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Albert
12-16-2004, 08:34 AM
50 Years, 50 Albums: Cutting The Catalogue
by Robin van Cleef (April 2003)

Four-hundred-and-fourty-seven. Do a search on Amazon.com for ?Elvis Presley,? and that?s the astonishingly high number of results you?ll get under ?Popular Music.? It should come as a relief to find out that BMG has finally realized what many fans have known for a long time: there are simply too many Elvis CDs available on the market. Can you imagine someone wishing to give Elvis a chance, and trying to pick a few random albums to begin with? One would have to choose between everything from the classic ?From Elvis In Memphis? to random, relatively poor CDs like ?Elvis Sings For Kids.? Clearly the Elvis catalogue was a mess, and with the renewed interest in Elvis that came with the arrival of ?Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits? last September, BMG had to dramatically decrease the size of the catalogue to make sure it could last another 25 years.

BMG actually started as early as January of 2002, when over fifty titles were deleted from the catalogue. The deletions continued throughout the year, and at the end of 2002 it was made clear that many CDs would no longer be available as of January of 2003, among them the ?Golden Records? series, ?Tiger Man,? and such (classic) albums as ?Elvis Is Back? and ?King Creole.?

The Bad

At the time of this writing it is April, and BMG has recently released its final list of fifty albums that shall remain available from now on. Essentially, the same fifty titles shall be available worldwide, with certain extra CDs being released only in certain countries. Also, BMG aims to delete a CD from the catalogue whenever it releases a new album, effectively keeping the number of available albums around fifty. However, as was to be expected by now from BMG, the list does not contain what you might expect:

Original Albums:

Elvis Presley
Elvis
Elvis' Golden Records
Elvis' Gold Records, Volume 2 - 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong
G.I. Blues
His Hand In Mine
Something For Everybody
Blue Hawaii
Elvis' Golden Records, Volume 3
How Great Thou Art
Elvis' Gold Records, Volume 4
Elvis? NBC - TV Special
From Elvis In Memphis
Elvis In Person
On Stage
Elvis - That's The Way It Is
Elvis Country (I'm 10,000 Years Old)
Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas
An Afternoon in the Garden
As Recorded At Madison Square Garden
Aloha From Hawaii
Promised Land
Moody Blue
Elvis in Concert

Compilations:

White Christmas
Burning Love
Elvis' Gold Records - Volume 5
Amazing Grace - His Greatest Sacred Performances [2CD]
Sunrise [2CD]
Suspicious Minds [2CD]
Elvis '56
Great Country Songs
The Home Recordings
The Top Ten Hits
The 50 Greatest Love Songs [2CD]
Memories [2CD]
Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits

Box Sets:

Artist of the Century [3CD]
Artist of the Century (Int?l Version ? 5 Extra Songs) [3CD]
Elvis - The King of Rock 'N' Roll - The Essential 50s Masters [5CD]
From Nashville to Memphis - The Essential 60s Masters I [5CD]
Walk a Mile in My Shoes - The Essential 70s Masters [5CD]
Live In Las Vegas [4CD]
Peace in the Valley - The Complete Gospel Recordings [3CD]
Platinum - A Life in Music [4CD]
That's The Way It Is [3CD]
Today, Tomorrow and Forever [4CD]

Budget Albums:

Classic Elvis
Love Songs
Elvis: Christmas Album
Gospel Favourites

Looking at this list, several flaws immediately jump off the page. First of all, there are many, many songs that are only available on the 3 ?decade box sets.? This means that to both new Elvis fans and the average music consumer, many fine selections will only be available on three $80 sets, and would therefore be much less likely to be heard. But this is only one flaw of many. For example, there are three different Christmas CDs, when one would easily suffice. There are three gospel CDs, as well as both the ?Amazing Grace? 2-CD set and the ?Peace in the Valley? 3-CD set. This is stunningly redundant. Then consider the number of ?greatest hits? packages: ?Classic Elvis,? two ?Artist of the Century? sets, ?Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits,? ?The Top Ten Hits,? as well as the entire ?Golden Records? series. This is especially poor planning considering BMG is expected to release a follow-up to ?30 #1 Hits? later this year. Another observation is that there are fifteen multi-disc sets; way too many. It may also be noted that, because of the poor selection of albums chosen by BMG, there is a considerable amount of overlap: many songs appear on several CDs. This overlap is only emphasized by the fact that both the original ?That?s The Way It Is? album and the 3-CD set from 2000 are on the list. The same goes for ?Elvis? NBC-TV Special? and the ?Memories? 2-CD set. Clearly, if this list were to be adopted, everyone loses. Elvis? legacy is in serious danger not only because mostly newly compiled CDs are available (and Elvis? history won?t be remembered), but many songs simply won?t be available. The average consumer wishing to randomly pick up an Elvis CD is not as likely to pick up a classic album, would hear only the same familiar songs, and might therefore be discouraged from buying more. And in the end, BMG itself loses. Because after all, if interest in Elvis goes downhill, BMG loses its biggest selling artist.

