows for such a relationship, and only if he should happen to need "someone", and he conveys his feelings in matter-of-fact terms.[44][45] In Fontenot's description, the lyrics "are representative of the change in the Beatles' outlook and also of its era: tender but ambivalent".[31] Harrison invites the woman he addresses to "Carve your number on my wall", yet offers only the possibility that he will contact her in the future.[46]

Over the two bridges,[47] Harrison presents a more engaged perspective.[46] He states that he's "too much in love", but had he and his lover met "some other day", the outcome might have been different.[48] Fontenot cites these lyrics as the reason why some commentators attach an alternative meaning to the song,[31] whereby the singer is already in a committed relationship and is addressing another woman, with the prospect of continuing a casual encounter.[44][49][nb 4] While considering that Harrison appears to be "playing his options, albeit gently", author John Kruth deems the line "Carve your number on my wall" to be "one of Rubber Soul's most enigmatic lyrics" and an evocation of the imagery in "Norwegian Wood".[30][nb 5]

Recording[edit]

George Martin, the band's producer, described Rubber Soul as "the first album to present a new, growing Beatles to the world".[53] Throughout the project, the Beatles increasingly experimented with sound textures.[54][42] In the case of "If I Needed Someone", as with "Girl", a Lennon composition recorded towards the end of the sessions, the use of a guitar capo midway along the instrument's neck introduced a brighter tone to the group's guitar sound.[55] The sessions for the song were engineered by Norman Smith, with Ken Scott serving as second engineer.[56]

The rhythm track for the song was taped at EMI Studios in London, in a single take, on 16 October 1965,[57] squeezed in just before midnight in a session that had primarily been spent recording their next single, "Day Tripper".[56] Harrison's chiming guitar riff was played on his new, 1965 Rickenbacker 360/12.[58][nb 6] According to musicologist Walter Everett, the sound of Harrison's guitar, combined with that of Lennon's Fender Stratocaster rhythm part, produced "the Beatles' brightest guitar sound yet", thereby serving as "a fitting tribute to the Byrds".[36] Using his new Rickenbacker 4001S bass,[61] McCartney's playing on the track inaugurated an ostinato-heavy style that would feature prominently on the band's 1966 recordings, particularly the song "Rain".[62]

Typical of the sound on Rubber Soul,[63] "If I Needed Someone" includes three-part harmony singing by the group.[64][65] Over the instrumental break and the outro, these parts consist of McCartney singing a third above and Lennon a tenth below Harrison's double-tracked lead vocal.[38] These contributions were overdubbed onto the rhythm track on the afternoon of 18 October, along with a tambourine part played by Starr.[56][66] Although some Beatles authors credit Martin as having played harmonium, it is inaudible on the completed track.[31] A mono mix of the song was made on 25 October, and a stereo mix on 26 October – the day the Beatles collected their MBEs from Buckingham Palace.[67]

Release and reception[edit]

EMI's Parlophone label released Rubber Soul on 3 December 1965,[68] with "If I Needed Someone" sequenced as the penultimate track.[69] In the United States, where EMI's affiliate Capitol Records typically altered the content of the Beatles' albums, reducing the number of songs and using single A- and B-sides to create further album releases,[70][71] the track was instead issued on the North American compilation Yesterday and Today in June 1966.[72] The song was widely considered to be Harrison's best composition to date.[2] In his review for the NME, Allen Evans described it as "a quick-tempo up-beater" and a "more-ish track".[73][74] McCartney later said he considered "If I Needed Someone" to be the first of Harrison's "landmark" songs for the group.[75]

The Beatles immediately introduced the song into their live act, performing it throughout their final UK tour in December 1965.[76][77] "If I Needed Someone" thereby became the only Harrison composition that the Beatles played in concert during their touring years.[46][78][nb 7] In addition, with the group finding it increasingly difficult to replicate their studio recordings in concert,[80] it was one of only two Rubber Soul tracks that they performed live, the other being "Nowhere Man".[81] The band continued to perform "If I Needed Someone" throughout 1966.[82] The song's inclusion in the 1966 set list marked the only time on the Beatles' final tour that Harrison continued to use his Rickenbacker 360/12 on stage.[83] Early in the same tour, McCartney introduced Indian-style melisma into his singing on "If I Needed Someone", similar to his vocal ornamentation over the coda of Harrison's Revolver track "I Want to Tell You".[84] In a segment subtitled "Beatlemania goes sour", the 1982 documentary The Compleat Beatles used a clip from the Beatles' ragged performance of the song on stage in Tokyo[85] as an illustration of the growing division between the band as recording artists and live performers.[86]

