Unfinished Sympathy

Album: Blue Lines (1991)
Charted: 13


  • Massive Attack at the time was a three-man production team: Robert "3D" Del Naja, Grantley "Daddy G" Marshall and Andrew "Mushroom" Vowles. They used various vocalists on their compositions. Shara Nelson, who also sang on their song "Safe From Harm," appears on this track. They lyric finds Nelson longing for her companion, but wary because she has been hurt before.
  • This is a very innovative song in the electronic dance (sometimes called trip-hop) genre. It features a string section and various orchestral elements (the title is probably a play on the term "Unfinished Symphony"), as well as samples and layers of vocals.
  • The rhythm track is based on the bells found in the 1975 song "Take Me To The Mardi Gras" by Bob James, a jazz composer known for combining elements of dance, funk and pop. Another song that sampled this track is Run-D.M.C.'s "Peter Piper."
  • The male vocal is a sample of John McLaughlin from his 1975 song "Planetary Citizen." McLaughlin is a fusion guitarist who led the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
  • The video was directed by Baillie Walsh, whose credits include the documentary Springsteen & I, and a few other Massive Attack videos, including "Safe From Harm" and "Be Thankful For What You’ve Got."

    The video is one continuous shot filmed on West Pico Boulevard between South New Hampshire Avenue and Dewey Avenue in Los Angeles, California. It features Shara Nelson walking along the sidewalk, indifferent to her surroundings, which include drunks, gangs, and bikers. The Verve made a similar video for their song "Bittersweet Symphony."
  • This single was released shortly after the first Gulf War started, and due to increased sensitivities, the band changed their name to "Massive" for a time, which is how they are listed on the single.
  • Tina Turner recorded this for her 1996 album Wildest Dreams.
  • This was featured in the 1993 movie Sliver during a sex scene between Sharon Stone and William Baldwin.
  • This song is featured in many of the British "Best Song" polls. For instance the TV Channel MTV2 in the UK placed it #1 in a poll of the best songs ever and in 2002 the New Musical Express ranked it #10 in their list of The Top 100 Singles of All Time. In addition both Face Magazine and Melody Maker selected this as their Single of the Year.

Comments: 5

  • Melinda from AustraliaDaniel from Sydney. I agree. This song was a huge hit. I was working in London when it was released. Everyone young embraced this sad moving song.
    What is only known by people who were young when it came out, is how influential it was. It was really different. And the video to it was really good. Because it showed everyday life.
    The song had a haunting feel to it. Probably cause of the violins in it. Alot of music from the 1980's and 1990's used violins. Which gave alot of songs a magestic and more emotional feel
    I rarely comment on modern music good or bad. But i can honestly say, music since 1999 has failed... for the most part, to utilise strings, violin. Which is a big mistake. Because violins really go to the core of people's emotions. And engage people on heart level. And really thats what successful music does.
  • Eduardo Argueta from El SalvadorI think that she is telling us to wake up. it is a call, our way of life is totally wrong, we lived like zombies and i think she is in the quest of The Truth. That is why we can hear: "Are you ready?"i would like to understand what are the words at the very end by a man...
  • Stafler from Durban, South Africai think it is about about ordinary lover who is about to end his/her (sad) unreciprocated love for someone who takes him/her for granted
  • Daniel from Sydney, AustraliaOne of the greatest songs of all time. I can't believe no one's really commented on it.
  • Pe from Hamburg, Germany"you're the one thing I kept open and now I've got nothing more" like that teenager that loses his or her big love in the end. Life goes on but you will never forget that heart wrenching tear. It stays with you forever. Like this song.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

What Musicians Are Related to Other Musicians?

What Musicians Are Related to Other Musicians?Song Writing

A big list of musical marriages and family relations ranging from the simple to the truly dysfunctional.

Gary Brooker of Procol Harum

Gary Brooker of Procol HarumSongwriter Interviews

The lead singer and pianist for Procol Harum, Gary talks about finding the musical ideas to match the words.

Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull

Ian Anderson of Jethro TullSongwriter Interviews

The flautist frontman talks about touring with Led Zeppelin, his contribution to "Hotel California", and how he may have done the first MTV Unplugged.

The Evolution of "Ophelia"

The Evolution of "Ophelia"Song Writing

How four songs portray Shakespeare's character Ophelia.

Producer Ron Nevison

Producer Ron NevisonSong Writing

Ron Nevison explains in very clear terms the Quadrophenia concept and how Heart staged their resurgence after being dropped by their record company.


AC/DCFact or Fiction

Does Angus really drink himself silly? Did their name come from a sewing machine? See if you can spot the real stories about AC/DC.