The Good

Hoping to rectify the matter, I looked at Elvis? entire selection of studio masters and the albums that they (originally) appeared on. I decided to make a new list of albums that I think should be available. What I tried to do was make a list of albums that contained every studio master that Elvis recorded between 1953 and 1976, with as little overlap as possible, using only (original) albums that have already been released. That way, Elvis? entire catalogue could be acquired through individual albums one by one, or through the purchase of retrospective packages like the 50?s, 60?s, and 70?s box sets. Using my list of available albums, a person new to Elvis could look at the (original) albums, notice a few songs that they like or might know, and purchase albums accordingly. Naturally, this will lead to the discovery of material they will have never heard (rather than buying the same greatest hits again), stimulating the purchase of further Elvis albums. The following is a list of 48 albums that I would release worldwide:

Upgraded Albums:

Elvis Presley
Elvis
Loving You
Elvis? Golden Records
King Creole
Elvis' Gold Records, Volume 2 - 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong
Elvis Is Back!
G.I. Blues
Blue Hawaii
Something For Everybody
Pot Luck
Elvis? Gold Records, Volume 3
Elvis? Gold Records, Volume 4
From Elvis In Memphis
Back In Memphis [2003]
Elvis In Person [2003]
That?s The Way It Is [3CD]
On Stage
Elvis Country (I?m 10,000 Years Old)
As Recorded At Madison Square Garden [2003]
Aloha From Hawaii
Promised Land
Moody Blue

Compilations:

White Christmas
Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits
Peace in the Valley [3CD]
The King Of Rock And Roll ? The Complete 50?s Masters [5CD]
From Nashville To Memphis ? The Essential 60?s Masters [5CD]
Walk A Mile In My Shoes ? The Essential 70?s Masters [5CD]

Focus Packages:

Sunrise [2 CD Set]
Jailhouse Rock/Love Me Tender
For The Asking (The Lost Album) [2003]
Tomorrow Is A Long Time
Tiger Man
Memories [2 CD Set]
Burning Love
An Afternoon In The Garden
Essential Elvis: The First Movies
Essential Elvis, Volume 2: Stereo ?57
Essential Elvis, Volume 3: Hits Like Never Before
Essential Elvis, Volume 4: A Hundred Years From Now
Essential Elvis, Volume 5: Rhythm and Country
Essential Elvis, Volume 6: Such A Night

Budget:

Great Country Songs
Heart & Soul
Can?t Help Falling In Love: The Hollywood Hits
A Rock ?n Roll CD
A Gospel CD

There are many reasons why the list I made is superior to the one BMG released. First of all, every master recording from the 1950?s is available; the entire sun sessions are available on ?Sunrise,? and all other masters are available on the original (now upgraded) albums. The use of original albums means that there is relatively very little overlap, and history is somewhat preserved. Secondly, every non-soundtrack, non-gospel master is available from the 1960?s on separate albums. In addition to that, all the released ?Comeback? music (save for the stuff on FTD?s ?Burbank ?68?) is available on two strong packages. An entire decade of Elvis? (non-soundtrack, studio) music is available on eleven CDs! The four upgraded albums from the ?70?s are also available, along with several strong live packages.

