16 Best Studio Double Albums of All-Time

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In the pre-digital era, when a vinyl album was limited to roughly 45 minutes, it became not only a badge of honor but an expectation as well that a rock band would release a double album. There were some logical requirements involved: the group needed to have a large enough fan base, they needed to be hitting their creative stride and they had to be commercially successful enough for their label to justify releasing a higher-priced album.

A 1975 music industry trade ad for Physical Graffiti

For those of us of a certain age, the joy of discovery was three-fold. First, you’d hear that it was on its way. The bearer of good news was likely your favorite rock radio station, Rolling Stone or word-of-mouth. Second was going to your local record store or, in some cases, the record department of a department store. (For me, that meant either the Sam Goody free-standing store at what ultimately became the Garden State Plaza in Paramus, NJ, or the Korvette’s department store on Rte 4.) Your heart would be beating fast as you entered the store and grabbed your copy.

Finally, and by far the most important, was the visceral thrill of removing the shrink-wrap, opening the gatefold, placing Record-1, Side-A on your turntable, and then poring over the jacket and sleeves’ contents as you listened to this new treasure for the first time.

What follows is one list of the best studio double albums listed alphabetically by artist. [Since this story was first published, several BCB readers have asked about Tom Petty’s 1994 album, Wildflowers. I’ve limited the list to albums of the classic rock era that were released before 1990.]

The Beatles—The Beatles (Capitol, 1968)

How I envy that lucky 14-year-old who is hearing this album for the first time! While researching this story, I played the “White Album” all the way through for the first time in years—on vinyl, naturally—and was blown away by its scope, all over again, 50 years after its release. A wild fact… As was often the case with Beatles albums, none of the songs were released as singles in the U.K. or U.S. (though the non-LP/amped-up version of “Revolution” was issued three months before the album came out). Yet who among us doesn’t know “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Blackbird” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” to name just three of its 30 tracks, by heart? Bonus points: That album cover.

Chicago—Chicago II (Columbia, 1970)

The band at its brassy, jazzy best. Side two is about as good as it gets: “Wake Up Sunshine” is followed by “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” from the band’s trombonist James Pankow. The 13-minute suite includes two big singles: “Make Me Smile” (a #9 chart hit) and 1970s prom favorite “Colour My World” (#7), both sung by ace guitarist Terry Kath. The cycle winds up with the spectacular twosome of “To Be Free” and “Now More Than Ever,” punctuated by drummer Danny Seraphine. Record-2’s highlight is “25 or 6 to 4” (a #4 hit), which features Kath’s brilliant guitar solo and great lead vocal by bassist Peter Cetera. Bonus points: The album was originally titled Chicago but was renamed when the band adopted the Super Bowl-like Roman numerals with the follow-up.

P.S. Lots of people think the band’s first release, 1969’s Chicago Transit Authority (also a two-LP set), is even better.

The Clash—London Calling (Epic, 1979)

The creative juices were flowing! After just two albums, the English punk rockers were overflowing with material. Between this and 1980’s triple-album Sandinista!, the Clash released the equivalent of five albums in 12 months. Personal favorites are the collection’s title cut, the ska-style “Wrong ‘Em Boyo” with the joyful brass from the Irish Horns, “Clampdown” and “Train in Vain,” which became their U.S. breakthrough, though it was famously originally hidden from the album’s song listings. Bonus points: the cover depicting Paul Simonon seconds before obliterating his bass is an homage to Elvis Presley’s iconic 1956 album cover.

Derek and the Dominos—Layla and other assorted love songs (Atco, 1970)

Its celebrated title cut aside, put this album on and you’ll re-discover a batch of blues and rock gems that you’ve perhaps forgotten about. Each side has one: “Keep on Growing,” “Anyday,” “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” and “It’s Too Late,” respectively. On “Bell Bottom Blues,” when Eric Clapton sings “Do you want to see me crawl across the floor to you, Do you want to hear me beg you to take me back,” your heart aches. Bonus points: Duane Allman guests on 11 of the LP’s 14 tracks.

