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“AND YOUR BIRD CAN SING”

(John Lennon – Paul McCartney)

“Meaningless psychedelia.”  “Patronizing and sympathetic.”  “Full of the fake wisdom of those philosophically lightweight days.”  “Taunting the limitations of the analytical mind.”

These phrases are examples used by authors to describe the lyrics to The Beatles’ 1966 masterful “Revolver” song “And Your Bird Can Sing.”  While the musicality displayed on the track easily gain admiration from writers across the board, the lyrics appear “rich and mysterious,” as John Robertson describes in his book “The Complete Guide To The Music Of The Beatles.”

There appears to be a fine line that needs to be drawn between analyzing the lyrics of this song in excruciating detail, as some authors try to do, and simply looking at these words at face value.  Keeping in mind that Lennon’s opinions of the song include “another horror” (“Hit Parader” 1971) and “another of my throwaways” (“Playboy” 1980), we can conclude that these lyrics were not meant to be dissected to reveal any deep or hidden meaning.  Nonetheless, a significant meaning, I feel, can be extracted by attempting to delve into the mind of ‘the John Lennon of 1966’ as we’ve come to learn about.  After all, as I’m sure all historians will agree, the same man who wrote “I Feel Fine” and “Any Time At All” in 1964 was not exactly the same man who wrote “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” two years later.

 

Songwriting History

“’And Your Bird Can Sing’ was John’s song,” McCartney relates.  “I suspect that I helped with the verses because the songs were nearly always written without second and third verses.  I seem to remember working on that middle-eight with him but its John’s song, 80-20 to John”

This explanation lends itself to the belief that the song was another product of a songwriting session at John’s Kenwood home during the early months of 1966.  Being that the group had taken a four month ‘sabbatical’ from their previous hectic year, the song was undoubtedly written during this period, which stretches from January through till April 20th, 1966 when the song was first attempted in the studio.

Regarding the writing sessions he and Paul had in 1966, John revealed their intended schedules in an interview that year:  “It’s too easy to put it off if we just meet without any plan and say, ‘Shall we write something today?’  If you do that then you feel as though you’re losing a free day.  What we’re going to do is make dates beforehand and sort of say, ‘Right, Wednesday and Friday of this week are for songwriting, and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week.’  Then we’ll know it’s something we’ve to keep to.”  It is within this framework that “And Your Bird Can Sing” was written.

It can also be stated that, since minor lyric changes were instituted to the song on its last recording date on April 26th of that year, the writing of “And Your Bird Can Sing” (or "You Don't Get Me" as it was reportedly called early on) extends all the way to the final day of its being recorded.

 

The Beatles George Martin in EMI Studios, 1966

Recording History

On April 20th, 1966, The Beatles entered EMI Studio Two at 2:30 pm for their tenth recording session for what became their British “Revolver” album, as well as their first British 1966 single.  This session lasted a whopping twelve hours, ending at 2:30 am the next day.  Surprisingly, not one note played during this session was deemed worthy of being released at the time.  The two songs attempted on this day, these being “And Your Bird Can Sing” and George Harrison’s “Taxman,” were both started afresh during later sessions.

Considerable time was first spent working out an arrangement for and recording rhythm tracks for “And Your Bird Can Sing.”  They decided to go with a Byrds-like sound with George using his 1965 Rickenbacker 360/12-string guitar during the rhythm track along with John on electric rhythm guitar and Ringo on drums.  The second take was deemed best (John’s voice at the end is heard saying “That was it, wasn’t it?) and was subject to various overdubs.

The overdubs included harmony lead guitar passages in the instrumental section and conclusion of the song.  “I think it was Paul and me, or maybe John and me, playing in harmony,” George recalls in 1987, “quite a complicated little line that goes through the middle-eight.”  Given Paul’s abilities on guitar and his occasional role as lead guitarist on Beatles songs that stretch back to 1964 (see “She’s A Woman”), most sources agree in assuming it was Paul that filled this role.  Overdubs also include tambourine, Paul’s excellent bass work, and various vocals.