In November 1995, "If I Needed Someone" was issued as the B-side of "Norwegian Wood" on a jukebox single, pressed on green vinyl.[87] The release was part of a series of Beatles jukebox singles issued by Capitol's CEMA Special Markets division.[88] The song was also one of the Beatles tracks that Capitol included on the compilation album The Best of George Harrison,[89] released in 1976 following the expiration of Harrison's contract with EMI.[90][91]

Hollies version[edit]

"If I Needed Someone"
Hollies - if i needed someone.jpg
Single by The Hollies
B-side "I've Got a Way of My Own"
Released 3 December 1965
Format 7-inch single
Recorded 17 November 1965
EMI Studios, London
Genre Folk rock, pop rock
Length 2:19
Label Parlophone
Writer(s) George Harrison
Producer(s) Ron Richards
The Hollies singles chronology
"Look Through Any Window"
(1965)
"If I Needed Someone"
(1965)
"I Can't Let Go"
(1966)

Within a month of "If I Needed Someone" being recorded by the Beatles, the Hollies were brought a demo of the song by their producer, Ron Richards, who had received the demo from George Martin.[92][nb 8] At this stage of their career, the Hollies' singles (apart from 'We're Through', 1964) were all written by outside writers,[96] yet the band were divided about whether to record a Beatles song, given the traditional rivalry between the two groups' hometowns, Liverpool and Manchester.[97] With Graham Nash and Allan Clarke keen to record the song,[98] the Hollies accepted it as the follow-up to their recent hit "Look Through Any Window".[92]

The group recorded their version in three takes on 17 November 1965, in the same studio as the Beatles. Backed by the Clarke–Hicks–Nash composition "I've Got a Way of My Own", the single was released by Parlophone on 3 December, the same day as Rubber Soul. In the United States, it was issued by Imperial Records in November 1967, after the Hollies had switched their US distribution to Epic Records.[99]

In those days, tweaking a Beatle was like blaspheming the pope … Every English group owed them a huge debt, but I had no intention of kissing their asses … Besides, last I looked, the Hollies were holding down places on the same top ten as the Beatles, so pardon me if you don't like our fucking record but keep it to yourself, if you please.[100]

– Graham Nash, 2013

"If I Needed Someone" was the first Harrison composition to be a chart hit, as a result of the Hollies' cover.[46][101] Their version peaked at number 20 in Britain,[102] but by their standards at the time, it was one of their least successful singles.[96][103] Many in the public perceived the song as the Hollies attempting to ride on the Beatles' coattails.[99] In one of his articles covering the Beatles' concurrent UK tour, Alan Smith of the NME quoted Harrison as saying that the Hollies' version was "rubbish"[104] and that "the way they do their records, they sound like session men who've just got together in a studio without ever seeing each other before. Technically good, yes. But that's all."[105] Lennon also criticised their treatment of the song,[96] having long disliked the Hollies' sound.[92][106] These comments incensed Nash,[107][108] who responded by saying that he was tired of Lennon's continual insults and would "back any of us boys against the Beatles musically any time".[109] In January 1966, at a press conference following his and Boyd's wedding, Harrison laughed off a reporter's question as to whether he had invited the Hollies to the ceremony, adding that the issue had "just got out of hand".[109][110]

Although he and Harrison later became "great friends",[101] Nash attributed the single's relatively low chart position to Harrison's derision of the group's performance.[107][100] Author Inglis writes that the formation of Crosby, Stills & Nash – comprising Crosby from the Byrds, Nash from the Hollies, and ex-Buffalo Springfield guitarist Stephen Stills – brought the connections behind "If I Needed Someone" "full circle".[45][nb 9]

Retrospective assessment and legacy[edit]

Writing in Rolling Stone in January 2002, Greg Kot described "If I Needed Someone" as Harrison's "finest tune to date" by 1965.[2] In the same publication, David Fricke included it in his list of the "25 Essential Harrison Performances".[34] Fricke described the track as, variously, a "folk-rock diamond" and "the ultimate compliment" to the Byrds in its "striking blend of cool dismissal … and crystalline riffing".[112] Writing for Q magazine, John Harris recognised Rubber Soul as marking Harrison's "first decisive stride forward" as a songwriter, with "If I Needed Someone" suggesting for the first time that he could match the standard of Lennon and McCartney's work.[113] Bruce Eder of AllMusic identifies the song as a "near-classic" written by Harrison during a period when his association with the Rickenbacker guitar had helped define the folk rock sound of groups such as the Byrds.[114] In a 2002 review of Rubber Soul, for Mojo, Richard Williams admired the track as "a little gem, an early classic of power pop which lasts not a second too long".[115]