Bob Dylan—Blonde on Blonde (Columbia, 1966)

Yeah, right, like I’m really gonna add anything smart about one of the greatest albums of all time. Let me just note that if you’re looking to own one of the Bard’s (relatively) early studio albums, this should be your choice. Its 14 songs are loaded with some of his best known—“Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” “I Want You,” “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” and “Just Like a Woman”—plus lesser known gems “Absolutely Sweet Marie” and “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine.” Bonus points: There’s cool and then there’s Bob Dylan cool (i.e., using an out-of-focus picture for the album cover).

Electric Light Orchestra— Out of the Blue (Jet, 1977)

Jeff Lynne and Co. introduced audiences to several more great singles (“Turn to Stone,” “Mr. Blue Sky” and “Sweet Talkin’ Woman”). But there are many often overlooked gems among the album’s four sides, “Night in the City,” “Jungle” and a personal favorite, “Wild West Hero.” Bonus points: U.S. Top 40 radio programmers totally missed out on taking “Mr. Blue Sky” further up the national chart. The song perhaps most synonymous with ELO peaked at just #35.

Related: Our Album Rewind of Out of the Blue

Genesis—The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (Atco, 1974)

The band’s final album with Peter Gabriel was an ambitious one and yielded no hits in either the U.K. or America. But tracks like “In the Cage,” “The Carpet Crawlers,” and the title track continue to resonate decades later, and the musicianship from Gabriel, Steve Hackett, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, and Phil Collins, is first rate. Bonus points: The band supported the album with a massive tour in which they played the album in its entirety. It’s estimated they incurred debts of £220,000 by the tour’s end.

Related: Our Album Rewind of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

The Jimi Hendrix Experience—Electric Ladyland (Reprise, 1968)

The third (and final) studio album from Hendrix, Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, all within 14 months, further demonstrated their growth as a rock threesome and yielded a few songs you might be familiar with: “All Along the Watchtower,” “Voodoo Child” and “Crosstown Traffic” among them. The list of guest stars is a testament to the legend’s greatness, with Traffic’s Steve Winwood, Dave Mason and Chris Wood all joining in, as well as Brian Jones, Al Kooper, Jack Casady and Buddy Miles. Hendrix named his Greenwich Village recording studio after the album. It opened in August 1970 but he only got to spend four weeks there before passing a month later. Bonus points: Some of the album jacket’s photos were taken by Linda Eastman.

Elton John—Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (MCA, 1973)

The gifted piano player was at the top of his game with album after album yielding hit after hit when this arrived. It kicks off with the stunning instrumental “Funeral For a Friend” which deftly segues into “Love Lies Bleeding.” While there’s some filler (“Grey Seal,” anyone?), others sound as fresh today as they did then. The album was so successful that it pushed John to super-stardom and I’ll confess that it was the beginning of the end for me. Remember when EJ was still just being discovered with the album troika of TumbleweedMadmanHonky Chateau? Man, those were great days. Bonus points: John’s revised version of “Candle in the Wind” in tribute to Princess Diana in 1997 became the second best-selling single of all time.

Led Zeppelin—Physical Graffiti (Swan Song, 1975)

Though it was the band’s sixth studio effort, Robert Plant and John Bonham were still just 26 when it was released! (Elder statesman Jimmy Page was 31.) The band shifts into high gear on side two with the back-to-back-to-back “Houses of the Holy,” “Trampled Under Foot” and the extraordinary “Kashmir.” Enough can’t be said about the latter; of those who’ve said they’d be okay if they never heard “Stairway” again, I’ve yet to hear the same about this tour-de-force and its marvelous orchestration. In stark contrast to side two’s heavy metal are side three’s lovely instrumental “Bron-Yr-Aur” and “Ten Years Gone.” Bonus points: The album cover photo was shot at #s 96 and 98 St. Marks Place in NYC’s East Village.