John first sang lead vocals as an overdub and then John and Paul added a vocal harmony track with Paul harmonizing throughout the entire verses.  One of these harmony vocal attempts, which was preserved on a separate track, reveal John and Paul getting an acute case of the giggles.  On the lead vocal track, just before he began singing, John made a “munching” sound with his mouth which put them both in hysterics throughout the harmony overdub even though they did try to regain composure at some points.  John sings the first line of the second bridge as “when your bike is broken” instead of “bird is broken” as heard on the lead vocal track and, to end this obviously faulted overdub that couldn’t be used, finished it off with purposely off-key whistling during what would have been the fade-out of the song.  The next attempt at overdubbing these harmonies was recorded on a different track to preserve this humorous take for posterity, which can now be heard on the 1996 release “Anthology 2.”

At approximately midnight, a total of nine-and-a-half hours were spent putting together this elaborate recording which, minus the “giggling” vocal track, would have made a suitable addition to the resulting “Revolver” album.  Many today even argue that this is the better version, albeit this opinion may be biased by not hearing this gem until three decades after the released version came out.  Nonetheless, this excellent rendition was deemed unworthy of the album, possibly because of wanting to tighten up the harmony guitar work which ultimately became the focal point of the song during the song’s next session.  The decision to re-record the song may not have been made until later, however, because five mono mixes of the song were made at the end of this day by producer George Martin and engineers Geoff Emerick and Phil McDonald.

It’s interesting to note the differences in the arrangement from what became the finished version recorded six days later.  First to be noted is the key, which is in D in the first recording and raised to E in the released recording.  This was probably due to “vari-speed” rather than actually changing the key, since they were experimenting quite a lot with this recording technique at the time (see “I’m Only Sleeping” as an example).  Also, on the released version, John’s single-tracked vocals were recorded with ADT (artificial double-tracking) instead of double-tracking and the vocal harmonies are heard only during strategic portions of the verses instead of throughout the entire verses as on the first version.  Also, the third verse appeared directly after the first bridge in the early rendition while it doesn't appear until the end in the released version.  The early version also has a ‘Beatles break’ at the end of the last verse which highlights the last harmonized word “me” followed by an impressive drum fill from Ringo and bass run from Paul.  This was omitted in the released version, opting instead to just continue the rhythm as usual.  The intention was to fade out the first version with the harmonized guitars repeating, while a pre-arranged harmonized guitar passage was worked out for the released version that resulted in a full ending.

Six days later on April 26th, 1966, which was now the thirteenth session for the “Revolver” album, The Beatles began another twelve hour session (actually twelve hours and fifteen minutes to be exact) with its sole mission being to record an entirely new version of “And Your Bird Can Sing.”  “Okay boys, quite brisk, moderato, foxtrot!” were the words John Lennon used to start off take one, which was his humorous take on the directive found on sheet music of the time.

Eleven takes of a basic rhythm track were recorded, these being numbered 3-13 because of the two takes recorded for the first version of the song six days earlier.  The rhythm track consisted of John on electric rhythm guitar, Paul on bass, Ringo on drums and George on lead guitar playing the intricate passages that would be harmonized by Paul as an overdub.  Eleven takes were probably needed because of the intricacies of George’s difficult part.

According to Mark Lewisohn in his book “The Beatles Recording Sessions,” the first take of the rhythm track recorded this day “was a very heavy recording but the song grew progressively lighter after that, although guitars were always well to the fore.”  Although a total of thirteen rhythm tracks were recorded, a decision was made that take ten was the best.  The tape was therefore spooled back to take ten for overdubs.

However, another decision was made regarding the conclusion of the song.  The interplay of George’s guitar and Paul’s bass worked best on take six so the intention was to replace the end of take ten with the end of take six.  This was decided on this day although the edit to combine these takes wouldn’t take place until the mixing stage.  However, take six was also included in the overdub process.

The overdubs for the song included John’s lead vocals applied with ADT, Paul and George’s harmony vocals (also with ADT applied), handclaps, tambourine (reportedly played by John), hi-hat splashes (in the bridges) and occasional cymbal crashes by Ringo, and harmony lead guitar passages by Paul.  These harmony guitar passages were also applied as overdubs to the end of take six for later editing purposes.  At 2:45 am the next day, the recording of the re-make of “And Your Bird Can Sing” was complete.

