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The Top Ten Most Successful “Missing” Number Ones Artists – Number 1…

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…Brook Benton.

Brook Benton
(140 pts):

  • 8 Top 10 hits
  • 8 Top 20
  • 8 Top 40 hits
  • 25 Top 100 hits
  • The Boll Weevil Song” peaked at #2 in 1961

When I was a kid, I would set the sleep mode on my alarm clock radio to sixty minutes, turn on Power 99 FM, and let the smooth sounds of ‘The Quiet Storm’ send me to sleep.

Like Yacht Rock, Quiet Storm was a fake genre, named after the fact. 

Created by Washington DC radio station intern Melvin Lindsey, he named his program of rich, soulful R&B ballads from the 50s, 60s and 70s after Smokey Robinson’s 1975 album A Quiet Storm.

It was copied by hundreds of radio stations around the nation. In addition, Stereogum reviewer Tom Breihan mentioned each faux-genre eleven times in his column. 

While Michael McDonald might be the exemplary vocalist for Yacht Rock…

I would offer Brook Benton for Quiet Storm.

And I’m going to break my self-imposed rule here: because I don’t think we should be discussing “The Boll Weevil Song” when we have one of the 500 best songs of all-time staring us in the face:

Benton was born Benjamin Franklin Peay on September 19, 1931 in South Carolina.

He moved to New York City when he was seventeen and took odd jobs while he sang with a few gospel groups and on demos to get noticed, but didn’t.

In 1951 he moved back to SC and joined Adriel McDonald-led doo-wop group The Sandmen. Peay was recruited to be the lead singer, and the group went to New York City in hopes of making it big.

They recorded three songs with Okeh Records, with a twenty-one year old Quincy Jones as producer and arranger.

Label executives noticed Peay’s vocals and sought to promote him as a solo artist. Benton’s rich, silky baritone reminded critics of Billy Eckstine, a jazz/pop singer/bandleader who may have impacted the Billboard charts if a controversial photo in Life didn’t show up in a 1950 magazine, with white women hanging on him:

F*** the 1950s.

Although his new moniker was in place, success didn’t come quickly.

Benton found himself instead writing hits for other artists – Clyde McPhatter’s #6 hit “A Lover’s Question” (it’s a 5) and Nat “King” Cole’s #5 “Looking Back” (it’s a 7) were his greatest successes.

In fact, other artists gained success by copying Benton:

Most famously by Phil Levitt of The Diamonds.

Studio producer Clyde Otis suggested he try and sound like Benton, and the group went on to earn three Top 10 hits in 1957.

Otis loved Benton’s voice. And when he became an A&R executive for Mercury Records, he immediately signed Benton and had him record a number of songs meant for Cole, one of which became Benton’s first top 10 hit:

“It’s Just a Matter of Time” hit #3 (it’s a 5), and another song written for Cole, “Thank You Pretty Baby,” hit #6 the following year (it’s a 4). Arranged by Belford Hendricks, Benton found the genre perfect for his sultry sound, and while his vocals may have worked in doo-wop, there was an important statement made performing with session musicians.

Said Otis:

“Historically, black artists wanted to record with strings because it had been something that had been denied them.

The strings symbolized legitimacy. There weren’t even any black string players working in the studios.

When we organized Brook’s first date I asked my contractor if there were any black string players. He said, ‘Yes. They’re working in Broadway shows and other pick-up jobs.’ “

I said, ‘Why don’t they play record dates?’ He said, ‘Nobody calls them.’ I said, ‘If they’re good, I want to see them on my sessions.'”

Clyde Otis

Between these studio musicians, Tin Pan Alley songwriting (interspersed with some Otis/Benton numbers,) and Clyde Otis productions:

Brook Benton had a five-year stretch that was impressive.

(“So Many Ways” is a 6.)

In 1959, Otis brought Dinah Washington over to the Mercury label.

Washington was in a slump, but he thought Belford Hendricks’ string arrangements and his own songwriting could revive her career.

The first album was a success, so Otis paired her and Benton together. It was a risky endeavor, since duets weren’t common in the late 50s.

And the two just clicked…

…but not in a good way.

Benton and Washington were opposites in personality and workmanship: Washington was the professional yet fiery one, while Benton was playful and laid back.

It didn’t work out – the two were only able to record four songs together before Washington stormed out of the studio.

Otis released two of them: “Baby, (You’ve Got What it Takes)” and “A Rockin’ Good Way (To Mess and Fall in Love)” – with all the ad-libbing and errors in it.

