Top 20 Great British Bands

Published: 19th Mar, 2012

Yeah, afraid not lads

The debate has been raging for months and years and will go on literally until the end of time, but I’ve finally cracked it – I’ve compiled a list of the Top 20 Great British Bands of all time… according to me. It was a painful, emotional and often unnerving experience, as I watched groups that  I adore trundle along the imaginary conveyor belt in my mind, only to clumsily fall off like overfilled cardboard boxes right at the very end. Amongst them The Rah Band who could boogie with the best of them at one point, Dexys Midnight Runners who were consistently excellent, Massive Attack who provided anthems for 1990s dope smokers, The Jam, The Smiths, New Order. Loose Ends. The Shadows. Average White Band. I secretly like Duran Duran and The Pasedenas. Even Wham! One of my guilty pleasures is Young Guns by Wham! I fucking love that track. But in the end I got there. You won’t find Coldplay, Keane, Radiohead, Blur or Oasis in this list. Basically because I don’t like those groups. Neither will you find Queen on account of me not standing them, which is unusual…

1. Small Faces

Small Faces

The greatest band of them all for so many reasons. They dressed in fine outfits made from continental thread, they weren’t alarmingly tall which is neither here nor there, but most importantly they made great tunes, made even better on account of Steve Marriott having the howliest British rock roar of all time. When Marriott eventually flounced off, they famously dropped the Small and employed a guy with a dreadful cough called Rod Stewart.

2. The Beatles

The Beatles

Everyone likes The Beatles. Everyone. Even people who go on about how much they hate The Beatles secretly get home every night and dance naked in front of a mirror to Twist and Shout or Hey Jude. They’re just really bloody excellent, even Ringo who had a foghorn voice and was hilariously considered the twelfth best drummer in the band. Both Revolver and Rubber Soul would make my all-time top 100 albums list. The below track, however, features on neither of those records.

3. The Specials

The Specials

For those who don’t remember 2-Tone, it involved wearing clothes that were a touch too tight and running on the spot to reggae played a touch too fast. So in short, it was fucking amazing, and of the swathes of bands that bum rushed the charts this one was the best. Their presence here means there’s no room for Madness, The Selecter, or Bad Manners. Although there never would have been room for Bad Manners anyway. No offense.

4. The Kinks


The quintessential English band, that’s what everyone says about The Kinks. They’d sing about things like sipping a cup of tea and bonking the vicar’s wife, or about a buxom man-women they met in a seedy Soho coffee shop. All with a wry smile, a cheeky wink, and a fist punched into the crease in their forearm accompanied by a big chorus of “phwoooar look at the arse on that!”. Without them we wouldn’t have bands like Blur, which may or may not be a good thing. It would mean no almighty cheese prick Alex James. Yeah, perhaps we hate The Kinks. Actually no, we love them. Sorry.

5. Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath

Before he married a frumpy lady in a floor length Laura Ashley frock who was the opposite of his usual crumpet called Sharon Arden, Ozzy Osbourne was in a band called Black Sabbath, and they were really really fucking loud. So loud your ears would actually grow skin over them during the course of an album. So loud that voices in your head would start to exist just to tell them to stop. So loud that you wouldn’t hear an explosion unless it was actually in your face. So loud that they keep other heavy rock bands like Motorhead, Iron Maiden and the Zep out of the top 20. Which is ridiculous when you think about it, because the Zep were AMAZING and should definitely be on this list. And yet they’re not.

6. The Rolling Stones

Rolling Stones

Old Rubber-Face and the girls have been around so long and now look so old and decrepit like a collection of line drawings wearing suits that it’s hard to remember that when they were younger they were great looking like hot European chicks and innovative like serious German scientists. They were dangerous innovators and over the years they have produced some outstanding music moments.

7. The Jesus and Mary Chain

Jesus and Mary Chain

Don’t be fooled by the strange pissing noises and the fact these guys look precisely like glue sniffers, they’re the real deal. They’re artistes, which is French for artists. They’re also Scotiche, which is French for Scottish. The below clip comes with an introduction from the original Pixie Geldof – Paula Yates.