Pink Floyd—The Wall (Columbia, 1979)

Chart geek that I am, I remain fascinated by this album’s singles. “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)” is the group’s outlier. A #1 pop smasheroo for a band with only one other career single that reached the Top 50 of the U.S. Hot 100. And what a song it is! And as surprising a #1 chart hit as any, I suppose. For Top 40 radio programmers couldn’t care less about “concept album,” “rock opera” or whatever. Their ears–aided by call-out research–are simply playing what their audience (supposedly) wants to hear. Then the label followed it up with “Run Like Hell,” which performed only modestly well; though at #53, it remains Pink Floyd’s third-highest-charting single. By now, The Wall‘s elaborate arena tour had begun, the year’s most talked-about–they built a friggin’ wall at every performance, for chrissakes! So, Columbia issued the stunning “Comfortably Numb” as the album’s third single. Years later, Rolling Stone ranked it #314 of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, but not on Top 40. The single never even charted! Bonus points: The original tour consisted of only 31 dates in just 4 cities.

Prince—1999 (Warner Bros., 1982)

This album was the Purple One’s fourth consecutive October release and his fifth overall. It’s also the one that really established him before 1984’s Purple Rain took him to an entirely different playing field. Record-1’s five tracks are pretty epic: the party anthem “1999,” “Little Red Corvette” (his first Top 10 pop hit), “Delirious,” the filthy “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” and the funk jam “D.M.S.R.” That’s an all-star team right there. And he was only getting started. (Prince’s Sign O’ the Times was a tough omission from this list.) Bonus points: Don’t play “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” in front of the kids. Just sayin’…

Rolling Stones—Exile on Main St (Rolling Stones, 1972)

What an entrance! Put the needle on side one of that first platter and… bam! “Rocks Off” explodes out of the speakers with that rollicking piano from keyboard player Nicky Hopkins, that brass section courtesy of Bobby Keys and Jim Price, and the great production from Jimmy Miller. The album’s 18 songs explore blues, country and other genres and, of course, what the World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band are known for. It’s fairly safe to say that no one bought it for its singles, though “Tumbling Dice” did get to #5 and “Happy” (with Keith Richards on lead vocal) reached #22. Like a fine bottle of red, Exile has aged beautifully. Bonus points: Albums released on the Stones’ own label always used the letters “COC” before the catalog number. Boys will be boys…

Bruce Springsteen—The River (Columbia, 1980)

While researching this, I was surprised to discover that despite its acclaim, 1975’s Born to Run wasn’t The Boss’ first #1 album. Nope, that’s reserved for this mix of rockers and introspective songs whose 20 tracks devote plenty of time to driving the open road. The album delivered Springsteen his first Top 5 single, “Hungry Heart”; some of the great non-singles are “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch),” “Independence Day” and “Cadillac Ranch.” Bonus points: Springsteen originally wrote “Hungry Heart” for the Ramones but ended up keeping it for himself. It features background vocals by Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan of the Turtles.

The Who—Quadrophenia (MCA, 1973)

Pete Townshend’s second rock opera in five years, after he shelved his ambitious Lifehouse project. Could he top 1971’s Who’s Next? Yes, indeed. I was 16 when this was released and by now I’ve probably played it 1,000 times. At one point or another, a different track became my favorite song on the album. As a teenager, I couldn’t play “The Punk Meets the Godfather” loud enough. As a college student, I leaned toward the more introspective “Sea and Sand.” In young adulthood, it was “Is It In My Head” with Roger Daltrey’s outstanding vocal. For at least 10 years now, the same one has had my name on it and ironically it’s the album’s one true instrumental: “The Rock.” Bonus points: At the risk of sounding morbid, my family knows that if I’m in a coma, they need to blast Quadrophenia in my hospital room. If they don’t see signs of life, I’ve had enough.

Stevie Wonder—Songs in the Key of Life (Tamla, 1976)

We’ve noted in a list of Grammy hits and misses, about Wonder’s great mid-1970s run that included Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale. And to think that when Songs was released it was the then-26-year-old’s 26th album. And it delivers, with another diverse collection of R&B-jazz-pop-funk classics, including twin #1 pop hits: “Sir Duke” and “I Wish.” But the man was so prolific that it’s been easy to overlook some of the album’s other gems like “Pastime Paradise” and album closers “As” and “Another Star.” Bonus points: Songs came with a bonus 4-song EP.