It sounds like banter, but Dinah was livid with Benton stealing a few of her lines and said so on the records…yet Benton enjoyed getting under her skin.

Otis released their album (four duets, four solo songs by each) to the chagrin of both artists, and tempers flared.

One night in Chicago Dinah bad-mouthed Benton during a performance while Benton was in the audience. He responded, and as the two went back and forth, Benton attempted to storm the stage and was stopped by Otis and Ray Charles, of all people.

But the bad chemistry worked: “Baby…” hit #5 (it’s a 7), and the “A Rockin’ Good Way” reached #7 (another 7). 

Solo again, Benton recorded a couple of songs that broke from the soulful R&B ballads he’d become known for.

First up was a song he and Otis wrote for Teddy Randazzo in 1957:

Even with the great Milt Hinton on bass, “Kiddio” is only a 4.

“The Boll Weevil Song” was his highest-charting hit on the Billboard Top 100.

But it’s better known as the first #1 hit on Billboard’s “Easy Listening” chart.

It’s a traditional song made famous by Lead Belly in 1934, but sanitized and rearranged by Benton and Otis with the New York Rhythm Section musicians:

It gives off too much “Song of the South” vibes for me – it’s a 2 (Lead Belly’s version is a lot better).

Nashville-trained Shelby Singleton produced it, and after Clyde Otis left Mercury the following year due to financial disagreements Benton worked primarily with Singleton. Together, they would make a ton of Top 100 hits, but only one more Top 10 hit for Benton: 

Written by Leon Carr, country-tinged “Hotel Happiness” reached #3 in 1963, and it’s a 5.

Carr is probably better remembered for some of his advertising jingles, especially this one: 

Until Benton left Mercury in 1965, he recorded less sappy R&B ballads and more country-esque tunes with diminishing returns.

His up-tempo satirical narrative “Hit Record” missed the Top 40, as did his title track from the movie Walk on the Wild Side. Nominated for an Best Original Song Academy Award in 1962, Benton didn’t perform it at the Grammys because that year they had a medley of all nominees, a first, which Robert Goulet sang.

Like many other artists from this time period, Benton’s career took a nosedive with the arrival of The Beatles.

Some made the transition quickly; others never did.

Benton’s career seemed over until 1968, when he signed with Atlantic, who knew what to do with him. Jerry Wexler, father of the term “rhythm and blues”, brought him down South to work with the musicians at Muscle Shoals and return to the luxurious slow jams that made him famous.

It started with a few minor hits, but to come all the way back, Benton needed Swamp Rock pioneer Tony Joe White:

“When I got out of high school, I went down to Marietta, Georgia to live with my sister and get a job.”

“I got a job driving a truck for the highway. Then every time it would rain, I would get to stay home and play my guitar.”

“So I remembered them rainy days and rainy nights down there.”

Tony Joe White

He moved to Texas afterwards, working as a dump truck driver when he overheard Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” (a 10), and decided to write songs about life in the South including “Rainy Night in Georgia”, which he included on his first album.

White’s version is raw and local – I feel the pain in his vocals and the loss of his love.

Wexler convinced Benton to record it…and he went on to make a song that Rolling Stone magazine celebrated as the 498th greatest song of all-time.

Cornell Dupree’s guitar opens the song, light cymbals fall in, and then Benton takes over. Brook misses his love; it’s cold and raining, and the terrible weather weighs on him heavily…in fact, it feels like it’s raining all over the world.

A few things comfort him, like a guitar and her picture, but neither can stop the rain or the depression. Benton’s trademark ad libs decorate the piece, from his laugh of relief (or is it weeping?) when he places her picture on his chest. The fade out is all Benton.

Arif Mardin’s (famous later for introducing us to Barry Gibb’s falsetto) production is professional and remains in the background.

There are strings, a triangle, and Toots Thielmans’ harmonica to add melancholy to Benton’s vocals, trailing at the end of each verse. By the time the orchestral instrumental hits, I feel like it’s the weight of the world on Benton, not just a cold damp night in Marietta.

In contrast to White’s original, it’s slower and more expansive. I hear pain in White’s vocals, but I feel Benton’s: the weight of the world is on him, crushing him, and his missing love might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

It was Benton’s last trip into the Top 10.

He would only hit the Top 100 three more times, the last in 1971.

The Quiet Storm era began four years later, and newer artists like Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross and Peabo Bryson created new ballads to fill late night urban radio programs in between some classics like “Rainy Night in Georgia”. Yacht Rock never had the opportunity to update its sound.