8. Cymande


As funk bands go, the US had it nailed, but Cymande could go toe to toe with any one of them in the 1970s. Formed in London in 1971, they’re still going, and if you listen to this stuff for long enough your trousers morph into flared jeans and some wicked sideburns just appear from nowhere.

9. The Who

The Who

If it’s a loud 1960s mod band with buckets of attitude you’re after, try The Who. If you’re looking for solid 1970s rock featuring a man who was separated at birth from Kevin Keegs, try The Who. In the mood for a rock opera?…. you’re probably starting to get the gist of this. Like it when songs start all teasingly slow and then suddenly feature aggressive guitar licks and mad drum skills? I’m doing it again aren’t I?

10. The Style Council

Style Council

The debate will rage until the planet finally explodes itself on account of global warming, but who is better, The Jam or The Style Council? Both Paul Weller groups, they divide people. One were all jackets and haircuts, the other soft synths, a bit of sax, and men looking like they’d oiled up and recreated Brideshead Revisited. In my case, I like to take The Jam from October to March, then from April to September I prefer The Style Council. At the moment, I’m in an April kind of mood what with it actually being April, so you do the math(s).

11. The Coral

The Coral

Merseyside has a great tradition in churning out fantastic pop groups, and these cheeky chappies follow in a great tradition that follows The Beatles, The Farm, The Boo Radley’s and Cast. Yes, most of the bands just mentioned are utter shit. That was the joke. These guys aren’t though, hence why they keep The Zutons, The Las and all manner of other floppy haircuts in tight jeans out of this line up.

12. Gang of Four

Gang of Four

Time was when you could go for a job interview in a stuffy office working for THE MAN during the afternoon, then head off to perform your political socialist mantras on The Old Grey Whistle Test in the evening without bothering to change outfits. Above are post-punkers Gang of Four. A band that keeps Orange Juice, The Pop Group and Magazine out of the running for reasons of being ever so slightly better.

13. Soul II Soul

Soul II Soul

Jazzie B is the only human being who has ever dared to pick up a keyboard/guitar without looking like the world’s most stupid prick. Hence Soul II Soul keeps Young Disciples, Freeez, and Loose Ends out of the running. Just.

14. The Clash

The Clash

Probably three of the greatest front men of all time stuck into a single band, Jones, Simonon and Strummer were like three Springsteens, only not quite so palatable in a good way. The Clash were also the pick of the 1970s British punk bands, so they keep The Damned and the Sex Pistols off the list.

15. Arctic Monkeys

Arctic Monkeys

Definitely the most current band on the list, Arctic Monkeys are continuing the trend of nifty bands coming out of the Northern city of Sheffield, which is famous for making steel and generally being an incredibly depressing place for everyone involved – ABC, Pulp, Heaven 17, The Human League. Of that lot, these guys are possibly the best. They can’t quite beat local legend Joe Cocker though. Not yet.

16. Aswad


As a band, Aswad were far better than their international saccharine smash Don’t Turn Around would have you believe. An excellent, excellent reggae group, with an occasional singing drummer thrown in to boost them up to Warp Factor A Million on the Wicked-o-Metre. They keep UB40 out of the Top 20.

17. The Slits

The Slits

Long before The Spice Girls, Girls Aloud, The Saturdays, The Sundays, The Mondays, Little Mix and One Direction girl groups were already going super strong in the UK. Look at The Slits – below in 1979. Their lead singer Ari Up invented a revolutionary one-legged dance, which she’d occasionally practice in one of London’s many parks.

18. The Stone Roses


For a strange period in the 1990s, everyone thought it was cool to talk in a Manchester accent and walk around like a really arrogant version of Charlie Chaplin with their feet pointing in opposite directions. That was entirely thanks to the Madchester explosion that started when these guys detonated a pop-funk-dance-rock bomb and ended when the shaved gorillas in Oasis started throwing their weight around because they’d just that minute taken a bunch of coke. Oasis didn’t make the list.

