Is the Sixth Track the Best?

CDs seem like they’re on their way out; with downloads and iPods changing the way people consume music, the physical disc and even the concept of the album are under threat. I don’t have particular feelings about this either way. Whatever an artist’s intention when putting together a set of tracks, my interpretations and tastes dictate which songs I listen to when. If I want to play Spoon-Mozart-Fiery Furnaces, I damn well will. But I digress.

Track Six

There’s always been a sneaking suspicion in the back of my mind that artists deliberately put strong songs in certain slots. The first track is obviously important, as first impressions count for so much. Track 2 is also typically strong. After that, it gets a little hazy. Setting the first two songs aside as obvious choices for A-material, what else is a power slot? My contention is that it’s #6.

Falling roughly in early-to-middle section of most albums these days, the sixth track is the perfect place to sneak in a hit to reinvigorate the listener. It’s an assurance that the CD isn’t winding down, but still has plenty of punch left. It’s as good a track as any. Here are six great sixth tracks from six great CDs. Enjoy and discuss.

06 Radiohead – Karma Police : OK Computer

06 Ben Kweller – Penny on the Train Track : Ben Kweller

06 Band of Horses – Lamb of the Lam (In The City) : Cease to Begin

06 The Shins – New Slang : Oh, Inverted World

06 Smashing Pumpkins – Bullet with Butterfly Wings : Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

06 Bob Dylan – Mr. Tambourine Man : Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits

3 thoughts on “Is the Sixth Track the Best?”

  1. I once made an iTunes Smart Playlist exclusively of Track 1’s. And, although you’ve already mentioned this about #1’s, It featured some great lead-in tone-setting tracks, like these:

    01 Counting Crows – Round Here : August and Everything After
    01 Harvey Danger – Wine, Women, and Song : Little by Little
    01 Saves the Day – At Your Funeral : Stay What You Are
    01 William Shatner – Common People : Has Been
    01 Green Day – American Idiot : American Idiot
    01 Desaparecidos – Man and Wife, the Former : Read Music | Speak Spanish
    01 Weezer – Tired of Sex : Pinkerton
    01 Foo Fighters – This is a Call : Foo Fighters
    01 Save Ferris – The World is New : It Means Everything
    01 Sublime – Waiting for My Ruca : 40oz to Freedom

    Also, isn’t it kind of cheap to use a greatest hits album as evidence of your theory? One would imagine the artist would have little to do with the track ordering of such a disc.

  2. Nice list. I particularly like how you kept the formatting the same. Your point about the greatest hits album is well-made, and it’s something I considered. However, someone decided that #6 was the best place to put that track, whether or not it was the artist. For that reason, it qualifies for this post.

  3. First, the Greatest Hits thing is integral to my disagreement with the overly technophilic nature of this entire post; after the large #6 image, Cook resumes his discussion above with the words “There’s always been a sneaking suspicion in the back of my mind that artists deliberately put strong songs in certain slots”, which is a heart-warming touch from a man who is apparently consumed by his need to appear as a heartless and immovable emotional cyclops, one who champions the slow degradation of today’s artisans and their dedication to unique pieces of SERIAL expression. What I mean by this is that Cook pays far too much homage to the notion of faceless programmers and mechanised judgement systems than he does to the real animals responsible for putting out the product under discussion here, that is, the humans who are all different in their individual ways, and who may have entered into all kinds of in-studio debate about the order tracks on albums will appear. That he begins his debate’s “B-side” above with a reference to “artists”, but then falls back into his usual game of not giving much of a rat’s ass about the slow decline of art in general, for me betrays an unconscious awareness in the Cook brain of the need for organic seriality, which in music is another way of saying “albums”.
    Historically, albums contained 10 songs, so the mysterious track 6 is strong simply because it is constitutes “Track One of Side Two” and for no other reason. That musicians and in particular producers, have continued to employ this device in the age of the “single sided” CD shouldn’t be much of a surprise – after all, when we move from a duality to a singularity it is better to retain as many elements of the duality as possible, in the hope that whatever 4-dimensional complexity was inherent in the former will somehow be transferred to the latter and somehow endow it with an extra chance in life. Life; now there’s a word to think about.
    Albums have for decades, if not hundreds of years, been a theatre that tests a musician’s mettle, that dares him or her to offer the world something legendary, something epic and different. Albums are notable for many things, not least of which is their ability to sustain an atmospheric continuum from start to finish, even if that continuum entails huge changeability. Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust”, the Flaming Lips’ “Yoshimi”, and even The Doors’ “Soft Parade”, that bubblegum-meets-clarinet affair from 1968, all meet this criteria, but when we decide any old wannabe can offer a single track, without that track having to stand as part of a larger entity, we tread strange waters and we must be careful. It is one thing for a great talent to put out a single that simply doesn’t appear on any album – such as the Beatles double-A-side “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields” – as long as indeed continue to simultaneously release albums (Sargent Pepper in that instance), but for today’s spoiled brats to now be excused not just for copying all that came before – sometimes copying musicians from decades ago – but to now also be allowed to slow-drip their limited talent track by track, because of this wonderful technology, makes things all too easy. It also makes the greats of decades past look not all-too-human, but SUPERHUMAN in comparison.
    In short, then, track #6 is simply track 1 of Side 2, and Mr. Cook needs to warm up that tough old heart of his and drop his cruel refusal to mourn the passing of humanity’s organic spontaneity.
    Greatest Hits? I shit ’em.

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