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"We do it without any instruments, it's all from our mouths!"
Chloe, Pitch Perfect
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A cappella is, like many musical terms, a phrase with multiple definitions.

  • As a musical term, "a cappella" means what it means in its native Italian: "In the manner of the chapel." At the time, instruments weren't allowed in churchesnote , so everything had to be done solely through voice. "A cappella" just means a voice, or voices, alone. It is either the oldest or the second-oldest expression of music to have been invented (the other being "hitting stuff rhythmically"). Singing in the Shower trying to hit the high notes of a-ha's "Take On Me" counts as a cappella singing.
  • However, the one thing we can say about our erstwhile shower soloist is that "trying to hit the high notes in the shower" is not a complete expression of the music — nor is it meant to be. As a style, "A cappella" is when vocalists get together to perform complete expressions of music using nothing but their voices: in addition to a melody and lyrics, there will be backing chords, a bass line, and even some form of rhythm.
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This distinction is important because A Cappella, the style, transcends genre. It can be applied across multiple places such as religious music, choirs, barbershop, doo-wop, doit, beatboxing, popular music and so on.

  • Traditionally, religious music and holidays' songs like Christmas carols might be performed without any instrumental accompaniment. (This was an Enforced Trope for Shaker religious music.) Also gospel music and choir performances often don't feature any instruments.
  • Barbershop is a uniquely American style, typified by consonant four-part chords for every melody sung in homophony. They usually perform easily understandable lyrics and easy melodies. You may also recognize them by their striped outfits with straw hats.
  • Doo-wop is a style of vocal-based rhythm and blues music developed in black communities in the 1940s, achieving mainstream popularity in the 1950s and early 1960s.
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  • Doit is vocal ornamentation used in jazz music.
  • Popular music often involves covers, partially because most yet-to-be-"discovered" musicians make their names via covers. They will contain vocal approximations, sometimes one-to-one imitations and sometimes modified interpretations, of the instruments used. They may also contain beatboxing, a form of vocal percussion in which musicians produce drum beats, rhythm, and sounds with only their mouth, lips, tongue or voice. It's connected with Hip-Hop, but not exclusively. Pentatonix is the group that put this section of the trope on the map.

Musical talent shows frequently have the auditions part sung A cappella.

Tons and tons of Youtubers do A cappella covers of various songs (often with the original recording playing in the background) and sometimes create and sing new ones.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In the anime version of The iDOLM@STER, President Kuroi convinces the audio technician from the Idol Jam to conveniently forget where he put the CD with the 765PRO idols songs. This comes to bite him in the rear, when Chihaya starts to sing in A Cappella, making the tech (and crowd) be so moved by the scene that he restarts the audio in the next chorus, effectively creating a greater effect on the public than it would be if she had just started singing normally.

    Comic Books 
  • In one Archie Comics story, while the Archies are driving to a concert, their van keeps breaking down and they have to take apart their instruments to fix it. When when they finally reach the concert, they're forced to improvise and sing A cappella.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 