19. Echo and the Bunnymen

Echo and the bunnymen

Although as a child the bitter disappointment of not seeing a rabbit on guitar or a big brown hare on drums would have me shouting and throwing bricks at the TV whenever these guys were on Top of the Pops, you just can’t fault them as a band. They’ve got all the ingredients: a guy on guitar, someone singing, a bloke playing bass, a wild feral animal smashing around on the drums. They keep The Smiths and The Cure out of the running.

20. Public Image Ltd

Public Image Ltd

Johhny Rotten’s second most famous band, but my favourite of the two – they had a slightly less shouty thing happening, and proved once and for all that Rotten really can’t sing. Not that it matters.

Josh Burt
About the author:
Josh has been a writer and journalist for the best part of twenty years and has written for modern staples like FHM and Cosmopolitan and The Daily Telegraph and The Sun. He has also written a small handful of so-so books that you can still buy.

80 Responses to Top 20 Great British Bands

  1. Avatar TheClashBlog says:

    Some truly brilliant bands ~ not sure if these were in order (Clash should be top 4) but 20 great picks all the same!


  2. Avatar alan says:

    I think Radiohead should have been included as I am part of the Interestment family!!!

  3. Avatar Sportin' Jenny says:

    Oh, yeah. Small Faces, number one, hands down. Americans – and anyone else unlucky enough to have missed them – please give them a youtube around and again. You will not believe what you’ve missed!

  4. Avatar Rob says:

    Where is the Cure??

  5. Avatar Jayhawk says:

    wow, get me trash can to puke in. I think I’ll go listen to Led Zeppelin Radiohead and Pink Floyd now just to flush out the memory of this disgusting list.

  6. Avatar Timbo says:

    Great list. Small Faces number 1, Beatles number 2. Sorry, Liverpool lads, you were great, but the little cockney mod rockers were just a wee bit better. They had Steve Marriott.

  7. Avatar Bryan says:

    Any list that ranks Small Faces higher than the Beatles and excludes those posers Oasis is okay in my book. But the Clash should be in the top 5 as well.

  8. Avatar John hun says:

    Umm what about OASIS

  9. Avatar Roxy VAriant says:

    No Pink Floyd??? Damn..

  10. Avatar Pans says:

    This list is beyond a joke.
    No Led Zeppelin, Oasis, blur, Genesis or Queen. Yet you have “trendy” but ultimately inferior bands like The Slits, The Specials, Arctic Monkeys and (lol XD) Aswad!!
    It’s obvious the author has created this list to create a reaction, and he’s succeded…..but as a seroius list it’s dog poo.

  11. Avatar Woohoo says:

    Oasis should be there!!No radiohead,blur,smiths,dire straits,pink floyd????.this sucks

  12. Avatar Hyper_Mused says:

    Excuse me? Have you not HEARD of Muse? The single most incredible band on this universe? Oh, obviously not. Since they’re not fricking on here. I’m incredibly disappointed in your choices.

  13. Avatar Sudip says:

    What about Cream, Traffic, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton??

  14. Avatar McDonough says:

    WHERE are bloody Led Zep, Muse, Oasis and Radiohead?

  15. Avatar joe says:

    this list sucks im glad the who and some others were in it but i agree with jayhawk

  16. Avatar Lee says:

    What a load of shite. I agree with some bands making the list but to put bands like the Arctic Monkeys and others in there ahead of Oasis to me proves you just probably don’t like them. Sort your head out son!

  17. Avatar Rob says:

    What happened to Queen??? I thought that they were quite good or am I mistaken?

  18. Avatar Amy Connor says:

    Where are Oasis?! and Kasabian! Madness? The smiths! The Verve?

  19. Avatar Matt Ames says:

    Aswad! Aswad? Are you for real? Where are all the real British Bands? Roxy Music, Led Zep, Fleetwood Mac, Kate Bush, Madness (even)?
    Style Council ahead of Jam? Eh? Really?
    Soul II Soul???!!!
    PIL before Sex Pistols?????

    I know music is subjective but PLEASE do some research!!!

  20. josh josh says:

    Wow – a lively debate! And a good one. Some decent shouts here. Matt Ames, being that I own records by every band you have mentioned, I can safely say that my research has been done. I just prefer the other 20. I’m sorry about that.

  21. Avatar Me name is booboo says:

    Queen are the biggest sellers in Britain, yet not on this list.