As a postscript… Plenty of readers have taken me to task for several omissions, most notably Yes’ Tales From Topographic Oceans. While I’ve enjoyed it immensely from the moment it came out, regrettably, I think it falls just outside my self-imposed cut of 16.

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Greg Brodsky
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59 Comments so far

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  1. DaveE
    #1 DaveE 13 December, 2016, 11:05

    Great list, though I’m pretty sure that, in addition to The River, Physical Graffiti and London Calling weren’t gatefolds, either. (At least my copies weren’t)

    Reply this comment
    • Greg Brodsky
      Greg Brodsky Author 13 December, 2016, 11:30

      Thanks for pointing that out, Dave. Brain cramp on my part as I wrote and researched the piece over several days. I’ve amended by Springsteen “Bonus Points.” 😉

      Reply this comment
  2. LITMS
    #2 LITMS 13 December, 2016, 22:20

    This is a great topic – and a very solid list.

    Reply this comment
  3. Innocent III
    #3 Innocent III 14 December, 2016, 10:05

    Thank you for compiling this. Many, many memories are contained for me on these collections. I have recently been revisiting ‘Physical Graffiti’ and have fallen in love with it all over again, thanks to Page’s superb job of re-mastering. I wonder, though, ould it be sacrilege to add ‘Bitches Brew’ to this list?

    Reply this comment
  4. Guy Smiley
    #4 Guy Smiley 18 December, 2016, 21:25

    Bitches Brew is a good choice, @ Innocent III.

    Also, no Eat a Peach? Or Live/Dead? I would take either of those over The River.

    The River certainly has its moments, but I feel it also has its share of filler and would’ve been better off as a single album (probably true of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road too).

    Tommy is a suprising omission too.

    Reply this comment
  5. Pickettmusic
    #5 Pickettmusic 7 May, 2017, 07:09

    You included Chicago’s second album, which is indeed amazing, but Chicago ruins your formula for when a band is ready for a double album. Apparently Chicago had enough record sales before their first album…..:)

    Reply this comment
  6. Movie Marc
    #6 Movie Marc 7 May, 2017, 07:46

    Chicago Transit Authority
    All Things Must Pass

    Reply this comment
    • Jim
      Jim 29 May, 2018, 08:00

      Totally agree with Chicago Transit Authority. Introduction grabs me by the ears and doesn’t let go. An amazing first album !

      Reply this comment
  7. bandguy58
    #7 bandguy58 8 May, 2017, 08:09

    Tommy by The Who? Chicago Transit Authority? Rattle & Hum by U2?

    Reply this comment
  8. Jim H
    #8 Jim H 14 August, 2017, 18:38

    The White Album, Tommy, Blonde On Blonde, Out Of The Blue, Eat A Peach , The Secret Life Of Plants, Tales From Topographic Oceans, New Moon (Elliott Smith), Live At The Roxy & Elsewhere.

    Reply this comment
  9. Rob
    #9 Rob 14 August, 2017, 21:35

    Let’s add Todd Rundgren “Something/Anything” (1972)

    Reply this comment
    • John
      John 19 June, 2020, 09:16

      That’s the one I would add. 1 vinyl of serious songs and 1 where he was just having fun.

      Reply this comment
  10. Flash
    #10 Flash 28 October, 2017, 08:29

    Bee Gees “Odessa”

    Reply this comment
  11. Evan
    #11 Evan 30 October, 2017, 00:26

    Freak Out
    Uncle Meat
    Trout Mask Replica

    Reply this comment
  12. David
    #12 David 11 December, 2017, 08:33

    What about “Hooker ‘n Heat” by John Lee Hooker with Canned Heat and Bob Dylan’s “Basement Tapes”? Where are they in your list ?

    Reply this comment
  13. Steve
    #13 Steve 29 December, 2017, 10:14

    Robert Johnson: King of the Delta Blues.

    Reply this comment
  14. steve
    #14 steve 28 May, 2018, 23:24

    tommy is the most over rated album anywhere..I dont know anyone thatever listens to it .The River is yawnstipating

    Reply this comment
  15. Mr. Lee
    #15 Mr. Lee 29 May, 2018, 00:46

    Johnny Winter: Second Winter was released as 3-sided Double Album, side 4 blank. I don’t recall any other release in that configuration. His definitive cover version of Highway 61 Revisited is keynote track. Great list Greg!