    Live-Action TV 
  • On American Idol auditionees have to sing a cappella during the first rounds, however, later in the competition, they sing with backing music.
  • The Sing-Off was a talent show on NBC specifically for a cappella groups, mixing in groups from the thriving collegiate scene with post-collegiate, typically smaller, ensembles.
  • Friends: In "The One with All the Jealousy", Monica dates a co-worker named Julio who is a foreigner and a pretentious poet. In one of his poems, he refers to her as an "empty vase", then later claims it was a reference to all American women, not just her. Monica gets her revenge by sending a barbershop quartet to the diner to ridicule him (and call him a buttmunch) while he's hitting on another woman. Well played.
  • Andy from The Office was a member of an a cappella group at Cornell. In one episode he asserts that all songs sound better without instruments, although it's also been shown that he can play banjo.
  • Da Ali G Show: Ali G is a wanna-be hip-hop artist and he would do beatboxing from time to time, often improvising on the topic that was discussed. As if the guests were not trolled enough already.
  • Glee:
    • Blaine's group the Dalton Academy Warblers is an all-male a capella group (played by the Real Life Tufts University Beelzebubs, in their second TV appearance after competing on The Sing-Off).
    • In the final scene of "Lights Out" (the acoustic episode), this is how the students did "The Longest Time" (in "doo wop" form).
  • NewsRadio had an episode where Dave was visited by the other three members of his a capella group.
  • There was an episode of Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place where the Girl had visions of an a capella group that would appear out of nowhere and sing Wilson Phillips songs.
  • In an episode of Mad About You, Paul walks past an A Cappella group singing the theme song, which he'd cowritten. To further mess with the wall, he mentions its familiarity. At the end of the episode, Paul and Jamie listen to the same group singing the theme again as the end-credits play. This time, Paul recognizes the tune and grins with satisfaction, but does not identify the tune out loud.
  • In "Slutty Pumpkin" of How I Met Your Mother, Ted goes to a Halloween party at the rooftop with a performance by an a cappella group. Barney thinks the party is super-lame.
  • Gilmore Girls: There are a cappella performers at Yale during the parents' day. Lorelai flees from them as fast as she can.
  • On Psych, Gus is revealed to have been in an a cappella group in college when his old bandmates seek him out for a case. For that episode, the show even got Boyz II Men to perform the theme song a cappella.
  • Rockapella from Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?. They sing a cappella, while rocking out. The group is still touring today, though all four founding members have moved on to other projects.
  • On Schitt's Creek Moira, Jocelyn, Twyla and Ronnie all sing in the town's ladies a cappella group The Jazzagals.
  • The West Wing: "Holy Night" includes an appearance by The Whiffenpoofs who are visiting the White House. Toby Ziegler's father, who is also visiting, has been a fan of the group since the 1950's which leads to a touching moment when he learns the source of the singing he's been hearing all day.
  • Charmed (2018): One episode has Maggie and Lucy join their school's a capella group. Their director gets posessed by a pitch pipe and tries to turn the group into sirens to prove that it was his music that made the original sirens powerful in the first place.

    Music — General 
  • When the American Federation of Musicians went on strike in 1942-44, the record labels initially hoped that their stockpile of songs they rush-recorded the month before the strike began would last them through the strike, but it ended up lasting much longer than they anticipated, so they started to record their vocalists accompanied by vocal groups acting as the "orchestra", taking advantage of the fact that vocalists were not AFM members. A notable example is Frank Sinatra, who had the bad fortune to start his solo career right in the middle of the strike: his first few singles with Columbia Records were recorded with a vocal group called the Bobby Tucker Singers and the label reissued a 1939 recording he did with Harry James' band. His legions of fans didn't mind, however, as most of the a capella tracks, as well as the reissue, made the hit parade.
    • The AFM went on another strike in 1948, but this time they were more lenient, allowing the usage of "non-serious" musical instruments such as ukuleles, harmonicas and toy xylophones in recording sessions. The "vocal group as orchestra" trick was still often used however.