The first mono mix of the song was made on May 12th, 1966 with the sole intention of being shipped to Capitol Records in the US for inclusion on their make-shift album “Yesterday…And Today.”  George Martin, Geoff Emerick and 2nd engineer Jerry Boys entered the control room of EMI Studio Three on this day to make this mix as well as the other two tracks being quickly sent to Capitol, these being “I’m Only Sleeping’ and “Dr. Robert.”  A mono mix of take ten and the ending of take six were made, these being then edited together to make a complete mix.  With the harmony guitar passages in full volume during the bridges, this mix was unique to America at the time.

May 20th, 1966 was the day that the only stereo mix of the song was created, this being used for the British “Revolver” album and intended for the American “Yesterday…And Today” album.  This was done in the control room of EMI Studio One by George Martin, Geoff Emerick and Phil McDonald.  Once again, separate mixes were first made of take ten and then the ending of take six, these then being edited together to comprise the final stereo mix.  The guitar harmonies in the bridges were put substantially quieter during the bridges and the ending was faded somewhat quickly so that Paul’s ending bass guitar flourish and a stray note on George’s guitar are less prominent as heard in the American mono mix previously made.  Each track of the vocals that were created through ADT was isolated on either the left or right channel so that it appears that all of the vocals are centered in the stereo mix.  The bass guitar, as well as the tambourine, hi-hat and cymbal crash overdubs, are heard primarily on the right channel while the rhythm track is primarily on the left channel.

On June 6th, 1966, the mono mix that was included on the British “Revolver” album was created in the control room of EMI Studio Three by the same team of Martin, Emerick and McDonald.  Again, two mixes were done, take ten for the majority of the song and take six for the ending.  However, they neglected to edit the two together on this day, this being done on June 8th, 1966 in the control room of EMI Studio Two by Martin, Emerick and 2nd engineer Richard Lush.  This time around, the harmony guitars in the bridges are mixed a little louder than in the stereo mix but not as loud as the American mono mix done on May 12th.  The handclaps are a little quieter here but the ending has the bass flourish and stray guitar note in full bloom.

 

Song Structure and Style

While “And Your Bird Can Sing” was written in the confines of the usual verses and bridges, the positioning of these substantially breaks new ground for the group.  In fact, the differences between the first recorded version and the final release show that they felt an overhaul was needed within the structure to make it more unique.  In the end, the structure consists of a ‘verse/ verse/ bridge/ verse (solo)/ bridge/ verse/ verse (solo)’ format (or aababaa).  A short instrumental intro and conclusion also add to its distinctiveness.

The introduction is four measures long and stays put in the home key of E major, the full band crashing in on the one-beat.  The main focus of the introduction, as arguably could be said about the entire song, is the classical/baroque-sounding harmonized guitar work of George and Paul which winds up and down the scale and is mostly played in eighth notes.  This is actually just the first half of the guitar solo which we’ll hear twice later in the song.  Being as proud as they were of this feature of the song, they preview it here as a taste of the magic that will appear later.  The guitar riff ends with a stunning syncopated rising-and-falling trill which we’ll also hear a few measures later.  The last measure of this intro also introduces the tambourine which, as is apparent as the song progresses, is played in a somewhat undecided pattern that periodically changes, due possibly by being played by Lennon who doesn’t pick up a percussion instrument very often.

The eight-measure first verse is an uncovering of what is underneath the showcased winding lead guitar work of the introduction, as if peeling away the outer layer of an onion, so to speak.  What is underneath is a somewhat clunky Lennon rhythm guitar pattern played mostly in quarter notes accentuated by Ringo’s simple rock drum pattern and Paul’s detailed bass work.  However, John’s ADT treated lead vocals appear which takes center stage just as the winding lead guitars of the intro disappear from view.  The vocal pattern to the first two measures of each of the three verses differ, this one being sung mostly on a single note in a somewhat rushed pattern with the words “tell me that you’ve got everything you want.”

Instead of the harmonized singing throughout the verses like the first recorded version, Paul and George chime in only on the title of the song and the final emphasized “me” in the seventh measure.  Another interesting feature of the first verse is the repeat of the syncopated ending guitar trill we just heard in the introduction.  This is undoubtedly added to fill in the silence in the melody line during the eighth measure.