The ?Essential Elvis? series is also available. I did this for two reasons. The first is that these are in fact pretty strong albums and, on my list anyway, only one of few packages that contain alternate takes. The second reason is actually one that I think should span the entire catalogue: self-promotion. I would include an advertising sheet (in a similar style to the one for Elvis-Today that was included with ?Essential Elvis, Volume 6: Such A Night?), promoting the Follow That Dream label. After all, the people that are interested in buying these alternate takes will probably also like releases like ?Out In Hollywood? and ?Fame And Fortune.? For the other albums, I would include advertising for other (similar) albums on the above list. For example, with ?That?s The Way It Is? include a sheet that says: ?Like this album? Try Elvis Country.? Or alternatively, put a sticker on the case with such ads. After all, no one outside of the Elvis world can even name a single original Elvis album. Everyone knows the Beatles? ?White Album? and ?Sgt. Pepper?s? (even if they haven?t actually heard them), yet no one can name ?Elvis Is Back!? or ?From Elvis In Memphis.? With this mini-advertising on the albums, hopefully that can change over time.

One might notice that I included 1991?s ?For The Asking (The Lost Album),? which featured all non-soundtrack songs Elvis recorded in 1963. They were originally released as bonus songs on soundtracks at the time, but ? as was recently announced by FTD ? these albums won?t be available in stores. If ?For The Asking? were to be released again, this time with re-mastered sound, a nice eight-page booklet, and added artwork, it can be considered a strong fifteen-track prequel to ?Tomorrow Is A Long Time.?

In reference to BMG?s list, there are several other improvements. There is only one Christmas package, as opposed to three. There is one greatest hits package, as opposed to four. There are two gospel packages (?Peace In The Valley? and a budget CD), as opposed to five. There are seven multi-disc packages, as opposed to fifteen. Clearly, my new list is leaner, cleaner, and tighter. It includes more music on fewer albums, for less money. It contains most of Elvis? original albums, a key part in keeping Elvis? legacy going. This is what BMG should have done a long time ago.

The Ugly

As was to be expected there are several problems, even with my new list - some minor, some major. Let?s look at my list. First off, the lack of soundtrack albums is painfully apparent: of the thirty-one movies Elvis starred in, only five soundtrack albums would be available (plus the ?Can?t Help Falling In Love? CD). With the recent news that Follow That Dream is to release all (?) movie-soundtracks, what does that leave for the average consumer? I chose to keep all the ?50?s soundtracks, as well as the two that got a deluxe treatment: ?GI Blues? and ?Blue Hawaii.? I would only keep the deluxe versions, though, and remove the regular jewel-case versions. But is this enough? It?s true that some of Elvis? weakest music came from the soundtracks, but there were plenty of gems, too. When sticking strictly to the revised catalogue as above, the average consumer would never get to hear ?I Need Somebody To Lean On? or ?Change of Habit,? for example. It?s a real shame, but it?s a problem that is nearly impossible to solve when keeping the catalogue to fewer than fifty titles. Hopefully, with the aforementioned advertising (especially in ?Can?t Help Falling In Love? for the FTD soundtracks), this problem can be corrected over time with further exposure to the FTD label.

You may also notice that I included ?Elvis In Person? under ?Upgraded Albums.? Unfortunately, ?Elvis In Person? hasn?t been upgraded yet, but I think it should be. ?Elvis In Person? was a very strong album, and could easily be upgraded with a few live cuts, even if they?ve been released before. What about ?Rubberneckin?? from ?Collector?s Gold?? What about ?What?d I Say?? The original album had twelve songs, upgrading it to eighteen would be easy. (I included ?Elvis As Recorded At Madison Square Garden? there because a simple sound-upgrade is easily justified).

While we?re on the subject of 1969, the thirty-two studio masters need to be handled differently as well. BMG should delete the ?Suspicious Minds? 2-CD set, keep the upgraded ?From Elvis In Memphis,? and upgrade ?Back In Memphis? with the remaining six 1969 songs (?My Little Friend,? ?Rubberneckin?,? ?Hey Jude,? ?I?ll Be There,? ?Who Am I?? and ?If I?m A Fool For Loving You?), making for a total of sixteen tracks (compared to eighteen on ?From Elvis In Memphis?). As much as I love ?Suspicious Minds,? I think it needs to go. Priority should be given to preserving the original albums. One should understand the fact that the general public is not that interested in the alternate takes found on ?Suspicious Minds,? and its deletion would therefore be easily justified.