    That’s a fail on your part.

  22. F**K THIS LIST!!!! Where’s is PINK FLOYD you morons???!!!

  23. Avatar haha says:

    The awkward moment when i realized that oasis are not on this list……..

  24. Avatar Paul says:

    My God ! Where is Led Zeppelin ? R u nuts ?

  25. Avatar WinstonMarshallsWife says:

    Uuuuuuuuh MUMFORD & SONS?!?!?!

  26. Avatar Sam says:

    No Dire Straits?! No Pink Floyd?! No Queen?! No Clapton?! AND NO LED ZEPPELIN?!

    Very interesting list though. Particularly The Clash and The Kinks who I love. However, there are too many major absences and some extremely odd inclusions to take this list too seriously!

  27. Avatar Mirra says:

    And…..where is DEPECHE MODE??????????????????????????? They should be number one!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I think they are the best band not only in UK, but in the Universe!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! DEPECHE MODE- I ADORE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! DEPECHE MODE IS THE BEST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! DEPECHE MODE’S MUSIC IS THE MOST WONDERFUL, BEAUTIFUL AND INCREDIBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  28. Avatar Sam says:

    This is literally a pathetic list. First off, the Beatles are #1. Period. Stop trying to be different. If you don’t get that, you don’t get the progression of pop music from the 50s to the 60s. That simple. Christ, no Led Zeppelin? No Smiths? Oasis I can understand since they released two fantastic albums and then a bunch of mediocre stuff. Rolling Stones are #2. Period. Let It Bleed and Exile are better than any album by any other band up there except for The Beatles and London Calling by the Clash. Complete joke list. No Pink Floyd? No Jam? Radiohead? We get it, you’re hipsters. You’re also laughable.

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    Thirty years since the band originally formed, this exhibition presents a portrait of The Smiths, the northern city that influenced so much of their music and the ensuing ‘Madchester’ scene that followed their split in ’87. Alongside photographs of the band, this exhibition boasts a collection of stark, melancholy cityscapes which capture the cultural, social and political climate that gave birth to Indie music.

    There will be an exclusive private view of the exhibition at Proud Camden on Thursday 31st May from 6.00pm – 8.00pm. This is an RSVP only event, to guarantee a place on the guest list please send your name to [email protected]

  30. totally dog shit list. Your reasons for leaving out certain bands are shit- everything about it stinks of dogs……

  31. Avatar Kiran says:

    It would have been much appreciated if the list would have gone by the popularity and achievments rather than the personal favs.

  32. Avatar JG says:

    The Beatles are practically unanimously number 1. Always. You can’t possibly mess that up, can you?

    The Rolling Stones come with little dispute at number 2.

    Those two are like standard picking.

    Third spot starts to get a little more complicated, but to be honest I really can’t think of any other band greater than Led Zeppelin to occupy the third spot.

    All the rest is arguable because it will depend on the factors you’d consider more important. Big dispute amongst names like Pink Floyd, U2, The Who, Queen, The Clash and Black Sabbath.

    Some were extremely important and had a huge grounbreaking impact and revolutionized music, but weren’t as successful and longevus. Others were extremely influential and innovative, but not as popular and remained kind of dated.

    But yeah, the 3 undisputed names will always be The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, as far as I can see it… they’re in a different league because they combine all the factors better than anyone else, which leaves very little room for weak spots to counter their position.

    I can point out some big mistakes on this list. 😉

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  34. Avatar Pans says:

    This is like a list a music snob/hipster would come up with.

    If we’re judging talent by songwriting quality then i feel Genesis, Oasis, Pink Floyd, blur and Led Zeppelin are bands that should be on the list and better imo than 90% of the bands here.

    Check out Paste Magazine’s top 50 British artists, that’s a truly diabolical list as well.

  35. Avatar Jid186 says:

    This list to me is an abortion. And i might be about to say this because i’m biased but i believe the who should come top 3 atleast i mean the music they produced revolutionised music in every aspect i mean they were incredibly influential and extremely experimental too so in my opinion that deserves to make them ALOT higher than number 9 – what an insult.
    Also there’s no dire straits? no queen? no led zepellin? either your severly deluded or don’t get the jist of what this list should be about which really should be the BEST bands, the bands that actually produced decent music and inspired others and changed the music scene and propelled it into a different direction.