Doug Collette of All About Jazz describes "If I Needed Someone" and Harrison's second Rubber Soul composition, "Think for Yourself", as "his most stylish tunes" and examples of Harrison's rise within the Beatles, although he highlights the guitarist's use of sitar on "Norwegian Wood" as a more creatively important contribution.[116] In his article celebrating the 50th anniversary of Rubber Soul, Rob Sheffield identifies the album as the work on which the Beatles became true recording artists, and he cites "If I Needed Someone" as one of the tracks that, in their focus on modern, independent-thinking women, presented "complex and baffling females, much like the ones the Beatles ended up with in real life".[117]

Among Beatles biographers, Ian MacDonald recognises the song as having been influenced "far more" by Indian classical music than by the Byrds. While he views it as Harrison's "most successful song" up to 1965, MacDonald considers that the lack of contrast between the verses and the bridges renders the track "monotonous", revealing an "obstinate quality" that typifies much of Harrison's writing.[35] Tim Riley disagrees, instead recognising that the bridge "sets things in motion" compared to the verse's "ebb and flow".[118] In addition to admiring the group's performance on the track, particularly the restraint Starr employs to resolve the tension created by the VII chord change, Riley describes "If I Needed Someone" as "every guitarist's hook-bound fantasy".[119][nb 10] Writing in Barry Miles' book The Beatles Diary, Peter Doggett considers it to be Harrison's best song "by far" up to that point in the Beatles' career and describes the group's harmony singing as "stunning" and "the tightest they'd yet achieved on record". While deeming the lyrics to be "not so much anti-romantic as totally realistic", Doggett concludes: "'If I Needed Someone' may be the first pop song written from the jaded, though not quite exhausted viewpoint of a man who had women lined up outside his hotel door in every city of the world."[4] In 2011, Rolling Stone ranked "If I Needed Someone" at number 51 in its list of the "100 Greatest Beatles Songs".[28]

Other versions[edit]

Aside from the Hollies, several artists covered "If I Needed Someone" soon after Harrison had recorded it with the Beatles.[101] Stained Glass released the song as their first single[121] – a version that Billboard magazine described as an "impressive debut" and "an exciting off-beat ballad".[122] A recording by the Kingsmen was issued as a single[101] and on their 1966 album Up and Away.[123] Other artists who recorded it in 1966 include the Cryan' Shames,[101] for their debut album, Sugar and Spice,[124] and Hugh Masekela, whose version appeared on a single[125] and on Hugh Masekela's Next Album.[126]

Roger McGuinn performing with the Byrds in 1972. Having provided musical inspiration for Harrison when he wrote "If I Needed Someone", McGuinn released his own version of the song in 2004.

Harrison performed "If I Needed Someone" throughout his 1991 Japanese tour with Eric Clapton,[127] a version from which appeared on the 1992 album Live in Japan.[128] When discussing his choice of material for the tour, Harrison's first since his 1974 North American tour, he told Billboard that the song was an obvious inclusion, given that the Beatles had played it during their only visit to Japan, in 1966.[129] On the 1991 live version, Harrison and Clapton play considerably longer guitar interludes between verses. Harrison's voice is also much more prominent than on the Beatles' original.[130] In November 2002, a year after Harrison's death, Clapton performed the song at the Concert for George, held at London's Royal Albert Hall.[131]

According to press announcements prior to the release in December 2002, Roger McGuinn recorded "If I Needed Someone" for inclusion on the multi-artist Harrison tribute album Songs from the Material World.[132][133] While the song did not appear on that release,[134] McGuinn issued it as the opening track of his 2004 album Limited Edition.[135] In his book on the making of Rubber Soul and its legacy, Kruth describes McGuinn's cover as "a supersonic reading" from the "master of the Rickenbacker twelve-string chime".[136] In interviews to promote the album, McGuinn recalled Harrison's adaptation of his "Bells of Rhymney" riff as being, variously, "kind of a cool cross-pollination"[137] and "a great honor to have in some small way influenced our heroes the Beatles".[138]

Other artists who have covered "If I Needed Someone" include James Taylor and the doom metal band Type O Negative. The latter included it with "Day Tripper" and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" as part of a Beatles medley on their 1999 album World Coming Down.[136] In 2005, Nellie McKay recorded the song in the lounge jazz style for the multi-artist compilation This Bird Has Flown: A 40th Anniversary Tribute to the Beatles' Rubber Soul.[139] The English folk duo Show of Hands have also covered the song,[31] incorporating Eastern instruments such as the tabla.[140] Their version appeared on the 2006 compilation Rubber Folk.[141]