The second eight-measure verse is nearly identical in format with a few exceptions.  The melody line of the first two measures is sung in strict quarter notes this time around with the words “you say you’ve seen seven wonders.”  Also, since the harmony guitar leads will be appearing immediately in the following bridge, the eighth measure remains somewhat naked in anticipation of what will follow.  The first overdubbed cymbal crash is heard on the downbeat of the seventh measure just before the harmonized lyric “me.”

The first bridge is next heard which is also eight measures long and is sung solo by Lennon throughout.  As a backdrop, an impressive rising-and-falling dual guitar lead is continually heard throughout the entire bridge which strategically adjusts with the chord changes.  Other added elements in the bridge are handclaps and overdubbed hi-hat splashes in each measure.

Instead of jumping into the third vocal verse as done in their first version, they decide to omit this and go right into the guitar solo, which is played against the chord pattern of the verse.  Well, almost, anyway.  The chord played in the sixth measure of the bridge is a B7 instead of an A as heard in the verses, probably changed to accommodate the guitar leads that accompany this section of the song.  The winding dual guitar leads of the intro are identically repeated in the first four measures while an excellently crafted dual run was written for the final four measures that rise quite high and then quickly fall back down in the final measure.  (Awkwardly, the similar guitar work in the first recorded version jump up high and then stay there, so this was something they obviously knew to change for the released version.)

One final element of the guitar solo to mention here is the assumingly misplaced overdubbed cymbal crash on the second beat of the first measure.  If it was played simultaneously with Ringo’s drums on the rhythm track, he no doubt would have crashed the cymbal on the downbeat as he habitually had done throughout The Beatles cannon.  But, because it was overdubbed, and possibly because it would have interfered with an edit on an available track, this crash was performed where it was.  Or maybe Ringo was just a little late.  :-)

After a structurally identical second bridge, the third verse finally appears which is also eight measures in length.  This begins with another overdubbed cymbal crash which, this time, comes in slightly early which gives the impression that an edit occurred when there apparently wasn’t one.  The first two measures of this verse differ even more than the first two by featuring three part harmony on the words “tell me that you’ve heard every sound there is.”  The bass pattern Paul uses here actually gives the impression of a changed chord pattern for these measures instead of just remaining on the E chord.  John, while being slightly out of his range, attempts an interesting warble on the phrase “hear me” in order to mix things up even a little more.

The Beatles then decide to perform a complete repeat of the delicious eight-measure guitar solo complete with the high register ending and falling conclusion.  This section begins with another overdubbed cymbal crash which, this time, hits the perfect mark on the downbeat.  (Practice makes perfect.)  They then tease us by following this solo with what appears to be another guitar solo but is, in essence, a three-times repetition of the first measure of the guitar solo.  Each phrase begins with a distinctive single low-guitar note which resembles, to my ears anyway, a silly bicycle horn somewhat reminiscent to what’s heard at the end of Herb Alpert’s “Tijuana Taxi.”

After these three teasing guitar riffs are complete, the song ends on an unresolving A major chord.  Ending a song in this way seemed to be the latest trick in the groups’ bag, both “Dr. Robert” and “For No One” concluding in a similar unresolving fashion.

Instrumentally, the song ends with a legitimate cymbal crash from Ringo that was performed on the actual rhythm track while Paul’s bass flails away as if performing ‘morse code’ on a single note while a subtle stray guitar note is heard in the fade out.

John’s lead vocal work is sung in a rather dry and abrasive manner which is suitable to the song’s somewhat dirty-sounding delivery.  His electric rhythm guitar may be rudimentary but its placement loud in the mix makes its appearance known.  His apparent tambourine playing is erratic but nicely done.  It is obvious that this is John’s platform and no one could ever infer otherwise.

George plays an impressive role as lead guitarist and his understandable pride in this song, as mentioned earlier, was detailed in interview.  His supporting vocal harmonies are also ‘spot on.’  Paul is also quite impressively busy on this track, playing intricate walking bass lines and adding a guitar harmony to George’s flowing guitar leads with much finesse.  His harmony vocals are stunning as are always expected from him.  Ringo doesn’t add any fills to the rhythm track as he had done in the first recording (which was quite impressive) but adds little subtle touches as overdubs to sweeten the arrangement.