  36. Avatar Mary says:

    This list is a joke. Where are Dire Straits,The Police,The Cure, Oasis, Coldplay, Muse, Radiohead, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Depeche Mode…ahm LED ZEPPELIN, QUEEN, PINK FLOYD ?! On what universe does Arctic Monkeys belong on this list ?…

  37. Avatar Willo says:

    Queen, Deep Purple & Judus priest for me should be here. & really disagree witht he order.

  38. Avatar Amanda says:


  39. Avatar Julian says:

    Dude what the hell? Where’s the adicts or the sex pistols?

  40. Avatar My list owns says:

    The Beatles are out of anyone’s league, so I won’t even bother to list them on top.

    1 – The Rolling Stones
    2 – Led Zeppelin
    3 – Pink Floyd
    4 – Queen
    5 – The Who
    6 – The Clash
    7 – The Kinks
    8 – Cream
    9 – Black Sabbath
    10 – The Police

  41. Avatar jamo says:

    Where the hell are the Sex pistols?

  42. Avatar aaron says:

    I think he intentionally left bands out that are like recycled teabags. He replaced the good boring bands for the sake of making the list a bit different, who wants to see another list full of old boring farts whose music has reached its expiry date

  43. Avatar georges says:

    iron maiden.they’re british not mongolian,it’s a shame u did not mention them in this list

  44. Avatar Douglas says:

    No Yardbirds???????? Lol…

  45. Avatar Rich says:

    Arctic Monkeys? Please. They suck and that’s not even an opinion. Half the list is C-grade also-rans. Plus more glaring omissions than I have the space to type. It’s a list that says, “Hey, look what shitty taste in music I have!”

  46. Avatar Someday says:

    Really? Beatles and Rolling stones are the top two! Radiohead, Led Zepplin and Oasis need to be here!

  47. Avatar sandy says:

    the should include Pink Floyd with how many albums they have sold

  48. Avatar Russ says:

    Depeche Mode

    Still toegther after 30 years

    Sold 120 million records

    Still play regularly to audiences of up to 70,000

    Have their own original sound

    Popular around the world not just the English speaking world.

    Obviously bands like the Specials, Echo and the Bunny men, the slits etc are hugely more poplar and influential ha ha. This is just another list based on nothing more than the writers personal choice

  49. Avatar Ali says:

    Joy Division – All Day Long!

  50. Avatar Ken says:

    1. Pink Floyd
    2.The Smiths
    3.The Who
    4.The Beatles
    6.Led zeppelin
    7.The Kinks
    8.The Rolling stones
    9.The Clash
    10. Sex Pistols

  51. Avatar Mike says:

    This is disgusting, a few good bands… but to not recognise Pink Floyd and Dire Straits on this list just shows how little the publisher knows about music.

  52. Avatar Dire Straits says:

    I agree with Mike, what about Dire Straits ?

  53. Avatar Nello says:

    Beatles should be number 1 instead of small faces, and Iron Maiden, Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Judas Priest should all be in the list too. This is definitely just a list someones favorites instead of the 20 best British bands.

  54. Avatar kshitijs says:

    you did`nt put in sum 41 ,greenday,owl city or plain white`s .These are such good bands

  55. Avatar Pedro says:

    Hi. I’d like to pose a question that is a major mistery to me. Seriously. I’m a big fan of british music since childhood. If we rank pop-rock music by nationality, no country can beat or even touch the mastership and inspiration of the Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin, Nick Drake, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Queen and a very-very long etc. Now the point is that I’ve been in England 4 times. Man, I don’t want to offend you but really: what a grey, depressing, angry, heartless and boring country I met. It’s not only the weather. People there is like “don’t touch me”, cold pragmatic machines that only look almost human when high on alcohol . I *really* cannot understand where does come from all the talent and the empathy and the love and the cleverness I get from all these british pop-rock songs. Did your island change a lot since the 60s..? Did I miss something? Am I just an ignorant bastard?