    Music — Groups 
  • The Blanks: A cappella group fronted by Sam Lloyd who plays Ted Buckland on Scrubs. The band has made many appearances on Scrubs, introducing themselves as The Worthless Peons. They have covered many things ranging from commercial jingles to TV show theme songs.
  • The Bobs, a novelty a cappella group.
  • Bobby McFerrin, for instance his famous "Don't Worry, Be Happy".
  • The group "DaVinci's Notebook" was a cappella. The half of the group that experienced a Breakup Breakout, Paul and Storm, have done some bits in the same style, such as their Gregorian-chant-inspired "Pay-Per-View Nun Fights" skit.
  • Visa Röster: A group doing Chiptunes a cappella. Mostly tunes from Commodore64 games.
  • The Flying Pickets are an a capella group who scored the UK's Christmas #1 single of 1983 with a cover of Yazoo's electro-pop song 'Only You'. This was their only hit, however they have continued under various lineups to this day, covering songs including Under the Bridge, Who's That Girl and You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling
  • van Canto is an a cappella metal band, which besides using real drums creates all of the guitar effects vocally, and covers the songs of other metal bands.
  • German band Die Prinzen made many a cappella songs and are quite famous for this style.
  • Pentatonix, the winners of the above-mentioned The Sing-Off contest show's season.
  • Moosebutter is a comedy band that always performed in a cappella.
  • *NSYNC were more famous as a Boy Band, but their ability to perform a cappella in five-part harmony is their musical genesis and remains their point of pride. Hell, their name comes from the fact that they could sing a cappella in harmony. Unaccompanied numbers include "I Thought She Knew" from their second album, No Strings Attached, and "O Holy Night" for their Christmas album. In addition, they contributed an a cappella version of "When You Wish Upon a Star" for the DisneyMania CD series and have performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" for the 2000 World Series and 2002 Winter Olympics as well as an a cappella tribute to The Bee Gees for the 2003 Grammys.
  • Peter Hollens sings multiple vocal tracks, frequently a hundred or more, for his recordings. He frequently records with other vocalists, notably his wife Evynne Hollens, Avi Kaplan and Tyler Ward, as well as other musicians such as Lindsey Stirling.
  • The Nylons, best known for their a cappella versions of "Drift Away" and "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)".
  • Home Free, also victors of NBC's The Sing-Off alongside PTX, is a rare country music a cappella group, doing a mix of contemporary and classical country covers.
  • Spiralmouth, a group of six composers for TV and movies, are best known for providing the soundtrack for Crash Twinsanity (mentioned below), but they also released an album consisting of A Capella covers of pop songs (such as "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin,'" "Love is Good Thing," Come Together) and songs made by the individual band members (such as Sated and Spend Another Minute.)
  • The Flying Pickets are a British a cappella group probably best known for a cover of Yazoo's Only You
  • Straight No Chaser, a group of ten men whose repertoire includes cover versions of songs that they often sing with the original artists, such as Rob Thomas' "This Is How a Heart Breaks".
  • The Dapper Dans who perform at Disney Theme Parks (specifically the original Disneyland, Walt Disney World and Hong Kong Disneyland). The group has been part of the parks since 1959 with members cycling in and out over the years.
  • The long-running Contemporary Christian group GLAD did not begin as this, but began incorporating a cappella music gradually; with their most successful album being 1988's "The Acappella Project" (selling over 400,000 copies while receiving a Dove Award nomination and Billboard's Critics Choice Award), the first in a series of a cappella albums that would be released over the remainder of the band's existence.
  • Moxy Früvous, like N SYNC, were discovered fully-formed; they had a lot of musical history before they ever started recording, particularly with singing together. The majority of their albums contained at least one track performed without instruments, and almost every track they ever produced involved elaborate 3- or 4-part harmony.