In the late 80s, newer musical styles developed, and Quiet Storm mixed with hip-hop, new jack swing among other trends. Eventually it became associated with “older generations”, and the younger kids moved towards Slow Jams.

Around that same time, Benton contracted spinal meningitis and his weakened immunity wasn’t able to fight off pneumonia. 

He was 56. 

GRADE: 9/10

TRIVIA: Tom mentioned Dinah Washington two times in the column – once, when he covered “Everybody Loves Somebody” which she’d recorded, but she was also performing in New York City and invited a young five-year-old child prodigy onstage to sing with her. That was Patti Austin, and she reached #1 with “Baby, Come to Me” in a duet with James Ingram. (It’s a 6.) 

BONUS BEATS: David Ruffin recorded a version of “Rainy Night” for his 1971 album, but it wasn’t released until 2004. 

(David Ruffin’s highest-charting singles, the 1969 “My Whole World (The Moment You Left Me)” and 1975’s “Walk Away From Love” both peaked at #9. According to the spreadsheet, Tom gave MWW a 9, but I can’t find it in his column. “Walk Away From Love” is a 7. The Temptations had a bunch of songs covered by Tom.)

BONUS BONUS BEATS: Gucci Mane sampled “Rainy Night in Georgia” on the 2008 mixtape track “Georgia”:

(Gucci Mane’s two biggest hits as lead artist, the 2017 Migos collab “I Get The Bag” and the 2018 Bruno Mars/Kodak Black collab “Wake Up In The Sky,” both peaked at #11. As a guest, Gucci will eventually appear in this column.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Randy Crawford ramped up the 1980s cheese with her version that hit #18 in the UK.

(Randy Crawford’s highest-charting single, “Street Life” peaked at #36, which stinks – because it is an amazing song…and brings this column full circle since it was a bonus beat under The Grass Roots.)

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mt58
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mt58
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December 27, 2023 7:54 am

Every artist on the list, to include Bitchin’ Burl Ives, says, “Three cheers for thegue!”

Much appreciation for a terrifically, entertaining and informative series!

cstolliver
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December 27, 2023 8:49 am

I know I’m more prone to give 10s than a lot of the folks in TNOCS, but Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night in Georgia” is a 10 no matter how you look at it. Moody, warm, sad, perfect.

I noticed you didn’t include the Sam Moore/Conway Twitty version of the song from “Rhythm, Country and Blues” and assume that’s intentional. I could understand how the duo’s camaraderie and banter might prove irritating given the wounded narration of Benton’s version. I found their obvious affection for Benton charming. It’s not a 10 but I’d give it a solid 8.

Ozmoe
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December 27, 2023 8:56 am
Reply to  cstolliver

I’d give Rainy Night in Georgia a 10 as well. Amazingly and frustratingly but not surprisingly, it had no Grammy nominations.

ArchieLeech
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December 27, 2023 9:50 am
Reply to  cstolliver

Yes, I thought of the Moore/Twitty version as well. Right you are.

Ozmoe
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December 27, 2023 8:59 am

Let me just say that as the author of The Billboard Book of Number One Adult Contemporary Hits, I’m pleasantly surprised by the first chart topper finishing number one here as well. By all accounts, Brook was a nice guy with some great records (I personally would give “It’s Just a Matter of Time” an 8, by the way). It’s a nice respite from and helps wash away the disappointment-to-queasiness we all felt when reading and enduring the Dr. Hook and Rascal Flatts entries. Bravo, thegue!

Countdowner
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December 27, 2023 9:05 am

The latest number one alternative has no comment section. I sent a message to stereogum. Can someone respond to Tom on Twitter?

Pauly Steyreen
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December 27, 2023 11:22 am
Reply to  Countdowner

It’s up now…

JJ Live At Leeds
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December 27, 2023 9:44 am

Cross Atlantic differences of opinion mean that the #1 reveal has an air of anti-climax. Definitely not a household name here. Brook had two top 40 hits with a peak of #28 for Endlessly.

Rainy Night In Georgia didn’t hit the heights either. The only version to chart was the Randy Crawford effort that thegue mentions. I’ve no memory of that one.

The song that had the biggest impact was A Rockin’ Good Way. A #5 for the Welsh Elvis; Shakin’ Stevens in partnership with Bonnie Tyler. Only a year after Total Eclipse of the Heart but it didn’t chart in the US. Can’t imagine why you guys rejected it

Surely couldn’t have been the excess denim on the cover?