  56. Avatar Kae says:

    Where are The Kooks ?!?!?!?!?!

  57. Avatar DeamonDude says:

    Terrible list, and just to think that Queen isn’t there makes it one of the worst.

  58. Avatar jane doe says:

    Can’t believe you left Yes off of the list. Obvviously you have no musical taste. You didn’t even list the Beatles at #1. WOW you need to learn what good music really is..

  59. Avatar dan says:

    How can you suggest bogan bands like yes, dire straights or any pink floyd hippy shite .. losers

    i like this list , it makes sense to anyone with an ounce of musical interest..
    hippy’s fuck off .. and again fuck off ..

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  61. Avatar diamond says:

    you guys such

  62. Avatar Jennifer says:

    The Small Faces are the greatest band in British rock history, it’s true. They looked perfect; all 5’4″ and mod perfection from the barnets on the top of their small heads right down to the dyed desert boots on their little feet. And how that incredible voice came out of Marriott’s tiny body remains a mystery right up there with the origins of Stonehenge.

    Anyone who has not listened to their amazing body of work is missing out on something very special indeed.

  63. Avatar gerardo aldana says:

    I like how you tried to sound all hipster and you failed misserably… horrrible list

  64. Avatar 2rin says:

    They are rock /m\

  65. Avatar king says:

    WTF!!! where is queen, muse and coldplay!!!!!

  66. Avatar Jonny says:

    The Beatles should obviously be number one, and no Led Zep is a glaringly bad omission. Though i know this list is purely subjective. But suggestions of Coldplay, The Kooks, Dire Straits…Sum 41 and Green Day are not British, and shouldnt get in any all time top 20 anyhow…naff!!

  67. Avatar Jonny says:

    was gonna add that the suggestions of Coldplay, Kooks and Dire Straits are worrying lol

  68. Avatar Y U GUYS NO LIKE QUEEN?? says:

    GUYS!!!!!! QUEEN!!!!!

  69. Avatar ilold says:

    LOL, he didn’t even INCLUDE Deep Purple on a list of 20 great british bands. I really laughed out load at that 😀

  70. Avatar Danny says:

    Where the fuck are Muse, Pink Floyd, Queen, The Smiths, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, Kaiser Chiefs, Duran Duran, Blur, or Oasis??
    This list is possibly the worst I’ve ever known and what moron puts THE BEATLES #2? Clearly no showing off what a tasteless cunt you are. Utter bollocks!

  71. Avatar Casey says:

    Arseholes who say arctic monkeys don’t belong here. They’re an amazing band that took influence from other groups like Franz Ferdinand and oasis .
    I love them… Mainly cause I’m from “up north” too
    Ok maybe AM isn’t as good as their previous albums and I assume most of you lot have only heard their most recent songs. If you took some time to listen to songs like ‘when the Sun goes down’ and ‘don’t sit down cause I’ve moved your chair’ you might find their better than you think 🙂
    Person who wrote this, I love your taste in music I’d maybe add the kooks and muse but their my personal opinions

  72. Avatar Dave says:

    How the fuck can you have The Coral, but not T-Rex?

  73. Avatar Shipon Kader says:

    No Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin….i think its because this 2 will be in the list of all time top 3 Bands of the WORLD, not in UK! This Chart is interesting enough to be a JOKE! ! !

  74. Avatar Jimi Mac says:

    Really… The band that outsold both The Rolling Stones and The Beatles combined in 1969 is not included in this list? That’s just wrong! Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, while short-lived is one of the best and most influential British Bands of all time!!!

  75. Avatar Richard Astley says:

    Where are New Order, Genesis and The Outfield? And what about Brother Beyond?

  76. Avatar Mo says:

    The Human League
    Freddie Mercury
    Tears for Fears
    Kate Bush

  77. Avatar TicketSelect says:

    Where is Pink Floyd, Dire Straits ??!! I don’t believe you missed them

  78. Avatar Donna M E says:

    Thank you, enjoyed your choices and your reasoning improved this Thursday morning. I am also astonished that readers seem to miss the point of this being “your choices” and not theirs – we do not all have to agree guys

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