The biggest problems come when looking at the ?70?s recordings. It has long been known that this material hasn?t been given a lot of respect, and it becomes painfully obvious when making this list. Of the 118 secular masters that Elvis recorded between 1970 and 1976, only 66 have been released on original albums in upgraded form (?That?s The Way It Is,? ?Elvis Country,? ?Promised Land,? and ?Moody Blue?). Another nine songs were released on 1999?s ?Burning Love? CD (which is on the list as well), leaving a whopping 43 songs that were not remixed, and were not released on any CDs other than their original CD issues (?Love Letters From Elvis [1992],? ?Elvis Now [1993],? ?Elvis (The Fool Album)[1994],? ?Raised On Rock [1994],? ?Good Times [1994],? and ?Elvis Today [1992]?). The problem here is that these albums are too short to keep in the catalogue as full price albums, but to delete them without replacing them would leave almost four-dozen songs unavailable ? many that aren?t even on the ?Walk A Mile In My Shoes? set. There are three possible solutions that I can think of. One would be to release some sort of 2-CD package that only consists of these 43 songs. This would be an odd list of songs, however, considering it would consist of selections from 1970 through 1975 that are basically unrelated. The second option would be to release a new ?70?s box with these additional songs on them. But as has become apparent over the years, this is not an idea that BMG is likely to go for. The third option would be to combine some of these albums into one CD (much like was done with ?From Elvis Presley Boulevard? and ?Moody Blue,? and ?Good Times? and ?Promised Land? respectively). There are two problems with above approaches, however. First of all, new fans wouldn?t be able to experience the original albums as they were released originally ? releasing these songs on new albums is really changing history. Secondly, these options would require releasing even more CD?s ? a solution that is the exact opposite of what this lean set of 48 is supposed to accomplish.

Who Needs Money?

Despite what we may wish to be the case, not everyone is willing to pay full price for an artist they have heard so many negative things about. I agree with BMG that there should be budget CDs, but not too many. There have been so many budget releases over the years (that are all the same), that BMG needs to delete them all and stick to about four or five. We need only one ?Love Songs? collection (the recently re-released ?Heart And Soul?), only one country compilation (the recently re-released ?Great Country Songs?), only one rock and roll album (perhaps the recent ?Elvis ?56,? although it obviously doesn?t contain any rock and roll beyond 1956), and one gospel CD. As a brief overview of Elvis? movie soundtracks, I?d also include the recently re-released ?Can?t Help Falling In Love.?

What Now, What Next, Where To?

As is obvious by now, the poor catalogue organization that has been apparent over the last 25 years has finally taken its toll. It is certainly a great step forward to see what BMG is doing, but it?s clearly a flawed one. If an improvement like this is to take place successfully, BMG needs to make a list like I did (with ?only? 48 albums), or something very similar to it. We need to preserve history by keeping the original albums as much as we can, while adding value, and increasing the availability of Elvis? music. This includes NOT releasing a sequel to ?30 #1 Hits.? I am not a business man by any means, but it is my strong belief that BMG would be better off either promoting ?Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits? again this holiday season, or giving some promotion to the other releases (that are relatively unknown). I hope someone at BMG reads this, and decides to alter their plans. If the plans they made are to be followed, Elvis? legacy is in serious trouble. And so is everyone willing to buy his music in the years to come.

Lonniebealestreet
12-16-2004, 07:25 PM
Sort of old news, but lots of great points. I'd hate to be without E2 right now though!

Maybe somebody at Sony will read this and give it some thought.

Albert
12-17-2004, 12:54 AM
I wonder how much of all those re-re-re-released 'best of' compilations are actually bought buy non-Elvisfans (the target of those releases). I have the feeling that most of those CD's are bought by the Elvisfans, while that's not the purpose of those releases.

By keep on buying those 'best of' albums, only because of the different hustle of songs and a different cover, keep supporting BMG making these foolish decisions.