Delving into the meaning of the lyrics can be a tough assignment and is subject to personal interpretation since John (or Paul) never thought to explain them.  Opinions vary and have circulated among Beatles fans to the point of being viewed as fact, such as the “bird” being Mick Jagger’s then girlfriend Marianne Faithfull (the opinion apparently deriving from journalist Richard Simpson).  Another story is that John was miffed about a recent magazine article in Esquire about Frank Sinatra being able to afford "anything he wants," Frank also putting down The Beatles' talent in the article.  The singer repeatedly uses the word "bird" during this interview, the inference being the male sex organ.  Since both John and Paul have been openly honest about lyric meanings, both of these stories seem unlikely.

The best way to decipher some substance to “And Your Bird Can Sing,” I feel, is to examine where John’s head was at during the time the song was written.  On March 4th, 1966, a journalist friend of the Lennon’s, Maureen Cleave, conducted an interview with the Beatle which was first published in the “London Evening Standard.”  While John’s comment in this article about The Beatles being “more popular than Jesus” is what caught the most attention, his views on materialism was quite telling, the substance of which appears to rear its head into the song in question.

Famous and loaded as I am,” John relates in this interview, “I still have to meet soft people.  It often comes into my mind that I’m not really rich.  There are really rich people but I don’t know where they are.”  The article also mentions many of John’s “prized possessions” that he has displayed in his Weybridge home, such as a suit of armor named “Sidney,” a room full of model racing cars that he’d lost interest in, a swimming pool, a Rolls Royce (with a television, folding bed, refrigerator and telephone installed inside), a huge alter crucifix, and a gorilla suit (“That’s the only suit that fits me”).  Maureen Cleave states in the article:  “One feels that his possessions – to which he adds daily – have got the upper hand.”

With this in mind, the lyrical content of “And Your Bird Can Sing” surprisingly becomes a little clearer.  Disguised as a love song, John addresses the well-to-do female in question with the statement “You tell me that you’ve got everything you want…”  And then, in a sarcastic or hyperbolic “all this and heaven too” tone, he continues “…and your bird can sing” as if to infer that there is nothing on this earth that she couldn’t acquire for herself.  His point is then made clear by stating “you don’t get me,” ‘getting’ referring to understanding.  In fact, the real life 1966 John Lennon was someone that most people didn’t “get.”  Maureen Cleave herself describes him in the above article as “unpredictable, indolent, disorganized, childish, vague, charming, and quick-witted.”

The second verse continues this same line of reasoning but this time focusing on what the girl had seen instead of gotten.  She had “seen seven wonders,” no doubt referring to the seven wonders of the world, then extravagantly and sarcastically continuing the statement with “…and your bird is green,” which probably is no more significant than the color green being something that also can be seen.  The thought is then appropriately concluded with “you can’t see me,” suggesting his being unattainable for her.

Putting things in a nutshell, the first bridge has John instructing her to look in his “direction” whenever her “prized possessions” begin to ‘weigh her down.’  “I’ll be ‘round,” he assures as a hopeful suitor would.  Then, in a perceived fit of silliness (or drug influence, or both), the second bridge goes way off the beaten path by referring to her bird being “broken” and then being “awoken,” which doesn’t seem to have anything to do with anything.  Unpredictable indeed.

The last verse continues the pattern of the first two but this time in the category of hearing.  The woman has “heard every sound there is” but she can’t “hear” John.  Curiously, the current hyperbolic reference to the bird shows that it “can swing,” possibly a reference to dancing to music.  Or maybe just another case of silliness.  Maybe these lyrics are the reason why John and Paul fell into a fit of laughter during the recording of the first recorded version of the song.

One thing we can note with certainty is that the title phrase “and your bird can sing” actually only appears once in the song, which is in the first verse.  Soon there will come a time when Beatles songs won’t have the title in the lyrics at all, such as “Yer Blues” and “For You Blue.”

 

American Releases

On June 20th, 1966, about seven weeks before Britain, “And Your Bird Can Sing” was premiered in the US as an album track on the make-shift Capitol release “Yesterday…And Today.”  In an effort to get the album released as soon as possible, the earlier received mono mix received a “duophonic stereo” treatment by the label for the stereo copies of the album at that time.  However, the stereo albums produced for the Capitol Record Club from 1968 onward began to use the stereo mixes later supplied by EMI.  So did all of the tape versions of the album, such as cassette, 8-track, 4-track and reel-to-reel.  Also, the albums printed at the Winchester plant from 1973 onward had the true stereo mix of the song.  But the general release of most of the albums throughout its history until the end of the record era in 1988 still contained the “duophonic stereo” mix.  "Yesterday...And Today" was then released on January 21st, 2014, as an individual compact disc, both the mono and stereo versions of the album being included on a single CD.  Incidentally, this release featured both the "trunk" cover and the "butcher" cover.