1000004821
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December 27, 2023 2:36 pm

He’s not really a household name in the US these days either. He’s been off the charts for better than a half century and been dead for 35 years. Very, very few artists can remain in the zeitgeist with an absence that long.

rollerboogie
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December 27, 2023 4:15 pm

Wow, yeah, that’s a Levi Strauss fever dream right there.

LinkCrawford
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December 27, 2023 9:45 am

“Rainy Night in Georgia” is indeed a 10. I just love it. Brook really blurred the lines between country and R&B.

I learned a lot today! Didn’t know about the fiery relationship between Benton and Washington or those crazy anecdotes. Didn’t know about the work with Quincy Jones. Didn’t know about black artists’ lack of strings. Great series, thegue!

I was happy you mentioned “Hit Record”, which is such a bright, silly song. “That’s all! That’s all!”

https://youtu.be/YWwlTIL2pSc?si=iMWFKBAsTvnQc4dV

Zeusaphone
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December 27, 2023 11:20 pm
Reply to  LinkCrawford

The lack of strings is part of what led to Rock & Roll. Louis Jordan, Ivory Joe Hunter, and the other giants of 40s and early 50s black music had a “raw” sound in no small part because they had limited strings to work with. Chuck Berry, Ike Turner, and their contemporaries liked that sound but wanted it even more stripped down, tighter, and less horn oriented.

ArchieLeech
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December 27, 2023 9:48 am

For me, Brook Benton is a primal figure, a bedrock of my love of music. Long before I heard the Beatles, Brook Benton’s first Greatest Hits album was a regular player at our house. Smooth, well-produced and written, bluesy, with fantastic singing. That album ended with the almost-rockabilly “Hurtin’ Inside,” the kind of song another household favorite, Charlie Rich, would have done well. “Kiddio,” “So Close,” “Thank You Pretty Baby,” “Endlessly” – all fine, warm, cool, swinging. I was 8 years old when “Rainy Night” hit, and it was one of the few records by a black man to play on our favorite station. It, too, was a favorite. He was the link between the professional pop and the blues which always nipped at the edge of our tastes, more rocking than a similar family fave, Nat King Cole. As I developed my own tastes, I would explore this stylistic tree with Bobby Bland, Etta James, and William Bell. A perfect holiday pick for me – thank you for the gift, and the whole series.

You likes violins playing blues licks? We got ’em.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0bu41bC9KU

Last edited 1 month ago by ArchieLeech
LinkCrawford
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December 27, 2023 11:33 am
Reply to  ArchieLeech

Your experience with Brook is like my experience with Bobby Rydell last week. The Nat King Cole comparison is a good one.

spacecitymarc
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December 27, 2023 11:28 am

Bonus Bonus Bonus Bonus Beats: Otis Rush’s “Rainy Night In Georgia,” from his truly excellent Right Place, Wrong Time album. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAJanVvcgAs&pp=ygUgb3RpcyBydXNoIHJhaW55IG5pZ2h0IGluIGdlb3JnaWE%3D

dutchg8r
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December 27, 2023 3:10 pm

Reaction #1 – ‘I thought his name was Brooks Benton’

Reaction #2 – ‘wait, am I thinking of the right person? Who’s Brook Benton??!’

Given my track record, no doubt I’m mixing him up with someone else. I know for certain though I’m not confusing Brook Benton with Brooks Robinson!!! 😆

Anyhoo, a pleasant surprise for #1, thegue. Mr Benton had an absolutely glorious singing voice, my goodness. I do so love a singer who makes it sound so effortless he’s essentially carrying on an entire conversation while singing, like he’s doing nothing more than giving you directions to the nearest Sonic Drive In.

His dynamic with Dinah Washington sounds tailor-made for a sitcom.

I did so love me some Quiet Storm on Power 99 as a teen. Sade, Luther, it was like a warm bath soak. Then Bonaduce got the 9pm slot on Eagle 106, so I’d listen to him instead before I’d go to sleep. Not exactly the same vibe…. 😁

Thanks for all of the time, effort and research you but into this series, thegue!

mt58
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December 27, 2023 3:38 pm
Reply to  dutchg8r

Given my track record, no doubt I’m mixing him up with someone else. I know for certain though I’m not confusing Brook Benton with Brooks Robinson!!

THIRD BASE!

spacecitymarc
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December 28, 2023 10:09 am
Reply to  mt58

I don’t know!

spacecitymarc
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December 28, 2023 10:09 am
Reply to  dutchg8r

DID SOMEONE SAY BROOKS ROBINSON?