The Beatles have it simple: all original albums, a few boxsets, the great anthology series and the blue/red 2CD sets as best-ofs. Currently they also have their own 'Number Ones' album, which can be considered as a good start to begin your collection. A 'Greatest Hits' album should be considered as a businesscard, not as a simple moneycow. A business that keep on changing their businesscard may be considered as unreliable or insecure of their own capability. Pretty sums up BMG's approach towards their Elvis catalogue.

rockinrebel
12-18-2004, 11:54 AM
I wonder how much of all those re-re-re-released 'best of' compilations are actually bought buy non-Elvisfans (the target of those releases). I have the feeling that most of those CD's are bought by the Elvisfans, while that's not the purpose of those releases.

By keep on buying those 'best of' albums, only because of the different hustle of songs and a different cover, keep supporting BMG making these foolish decisions.

The Beatles have it simple: all original albums, a few boxsets, the great anthology series and the blue/red 2CD sets as best-ofs. Currently they also have their own 'Number Ones' album, which can be considered as a good start to begin your collection. A 'Greatest Hits' album should be considered as a businesscard, not as a simple moneycow. A business that keep on changing their businesscard may be considered as unreliable or insecure of their own capability. Pretty sums up BMG's approach towards their Elvis catalogue.

I posted about this recently on the FECC message board. RCA/BMG’s release policy in terms of the new mainstream releases is extremely cynical and in my opinion they are very much aware that the majority of the people buying these album are the fans that already own the material countless times over.

I also think these albums have a detrimental effect on the way Elvis is perceived artistically. The fact the Elvis section in most major record stores consists of numerous compilations that reprise the same songs whilst albums such as “Elvis Is Back” and “Elvis Country” are nowhere to be seen sends out the wrong messages in my opinion.

I have spoken to many people over the years that aren’t ardent fans but do like Elvis’ music, and they normally say things like, “I’ve got all of Elvis’ best recordings” when referring to the hits and love songs compilations that they own. I’ve often responded to this buy providing them with a CDR featuring lesser known highlights from Elvis’ career, and the general response to this has been “I never knew he recorded so many great songs”, which is understandable really when the same 30 – 40 songs are constantly promoted and re-issued again and again.

The release policy also means that even for the people that want to buy a greatest hits package it is hard for them to identify the definitive collection in terms of sound and content. Whilst RCA/BMG keep churning out compilations it seems that the older releases like “Artist Of The Century” and “The Essential Collection” are also still available, which is not only confusing for the casual buyer, but is also another reason why the mainstream catalogue is in such a mess.

I can’t understand why BMG can’t decide on a definitive hits package and then re-promote this whenever they feel it is necessary. Albums like The Beatles red and blue collections and Bob Marley’s “Legend” have been around so long now that they are regarded as classic albums in their own right, but this doesn’t happen with Elvis as BMG are constantly issuing new compilations that aren’t necessarily better than the old ones.

Look at “Christmas Peace” for example. The sound quality may have been improved upon, but as the earlier collection “If Every Day Was Like Christmas” includes the complete Christmas masters, it is inevitable that there will be another Christmas album at some point with the complete Christmas masters in improved sound, and the majority of the people that buy this release will be the fans that have bought all the other Christmas releases. Would it matter to the casual buyer if “If Every Day Was Like Christmas” was re-promoted rather than BMG issuing a new collection? I don’t think so, but as I said earlier BMG are very much aware that many Elvis collectors will buy everything that the label puts out, and it seems to me that they are quite happy to take full advantage of this.

Jungleroom76
12-18-2004, 06:06 PM
but as I said earlier BMG are very much aware that many Elvis collectors will buy everything that the label puts out, and it seems to me that they are quite happy to take full advantage of this.

I COULDN'T AGREE WITH YOUR LAST STATEMENT MORE, ROCKIN' REBEL!!! (y)

I understand completely that RCA, EPE, etc. are all in business to make money....and I have no problem with that...after all, that is what business is for! But what I DO have a problem with is when these companies take advantage of the fans!! As Rockin' Rebel pointed out, RCA is very much aware that the fans will buy everything they release and they have no problem exploiting that point to the fullest!

CLASSIC CASE IN POINT....the new "re-re-releases" that are coming out in January of ELVIS, ELVIS PRESLEY and LOVING YOU. It's only been a few years since these albums were upgraded and released, and now they are being "re-re-released" with new and improved sound, using the DSD technology! I have a REAL problem with RCA asking fans to purchase these CD's all over again, just to get the "improved" sound! Now, I realize that RCA isn't going to put a gun to everyone's head demanding that they buy these new "re-re-releases" and that the choice whether to buy these CD's is ultimately in the hands of the fans themselves....but wouldn't the money being used to release these new upgraded CD's be better spent on another all-new project? Something that the established fans can get excited about, while bringing a new generation of fans into the mix at the same time?