    Reply this comment
  16. geraldmichael803
    #16 geraldmichael803 29 May, 2018, 05:40


    Reply this comment
  17. Brad Memberto
    #17 Brad Memberto 29 May, 2018, 08:01

    I have always argued that the Beatles double album was a great single album with an additional discount of crap. So many songs are unlistenable to me, but the great songs are some of the band’s best stuff

    Reply this comment
    #18 TODD TAMANEND CLARK 29 May, 2018, 08:09

    My alternative list: EASY DOES IT (Al Kooper); BLONDE ON BLONDE (Bob Dylan); LIVIN’ THE BLUES (Canned Heat); TROUT MASK REPLICA (Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band); CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY (Chicago); CHICAGO II (Chicago); SECOND WINTER (Johnny Winter); OUT HERE (Love); BITCHES BREW (Miles Davis); REDBONE (Redbone); ELECTRIC LADYLAND (The Jimi Hendrix Experience); FREAK OUT (The Mothers Of Invention); UNCLE MEAT (The Mothers Of Invention); FREEDOM SUITE (The Rascals).

    Reply this comment
  19. Jeff
    #19 Jeff 29 May, 2018, 17:49

    ELO out of the blue was a great choice

    Reply this comment
  20. Jube
    #20 Jube 30 May, 2018, 18:25

    Hey…..Grey Seal is a great song. Filler…..what a twit you are.

    Reply this comment
    • Billy K.
      Billy K. 31 May, 2018, 20:10

      “Grey Seal” may be weak in comparison to the rest of the “Yellow Brick Road” set….but it is definitely better than some current artists’ hits……and as much as I generally love the White Album, there are several bits of throwaway garbage on it…..at least “Grey Seal” is really a song.

      Reply this comment
    • Retropsych
      Retropsych 25 February, 2019, 02:07

      Absolutely. Gray Seal is one of the best tracks on an album that does otherwise have a bit of filler.

      Reply this comment
    • Hippie Punk
      Hippie Punk 25 February, 2022, 04:20

      Thank you! I actually bought all Elton’s albums trying to find “Grey Seal.” Heard it on the radio one morning while trying to wake up and didn’t catch the title. One of his best.

      Reply this comment
  21. Brad
    #21 Brad 27 October, 2018, 00:42

    All great choices.
    As to London Calling, I would often take the Elvis (Presley) album and move it to The Clash rack at my local record store. By the time k.d. lang did the third homage to that album cover design, record stores were hard to come by. All Things Must Pass indeed (referring to the documentary about Tower Records there).

    Reply this comment
  22. Gary-O
    #22 Gary-O 27 October, 2018, 07:44

    I agree that ‘the River’ is ‘yawnstipating’ as one commenter noted and should have been a single album release as noted by another.

    Reply this comment
  23. Omar Listenin
    #23 Omar Listenin 27 October, 2018, 21:25

    Wait – you’re saying that MORE of The Clash is an IMPROVEMENT?

    Reply this comment
  24. Warren Zep
    #24 Warren Zep 30 October, 2018, 14:25

    Wow I grew up near Paramus, NJ also, so Sam Goody and Korvettes definitely takes me back.

    Reply this comment
  25. René
    #25 René 13 May, 2019, 01:22

    Manassas first album!!

    Reply this comment
  26. Da Mick
    #26 Da Mick 13 May, 2019, 09:25

    Two points: First, while I guess technically Electric Ladyland was Hendrix’s last studio record in that he was around when it came out, Cry of Love was actually his last full studio recording, as he finished it, but passed before final mix, which Eddie Kramer had to do in his stead. Cry of Love is a fitting last recording as it shows the new directions Hendrix was headed toward, while maintaining his genius in the studio.

    Second, what no Cream’s Wheels of Fire? Is it disqualified because it’s partially live?

    Thanks! Great fun.