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dutchg8r
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December 28, 2023 10:45 am
Reply to  spacecitymarc

No way, is that yours marc?! When’d you get that signed?!

spacecitymarc
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December 28, 2023 12:17 pm
Reply to  dutchg8r

I played Little League (center field, ironically) in the Baltimore/Washington corridor in the 1980s. The Orioles basically hung around baseball fields back then like they were Wooderson in Dazed And Confused. I also have the autographs of Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer and Cal Ripken, Jr.

When I brought this glove out to try to play catch with my then-six-year-old (it didn’t stick  😢 ), spacecitywife took one look at it and said, “Who is Parvashu Ralphmosh?” And so he has been ever since.

dutchg8r
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December 28, 2023 12:23 pm
Reply to  spacecitymarc

Dude…. that’s like, the Almighty Oriole Four in autographs. 😯

Well done, LittleLeagueMarc!

So to bring this full circle, Parvashu Ralphmosh does not equal Brook Benton.

Last edited 1 month ago by dutchg8r
cappiethedog
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December 27, 2023 8:21 pm

Great series, thegue. I like Johnny Tillotson a lot. Also, I listened to Dan Fogelberg music that isn’t from The Innocent Age. I bought some reissues that pairs his albums together. I guess he’s better appreciated in the UK.

I’m very familiar with “Rainy Day in Georgia”. I own that David Ruffin album. I got interested in Ruffin because a Louisville-based singer-songwriter named Paul K. wrote “David Ruffin’s Tears”. Paul K. plays the role of Ruffin, complaining that “many of my songs have been forgotten,” which doesn’t quite make sense because Ruffin was primarily a vocalist.

Just listened to the original version. Great stuff.

Virgindog
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December 27, 2023 9:23 pm

Excellent series, thegue. I can’t imagine how you researched it. Must’ve been a huge take undertaking. Good work!

Phylum of Alexandria
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December 28, 2023 9:47 am

I never heard of Brook Benton, which is surprising given how massively talented and clearly up my alley he is. Thanks for the education, this has been a great ride!

blu_cheez
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December 28, 2023 7:47 pm

Copying / pasting Phylum’s comment – this series was super informative and fun.

AdaminPhilly
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December 28, 2023 2:41 pm

Regarding Billy Eckstine; he did in fact impact the Billboard charts, starting in 1944, and he had major hits on both the pop charts and the R&B chart for the next several years. I’ve seen that 1950 Life magazine photo before. It’s a great, joyous photo that lets you imagine an alternative America without racial barriers.

Since those barriers existed, I have no trouble imagining the backlash to the photo. Nonetheless, I think its role in his career decline may be exaggerated. He continued to have hits after that, and in fact had probably his biggest in 1951, the perhaps aptly titled “I Apologize.” The hits did peter out, but not until after 1952. He continued to perform and record for three more decades, and I have a vague memory of seeing him on television as a young person, possibly on the Tonight Show or the Merv Griffin Show. He had a great voice, as did Benton.

cappiethedog
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December 30, 2023 8:24 pm
Reply to  AdaminPhilly

I think of Merv Griffin as the show my maternal grandfather loved. But, oh, wait. I know who Merv Griffin is. Damn.

Did you see Pineapple Express? A millennial doesn’t get Seth Rogen’s pop culture reference. “Who’s Chachi?”

This happened to me recently. I was scheduled for a cautionary biopsy; the nurse advised me not to eat anything with red dye. It triggered a memory of how there were no red M & M’s when I was growing up. Most likely, the red dye was reformulated. It probably returned due to deregulation. “Oh, that’s so interesting,” she said in a sprightly voice. And that’s when I realized all vestiges of my youth was officially dead.

AdaminPhilly
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December 31, 2023 12:49 am
Reply to  cappiethedog

I did see that movie but I have a poor memory and don’t remember that scene (or, really, any scene). I remember the whole controversy over red dye #2 and how it got banned, but I didn’t know or recall that it led to the temporary absence of red M&Ms. M&Ms were never a favorite of mine except the peanut ones, and I didn’t get those too often.

I remember my high school chemistry teacher talking about how maraschino cherries were made (bleach cherries, inject new color and flavor). I believe he’d worked at a place where they were made, and he said something about how the different dyes had kept being banned and needed to replaced with new ones.

The one thing I actually like about getting old is having bits of “secret” knowledge of the past that younger people won’t know.

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