Unfinished Sympathy, or, more on the Track 6 Theory

Last week I wrote a post that purported to be about how to write a post.

That was really a fudge. In reality, it wasn’t a guide to writing a post, or not in a step-by-step manner, anyway. It was about how a completely trivial idea can sit with you for years, floating around in the muddle of thoughts and ideas in your brain, and then pop up one day in the form of something that you decide to try and write about. That is often true of a meaningful idea, sure, but hopefully I illustrated that it can also be true for a silly, inconsequential thought that you should have forgotten about 20 years ago.

The idea I wrote about was, that on many of my albums, track number 6 seems to be my favourite track. That thought came to me in about 1992, around the time I was listening to Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack, from their album Blue Lines.

As I said, not a meaningful thought by any stretch of the imagination. However I did my best to stretch this banal thought into an amusing piece of writing by using the model of a scientific study, although that in itself turned out to be inconclusive due to the size of the data.

But I’ve been bothered by aspects of this post, and today, I feel that I have to write a follow up post, to apologise to all the scientists that closely follow this blog, for the sloppiness of my scientific methodology.

It’s no excuse, I know, but as often happens, I’d spent a few hours on that post, it was 11.30pm as I was finishing it up, I was aware that it was becoming way too long, and I needed to round it off. My friends, in these circumstances, who among us does not occasionally wrap up a post as quickly as possible without due rigour to scientific process or any other process? But even as I was writing the final sentences in that post, all the flaws in my “scientific study” were making themselves apparent to me. At that point, though, I just wanted to publish the damn thing and go to bed, and to hell with how accurate it was, a sentiment that I’m sure investigative journalists working for the BBC can sympathise with.

Now, by “flaws,” I don’t mean the central fact that my “scientific study” was an examination into the frequency of track number 6 being my favourite track on a random selection of albums. I was aware that my “study” was of no significance to society. I was quite prepared to accept that it would NOT be written up in New Scientist magazine, or even in Smash Hits magazine, any time soon.

What I mean by “flaws,” is that I’m aware that the best creative writing is rigorous in its process – for example, if putting together a parody of a scientific study, a good writer would probably research scientific methodology  and make sure that the study followed that process as much as possible. Mine was written up lazily, without even peeking into my daughter’s year 9 science textbooks for help.

Of course one of those flaws was the tiny sample size of 16 albums, but that was a creative decision. I restricted the sample for the sake of the post, because I was presenting it as a list, and there were limits to how much interest a list of songs was going to retain if it got much longer. It was also time consuming, as, in some cases, I had to put albums on to decide between tracks that were competing for favourite.

Another flaw I became aware of was that I should have noted the number of my favourite track when it wasn’t track 6. That way, the study would have recorded whether any other track numbers were favourites more often than track 6. Mathematically, (could there be any other way?) the odds of that seem unlikely. So the study seems to suggest that track 6 could well be most often my favourite track, however with a sample size of only 16 albums I had to determine that this was inconclusive.

graph track 6

Some scientific rigour: a graph representing the instances of track 6 being favoured, or “other” track being favoured.

Another of the flaws in my study, which I only realised afterwards, was subjectivity. Of course, the question of a “favourite” track is entirely subjective. My favourite track is, of course, not necessarily your favourite track, dear reader. I am not sure what the scientific process is around accounting for, or trying to mitigate against, subjectivity, but I figure that one way to counter the subjectivity of a survey like this would be to have a much larger sample of respondents (ie,more than 1 person.)

With this intention, I have (I think) created a poll, for anyone who is interested in contributing to this important study. Select an album from your shelves, or from your iPhone – randomly or not, it doesn’t matter. Select your favourite track on that album. Check the track number. Is it number 6? Either way, please respond accordingly. The poll didn’t seem to allow me to create a field where you can write in the track number that is your favourite, so I’ve had to simply create the alternatives of Track 6, or Other, but I did also add a freeform field so you can tell me what the track number is if you’d like to. You can also tell me what the album and song were if you’d like to. I’ve never done a poll before so I have no idea in what format your answers will be revealed to me but I look forward to finding out.

So dear readers, let’s rally together in the interests of solving a very significant question that has kept the entire scientific world, or at the very least, me, busy for something akin to 3 full hours now. Let’s see if track 6 really is, overall, the most popular track on albums across the board, or whether there is no pattern at all to favourite tracks. As part of the same research, we may even find out if I can squeeze a third post out of this topic!!?

And finally, thank you all for your contribution to science.



Leave a comment


  1. Track 8 I’m afraid (Wanderlust by Sophie Ellis-Bextor – track “Wrong Side of the Sun”). Currently one of my favourite albums (and songs)!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry, not 6 for me either. Track 7 is close, but not close enough!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s pretty close! Maybe I can sneak it across….just kidding. Scientific rigour all the way here. 7 it is. Thank you for your contribution to science. 😉


  3. Oh my gosh, I think this is the coolest scientific thing to study, EVER! 😀 I’ve just been on an “info graphic” kick lately, trying to teach myself how to do them. I took a class and made one about hurricanes so far…maybe we can collect your track 6 data and work on one together! 😀


    • Sounds good to me – if I get enough data to put into a graph! So far 2 people have answered in the comments on the post, no one has (to my knowledge) used the poll I set up. Of course that could just be because I don’t know where those results are to be found. Floating in cyberspace I guess….but I’ll get back to you if I come up with some data!


    • I take it back: I just clicked the button marked “view results” & there they were! Who’d have thought?? 3 answers so far, so that’s 300% more respondents than I had to my first survey.


      • HAHA! That sounds like enough data to make a graphical representation with creative liberties to me!

        I’ve just decided I owe you for my new tagline…I just changed it. Thank you for inspiring the idea! 🙂


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