    Music — Specific Songs and Albums 
  • Janis Joplin, "Mercedes Benz" from Pearl. It is an a cappella song written by singer Janis Joplin with the poets Michael McClure and Bob Neuwirth. In the song, the singer asks the Lord to buy her a Mercedes-Benz, a color TV, and a "night on the town".
  • Queen, "We Will Rock You" from News of the World (Queen). The song is generally set in a cappella form, using only stomping and clapping as a rhythmic beat, except at the very end, which has a guitar solo. "We Will Rock You" has been covered, remixed, sampled, parodied, homaged, referenced and used by multiple recording artists, TV shows, films and other media.
  • Kelis has a song called Acapella: Listen to it here. Strangely, the song is not A Cappella, but there was a version done in that mode.
  • The Futureheads have a handful of a cappella songs, and they brought out a whole a cappella album, including a cover of Kelis song. See it here.
  • The song "Ievan Polkka" note  (Finnish for "Eva's Polka") is a Finnish song with lyrics written in the early 1930s by Eino Kettunen to a traditional Finnish polka tune. It is also known as "Loituma's Polka" (or "Loituma's Polkka") because it resurfaced after an a cappella performance by the Finnish quartet Loituma. A part of the song was used for the Internet meme "Loituma Girl" (also known as "Leek Spin").
  • "Tom's Diner" is an a cappella pop song written in 1981 by American singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega. It's about impressions and feelings of a woman in a city during one morning. She did later also an instrumental version of the song. The song was actually used to develop the MP3 sound compression process, and is technically the first MP3.
  • Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Find the Cost of Freedom" is an A Cappella song with lots of harmonizing that they regularly used to finish off concerts.
  • Tori Amos's "Me and a Gun" is a quiet vocal solo about her experience with rape.
  • Claire Hamill's 1986 New Age album Voices consists entirely of Hamill's multitracked vocalisations. An instrumental album without instruments, so to speak.
  • Billy Joel's "The Longest Time", from a singer/songwriter who normally plays either the piano or guitar.
  • Nearly all of Björk's Medúlla is a cappella, and the breadth in which she experiments with the human voice is as vast and eclectic as everything else she's known for. There are a few minor smidges of a synth or a piano to flesh out the mix of a track or two, but everything else is a sound coming from a human's mouth, with "instruments" ranging from London choirs, Icelandic choirs, beatboxing, Inuit throat singing, a "human trombone", even minor vocalizations like breathing, grunts, and tongue clicking.
  • Florence + the Machine's cover of Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" is a cappella for the first verse only.
  • Big Daddy's cover of "Eye of the Tiger" is done In the Style of... an a cappella street corner do-wop group.
  • The B-side of Yes' "Leave It" was the same song A cappella.
  • Ben Folds released 'Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella!, an entire album of his songs covered by collegiate a cappella groups after hearing his song "Brick" covered by a collegiate group.
  • In Havergal Brian's "Gothic" Symphony, several sections of the "Te Deum" are sung by unaccompanied choruses, including the first 5 1/2 minutes of "Judex crederis esse venturus," which has over 20 independent vocal parts.
  • "Si puer cum puella" from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana is sung by the male chorus a capella. The sequel Catulli Carmina has the singers entirely unaccompanied except in the framing scenes.
  • Todd Rundgren has an entire album of a cappella music entitled, appropriately, "A Cappella". While several songs use vocal samples to create drum and keyboard tracks, the only sounds on the album are Todd's voice.
  • Tones On Tail's "Slender Fungus" is composed of vocals over rhythmic mouth noises.
  • "Hi How Are You?" and "She Called Pest Control" from Daniel Johnston's Hi, How Are You and "King Kong", "The Dead Lover's Twisted Heart" and "Rarely" from his album Yip/Jump Music.
  • "The Dust Blows Forward And The Dust Blows Back", "Well", "Orange Claw Hammer" from Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart.
  • "Because" by The Beatles in the rendition of The Beatles Anthology.
  • Yoko Ono and John Lennon read newspaper clippings about them by singing them during "No Bed For Beatle John" on Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions.
  • The Manhattan Transfer are capable of a cappella vocals, notably their version of "A Nightingale Sang at Berkeley Square".
  • "The Union Forever", a Citizen Kane Shout-Out from The White Stripes' White Blood Cells, has a bridge made up only of handclaps and Jack's vocals.
  • Haken does this in parts of "Cockroach King", the opening of "Because It's There", and the mid-way point of "Crystallised".
  • In Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 2, the chorus sings the first verse of the Resurrection Chorale as quietly as possible, totally unaccompanied unless the chorus needs help negotiating some of the harmonic shifts. Each successive verse of the chorale is sung louder with more accompaniment, finishing with full orchestra and pipe organ.
  • Arthur Sullivan's The Golden Legend includes two a cappella chorales, "O gladsome light" and "O pure in heart."
  • In Hector Berlioz's "Grande messe des morts," the orchestra and four brass bands fade away quickly at the end of "Rex tremendae," and the chorus proceeds with "Quaerens me" unaccompanied. "Hostias" has highly intermittent accompaniment for the male chorus, most of it being flute and trombone chords played while the singers take a breath between phrases.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Since You've Been Gone" is done a cappella with several Weird Als singing all harmony except the bass line, which is done by his bassist Steve Jay.
  • Country Music band Southern Pacific was known for doing an a cappella rendition of Peter and Gordon's "I Go to Pieces" in concert. They released a studio version, also done a cappella, as a single in 1990.
  • Country Music band Ricochet (best known for their 1996 hit "Daddy's Money") recorded an a cappella rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" for a 1996 NASCAR promotional album, and sent it to radio due to fan demand. Later on, they sent an a cappella version of "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" as a Christmas single.
  • Da Yoopers did "My First Time Ever" on their 1995 album We're Still Rockin', the first album after Jim Bellmore took over as lead guitarist/songwriter. The track features Bellmore singing all four parts in the style of a barbershop quartet.
  • In Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, "Kyrie eleison," "Pie Jesu Domine" and "Requiescant in pace" conclude three of the work's sections with quiet variations on the same mournful chord progression, with the chorus accompanied only intermittently by the bells tolling their dismal tritone together.
  • The Beach Boys' "A Young Man Is Gone" from their Little Deuce Coupe album, an a cappella homage to James Dean based on the melody of "Their Hearts Were Full of Spring" by The Four Freshmen, itself an example.
  • NateWantsToBattle's Cover Version of "Bonetrousle" from Undertale.
  • Huey Lewis and the News has the song "It's All Right".
  • Sia has two on her debut album OnlySee, "Mad Love" and "Tripoutro".
  • Vienna Teng, taking cues from Tori Amos, sings "Passage" a cappella from the perspective of a woman slain in a car crash, watching the world move on without her.
  • "Cletus McHicks and His Band From The Sticks" by Ray Stevens is about a wannabe musician who can't afford instruments, but undeterred he rounds up a couple of guys to scat the parts (drums, bass, steel guitar, lead guitar). The song's chorus is a demonstration of their style.
  • Tracy Chapman's song "Behind the Wall" is a haunting a cappella song about a domestic abuse incident turned violent, and how the police do absolutely nothing to help the situation.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Trope Namer comes from the ancient practice of singing church music without any instruments. Today, the Eastern Orthodox Churches,note  the Churches of Christ, conservative Mennonite churches, some Presbyterian congregations, and a few Baptist churches do not use musical instruments in worship. For those that do use accompaniment, the instruments will often drop out for portions of hymns (usually the first or last verse, or first half of the final chorus) purely for dramatic effect.