    Reply this comment
    • Paco
      Paco 13 May, 2019, 17:55

      Technically correct on Hendrix’s “Cry Of Love being his last official studio release. And Yes…Wheel of Fire was not a full “studio” lp. Interesting that only 3 songs took up 2 full sides…

      Reply this comment
  27. Nathan Cuyahoga Falls OH
    #27 Nathan Cuyahoga Falls OH 13 May, 2019, 11:05

    Tommy and All Things Must Pass are definite additions. Not that I follow music these days but do artists do double albums anymore…for that matter do they do albums ???

    Reply this comment
  28. Norm
    #28 Norm 27 October, 2019, 01:08

    No. 17 : underrated double album English Settlement by XTC. I still don’t understand why in some countries this double great LP with 15 solid songs has been proposed in a single LP with only 10 songs in a different running order… to finally release it as it was planned years later. The Beatles syndrome?

    Reply this comment
    • Slappy
      Slappy 18 June, 2020, 13:15

      In the U.S., their record company didn’t feel the extra expense would return their investment. Pity. I absolutely agree that the original is among the finest doubles ever.

      Reply this comment
  29. Dwigt
    #29 Dwigt 27 October, 2019, 11:20

    The Clash actually released the equivalent of six albums in 15 months. After the sessions for Sandinista! were over, they stayed in the studio and were the backing band for Spirit of St. Louis, a studio album by Ellen Foley (Mick Jones’ girlfriend at the time). Half the tracks are also credited to Strummer/Jones.

    Reply this comment
  30. Napstalhit
    #30 Napstalhit 5 June, 2020, 15:39

    And what about Tusk by Fleetwood Mac? Underrated masterpiece.

    Reply this comment
  31. Slappy
    #31 Slappy 18 June, 2020, 13:26

    Greg – thanks for the well-thought piece, and I appreciate that you described it as “ONE list of…”. Hunble, cagey and grammatically succinct. My teen record source was the Hampton VA Korvettes. They were closed on Sundays, so they set up their sale stuff before they closed on Sat, so we’d get two weeks’ worth of sale prices…

    Reply this comment
    • Greg Brodsky
      Greg Brodsky Author 18 June, 2020, 16:17

      Thanks, Slappy. Those sale prices were truly amazing.

      Reply this comment
      • Da Mick
        Da Mick 25 February, 2022, 14:37

        Norm, thanks for the info on “English Settlement, ” i did not know that. However, you did remind me of “Oranges And Lemons,” which was an XTC favorite, and a much underappreciated double LP.

        Reply this comment
  32. Teddy
    #32 Teddy 24 June, 2020, 03:56

    Here’s one that no one talks about. The jam session album Music From Free Creek featuring Eric Clapton as “King Cool”, Jeff Beck as “A.N. Other, Linda Ronstadt, Dr. John, Keith Emerson, and Todd Rundgren among others.

    Reply this comment
  33. Alias Pink Puzz
    #33 Alias Pink Puzz 26 October, 2020, 17:46

    Jeff Wayne – War of the Worlds – my fave two-record set. The booklet had great illustrations too.

    Reply this comment
  34. John Rose
    #34 John Rose 29 October, 2020, 11:28

    Some of the comments would seem to suggest that a list of half live/half studio double albums could be interesting. I’ll add Untitled to those already mentioned. And Strung Up, even though that was half live/half compilation, it’s still a lot of fun.

    Reply this comment
  35. baybluesman
    #35 baybluesman 11 July, 2021, 00:26

    Absolutely have to agree on the Manassas album – Personally, in my Top Ten of albums to have on a deserted island (as long as my CD Player batteries hold out…….)

    Reply this comment
  36. MrEpluribus
    #36 MrEpluribus 25 February, 2022, 01:59

    1999’s first two sides beyond amazing, but sides three and four, while still excellent, pale next to the songs which preceded them. The same cannot be said of the flawless Sign ☮️ the Times, Prince’s double album magnum opus.

    Reply this comment
  37. Lone Wolf
    #37 Lone Wolf 10 March, 2022, 14:17

    I would add Stephen Stills/Manassas album to that list

    Reply this comment

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