Sometime in 1967, Capitol released Beatles music on a brand new but short-lived format called "Playtapes."  These tape cartidges did not have the capability to include entire albums, so two truncated four-song versions of "Yesterday...And Today" were released in this portable format, "And Your Bird Can Sing" being on one of these.  These "Playtapes" are highly collectable today.

The song eventually found its way in the intended lineup on the “Revolver” album with its compact disc release on April 30th, 1987.  A re-mastered version of the CD was then re-released on September 9th, 2009.

On March 18th, 1996, the highly anticipated “Anthology 2” CD set was released which contained the April 20th, 1966 version of the song complete with its “giggling” vocal overdub.  In 1995, Paul commented on the inclusion of this track:  “One of my favorites on the ‘Anthology’ is ‘And Your Bird Can Sing,’ which is a nice song, but this take of it was one we couldn’t use at the time.  John and I got a fit of the giggles while we were doing the double-track.  You couldn’t have released it at the time, but now you can.  Sounds great just hearing us lose it on a take.”

September 9th, 2009 saw the release of the box set “The Beatles In Mono.”  This set included the British mono mix of “And Your Bird Can Sing.”  The first mono mix as heard on the original “Yesterday…And Today” album is not available on compact disc as of this writing.

On July 24th, 2012, the iTunes Store, in partnership with EMI Records, released a Beatles compilation album entitled "Tomorrow Never Knows," the purpose of which was to highlight the group's influence on the history of rock music.  The album had the approval of Paul and Ringo, as well as the board of directors for the estates of John and George, and was successful enough to peak at #24 on the Billboard album chart.  "And Your Bird Can Sing" fit in nicely on this release. 

Live Performances

Although no strings, horns, sitars or tape loops are present on the song, the intricate harmony guitar playing on "And Your Bird Can Sing" prohibited The Beatles from including this “Revolver” track, as well as all other “Revolver” tracks, in any of their 1966 live shows.  However, The Beatles edition of the game “Rock Band” gives us a glimpse of what it would have been like had they performed the song in Japan. 

Conclusion

While most American Beatles enthusiasts became familiar with “And Your Bird Can Sing” from its inclusion on the multi-million selling album “Yesterday…And Today,” younger fans undoubtedly got to know it from its prominent use on The Beatles Cartoon series.  The song was used as the theme of the TV series during its 1967 season which featured animated shots of the group interspersed with actual 1967 still photos of the individual group members.

Although this young audience couldn’t make heads or tails of the lyrics, neither could fans of any age.  It was, instead, the irresistible musical interplay of the guitar work and the harmonic vocal texture that became its attractive focal point.  As the book “The Complete Guide To The Music Of The Beatles” suggests, “The track may have been fancy paper ‘round an empty box, but the package sounded so good that no-one cared.” 

Song Summary

And Your Bird Can Sing

Written by:  John Lennon / Paul McCartney 

  • Song Written: January - April, 1966
  • Song Recorded: April 26, 1966
  • First US Release Date: June 20, 1966
  • First US Album Release: Capitol #ST-2553 “Yesterday…And Today
  • US Single Release: n/a
  • Highest Chart Position: n/a
  • British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS 7009 “Revolver
  • Length: 2:02
  • Key: E major
  • Producer: George Martin
  • Engineers: Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald

 Instrumentation (most likely):

  • John Lennon - Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar (1965 Epiphone 230TD Casino), tambourine, handclaps
  • Paul McCartney - Bass Guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S), Lead Guitar (1962 Epiphone 230TD Casino) Harmony Vocals, handclaps
  • George Harrison –  Lead Guitar (1965 Epiphone 230TD Casino), Harmony Vocals, handclaps
  • Ringo Starr –  Drums (1964 Ludwig Super Classic Black Oyster Pearl), handclaps           

 Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski

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