    Whether or not a Roman Catholic choir will practice this is typically Zig Zagged depending on whether or not the church/cathedral involved has an organ built in. Many earlier pieces of music (such as in the mid-to-late Renaissance) were intended to be accompanied simply because they were that hard, and talented choristers trained to sing complicated unaccompanied polyphonies were much rarer than they are today.
  • In Islam, whether or not music is haram (forbidden) remains debatable. Officially, it is neither discouraged nor condoned, but a capella music is generally looked upon more highly than instrumental music.

    Theatre 
  • In The Music Man (both the stage play and the film) Professor Harold Hill teaches the four squabbling members of the school board to sing Barbershop. All of their performances from then on are a cappella. All the other songs, performed by anyone else, have orchestral accompaniment (except for "Rock Island," which isn't really sung anyway). In both the original production and the film, the School Board was played by the Buffalo Bills, the 1950 International Quartet Champions of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA).
  • Peter Schickele's Go For Broke: A Comedy For Chorus. The only instruments indicated in the score are pitch pipes played at the beginning of each scene so the singers can start in the right key.
  • The Student Prince includes an a cappella chorus of the traditional college song "Gaudeamus Igitur."
  • In Leonard Bernstein's Mass, "Almighty Father" is a chorale accompanied only intermittently after phrases by the drum rhythm from the (faster) previous number.
  • The Pirates of Penzance has the entire cast joining in singing the a cappella anthem "Hail Poetry".
  • In Cabaret, a male chorus sings "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" mostly a cappella.
  • Down in the Valley has the spiritual "Little Black Train" sung a capella by the Greek Chorus taking on the roles of congregation and preacher. The first verse of the title song is also done this way.
  • In Where's Charley?, the nostalgic opening number, "The Years Before Us," is sung a cappella by a male ensemble.
  • In The Sound of Music, the opening chant and most of the Latin hymns are sung by the nuns' choir without accompaniment, though the orchestra does provide light accompaniment for the canticle "Confetimini Domino" (sung at the wedding) as well as full accompaniment for their reprises of "Maria" and "Climb Ev'ry Mountain."
  • In Peer Gynt, the Morning Hymn in Act V is supposed to be sung a cappella, though some editions of the score include an accompaniment for rehearsal purposes only.
  • In Transit, which ran on Broadway from 2016 to 2017, marketed itself as a totally a cappella musical, starring 10 singers and a vocal percussionist. (Various other superlatives, such as "first ever", were both added and subtracted as the show evolved from its 2010 off-Broadway roots.)