Personnel[edit]

According to Ian MacDonald, the line-up on the Beatles' recording was as follows:[35]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Harrison himself returned to this motif on D major in his 1969 composition "Here Comes the Sun".[16]
  2. ^ While in Los Angeles with the Byrds, Harrison and Paul McCartney had attended the band's recording session for "The Times They Are A-Changin'",[25][26] during which they heard the recently recorded "She Don't Care About Time".[27]
  3. ^ Before Rubber Soul, Harrison had contributed just three songs to the Beatles: "Don't Bother Me" on With the Beatles (1963), and "I Need You" and "You Like Me Too Much" on Help! (1965).[18]
  4. ^ This interpretation is proffered by authors Ian Inglis,[45] James Decker[44] and Tim Riley.[49] In his commentary on "If I Needed Someone", Richie Unterberger of AllMusic also adheres to the "other woman" scenario, with the proviso: "presumably; that isn't spelled out exactly".[46]
  5. ^ The title of "Norwegian Wood" referred to the cheap pine wall panelling then popular in London.[50] Lennon said he wrote the song about an extramarital affair he was having at the time, but deliberately worded the narrative to hide the truth from his wife, Cynthia.[51][52]
  6. ^ Harrison received this updated model of the 360/12 when the Beatles were in Bloomington, Minnesota during their August 1965 US tour.[59][60]
  7. ^ During the band's pre-fame years in Hamburg, however, the Beatles included the Harrison–Lennon instrumental "Beatle Bop", later retitled as "Cry for a Shadow".[79]
  8. ^ Looking to achieve the financial rewards enjoyed by music producers in the United States,[93] Richards and Martin were among the EMI staff who left the company to form Associated Independent Recording in August 1965.[94][95]
  9. ^ While living in London in late 1968, the newly formed Crosby, Stills & Nash auditioned for the Beatles' Apple record label. Harrison was keen to sign the group to the label, but the three members' existing contracts made this an impossibility.[111]
  10. ^ Similarly impressed, Ian Inglis writes: "Harrison's sparkling guitar and the song's gorgeous three-part harmonies support a bright, attractive melody, but there is a tough and unexpected cynicism in his lyrics …"[120]

References[edit]

  1. ^ O'Grady 1983, p. 94.
  2. ^ a b c The Editors of Rolling Stone 2002, p. 185.
  3. ^ Kruth 2015, pp. 104–06.
  4. ^ a b Miles 2001, p. 218.
  5. ^ a b The Editors of Rolling Stone 2002, p. 172.
  6. ^ Miles 2001, p. 205.
  7. ^ Lavezzoli 2006, pp. 153, 168.
  8. ^ Hjort 2008, pp. 54–55.
  9. ^ Schaffner 1978, p. 45.
  10. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "The Byrds". AllMusic. Retrieved 5 October 2016. 
  11. ^ a b Lavezzoli 2006, pp. 153, 169.
  12. ^ MacDonald 2005, pp. 162, 165.
  13. ^ Prendergast 2003, p. 206.
  14. ^ Friedman, Jon (3 December 2015). "Rubber Soul is the Most Overrated Album of All Time". esquire.com. Retrieved 14 October 2016. 
  15. ^ Harrison 2002, p. 90.
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  17. ^ a b Leng 2006, p. 19.
  18. ^ a b c Williamson, Nigel (February 2002). "Only a Northern Song: The songs George Harrison wrote for The Beatles". Uncut. p. 60. 
  19. ^ Hjort 2008, p. 20.
  20. ^ Lavezzoli 2006, pp. 150, 168.
  21. ^ Rogan 1998, p. 223.
  22. ^ Lavezzoli 2006, p. 154.
  23. ^ Hjort 2008, p. 69.
  24. ^ Rogan 1998, pp. 142, 223.
  25. ^ Miles 2001, p. 208.
  26. ^ Guesdon & Margotin 2013, p. 306.
  27. ^ Hjort 2008, pp. 63–64.
  28. ^ a b "100 Greatest Beatles Songs: 51. 'If I Needed Someone'". rollingstone.com. Retrieved 24 October 2016. 
  29. ^ The Beatles 2000, p. 194.
  30. ^ a b Kruth 2015, p. 103.
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  33. ^ a b c d Pollack, Alan W. (1993). "Notes on 'If I Needed Someone'". soundscapes.info. Retrieved 5 October 2016. 
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  91. ^ Womack 2014, p. 148.
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External links[edit]