I just don't understand the whole concept of RCA's commitment to only having 50 Elvis titles in their active catalog at any one time. I guess I can understand their desire to trim down their production of Elvis titles that aren't the biggest sellers. But why limit the list of active titles to 50? Why not let the sales of each individual title establish which titles stay on the active list, and which ones are deleted? And why do we need to have 4 gospel titles on this list? Since PEACE IN THE VALLEY - THE COMPLETE GOSPEL RECORDINGS is considered to be the "definitive" gospel compilation, then why are the original HIS HAND IN MINE CD, HOW GREAT THOU ART CD and AMAZING GRACE 2-CD package still on the list? Isn't one gospel title enough? That way, if RCA was determined to keep their list of active Elvis titles at a strict 50, then you could use the space those 3 redundant gospel titles are taking up for other albums that have been deleted. Another one that is a bit confusing is why RCA chose to have BOTH of their versions of the ARTIST OF THE CENTURY box set on the list....if RCA insists on keeping AOTC on the list, then keep the international version with the 5 extra songs and delete the other one. Or better yet...DELETE both of the sets, as they don't contain anything which can't be found on other CD's, and use those additional 2 spaces for other CD's which have been deleted. And, since RCA is keeping the SUSPICIOUS MINDS 2-CD set on the list, why is FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS still on the list? Delete FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS, and that opens up yet another space for a deleted CD to be returned to the active list.

Using the example above, RCA would be able to open up 6 of their 50 spaces and could use those 6 spaces to reinstate the ESSENTIAL ELVIS series to their active catalog, which I think deserves to be included in their active catalog. Since the ESSENTIAL ELVIS series was designed to give fans a look into how Elvis worked in the studio, I would think this would be a series worth keeping on their active list!

Anyway....sorry to ramble a bit here....just some of my thoughts about this whole situation!! :blink:

TCB!
Mike

rockinrebel
12-19-2004, 10:13 AM
It seems to me that the decision to trim the catalogue wasn’t properly thought through. The catalogue could be reduced to 50 albums, and there would still be room for most of the masters to remain available, but all BMG have done is delete a number of titles without considering the effect this has had on the way Elvis is perceived by the general public, or whether his key recordings are still available.

As a result of this the gospel, Christmas and tried and tested hits collections are available several times over, whilst classic titles like ”Elvis Is Back” and “Elvis Country” are nowhere to be seen. As an Elvis fan it’ disappointing that classic works by other artists such as “Pet Sounds”, Revolver” and “Blond on Blonde” are widely available and prominently displayed in my local records stores, whilst the Elvis section is a mess, and is mainly made up of compilations that reprise the same material over and over.

There have been many posts about this on various messages boards, and I was really hoping this was something BMG will look at, as the problem really does need addressing, but with forthcoming titles like the awful “Love Elvis” it doesn’t look as though the situation is going to change any time soon.

Also with the re-issue of three classic titles in the New Year, it would be helpful if there were a statement from BMG with regards to their plans for the rest of the catalogue. Are all the albums going to get the DSD treatment or is the haphazard policy of re-issuing some titles whilst ignoring others going to continue?

The albums that remain on the current catalogue range from relatively recent upgrades to titles that were first issued in the early ‘90’s that are crying out for the upgrade treatment in terms of sound, bonus material and packaging, and we are not just talking about so called ‘lesser’ albums here. Titles such as “Elvis In Person” and “As Recorded Live at Madison Square Garden” are still only available in their original ‘Elvis in the ‘90’s’ releases, and it goes without saying that these could and should be improved upon, whilst the classic titles I mentioned earlier were given the upgrade treatment, and then mysteriously disappeared from the catalogue. An artist of Elvis’ stature really does deserve better from his record company, and I think it is time that the fans were told about BMG’s future plans. They found a new audience with “ELV1S” and “Second To None”, but they aren’t going to keep these people interested if the only ideas they can come up with is to try to sell them the same songs over and over again.