    Video Games 
  • Lunar: The Silver Star: Luna/Althena's "Song" from Lunar Silver Star Story. Here is a youtube link. This song is used as a kind of "theme" that's attempted by others in singing, though tempo and quality varies. It's kind of the game's "staple song" and is incredibly familiar to all who've played the game in any of its incarnations.
  • NiGHTS into Dreams…: Christmas NiGHTS Into Dreams has an a cappella version of the game's main vocal theme "Dreams Dreams" over the credits.
  • Super Mario Sunshine has secret levels in which the background music, "Platforms a Plenty", is an a cappella version of the original Super Mario Bros. theme.
  • BioShock Infinite:
    • A vocal rendition of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" opens the game.
    • The second piece of sung music you hear in BioShock Infinite is a barbershop arrangement of The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," written and performed by the real-life quartet A Mighty Wind (dba The Bee Sharps).
  • Crash Twinsanity's entire soundtrack is performed by an A Cappella group named Spiralmouth, including the cutscenes.
  • In Incredibox, you make your own acapella band.
  • The final battle between Dante and Vergil during Vergil's campaign in the Special Edition of Devil May Cry 5 kicks off with an A Cappella rendition of the final chorus of Vergil's theme, "Bury the Light" It sets the tone quite nicely for the final battle.

    Web Animation 
  • Brawl of the Objects: Six words; A Rap by Popsicley and Chocolatey.
  • Eddie at The LMV has The LMV band, who have covered songs in this style, such as "It's In Her Kiss" by The Hollies and a mash-up of two Scooby-Doo show theme tunes.
  • The opening and ending credits of the Mappy web series are acapella renditions of the game's themes.

    Web Comics 

    Web Videos 
  • trudbol/Julien Neel's videos of song covers on YouTube, posting videos that usually consist in all the recordings (video recordings) singing to the camera at the same time.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 2: Special Edition: In one video, the game degrades because not enough people believe it's real. One of the symptoms is that the level music is replaced by a crude a cappella cover version. In the very last video, apropos of nothing, there's an a cappella version of the Sonic 2 ending cutscene music, this time With Lyrics.
  • Smooth McGroove sings songs from video games a cappella.
  • In a similar manner to Smooth McGroove, Triforcefilms (a.k.a. Mr. Dooves) performs a cappella covers of various video game songs, cartoon theme songs, television theme songs, etc.
  • On his Paint channel, Jon Cozart sings his songs a cappella in multiple parts, then mixes them together for the final result.

    Western Animation 
  • In one flashback episode of The Simpsons, Homer, Skinner, Apu and Barney performed as Be Sharps, a barbershop quartet and they are epically successful. Their career path mirrored The Beatles.
  • The themes to Mighty Mouse Playhouse and its 1987 reboot, Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, were both performed A cappella.
  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Filli Vanilli" features an A Cappella singing group, "The Ponytones".

    Real Life 
  • Let's face it, everyone's done it in their spare time at least once (whether just walking somewhere, in the shower, etc.).

 
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The New Kids on the Dock

For Tusk's bachelor party, Wolf has an nautical-themed A cappella group called "The New Kids on the Docks" who sings song where they include boats in the lyrics, like "Whatta Boat" and "Boats Just Want to Have Fun".

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