What, exactly, is a headphone song? The definition changes depending on who you are.
For audiophiles, a headphone song—or album, for that matter—is a work that is so exquisite that it demands you listen to each beautifully recorded note under a sonic microscope. Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” fits that bill, the song and the album.
For others, a great “headphone work” is one that makes an intimate album more intimate (such as Bob Dylan’s original mono recordings), or a loud album louder (Rage Against the Machine’s debut effort).
We’re an unsubtle and hyperactive bunch here at Guitar World, so our favorite headphone songs seem to be those that have a lot of activity in the stereo field. As silly as it sounds, we love it every time a guitar solo takes a shortcut through our skulls as it zooms from one ear to the other.
Anyway, with the help of the gang at Blue Microphones, we’ve selected 16 of our favorite headphone songs—and we’re asking you to vote for your favorites of the bunch! We’ve even launched a quick readers’ poll—a bracket of 16 as opposed to our usual bracket of 32—so the tunes can shoot it out on GuitarWorld.com.
If you don’t know what we’re talking about—or you’ve never experienced any of the great songs listed in the bracket below—we suggest you go home, put on your best set of ‘phones, turn out the lights, turn up the volume and prepare to have your mind blown sky high. And vote, of course!
Note: All song titles used in this poll refer to the stereo studio versions, unless otherwise noted.
Enjoy our Best Rock Headphone Song Ever poll, which is sponsored by Blue Microphones!
“Tomorrow Never Knows,” The Beatles
The Beatles’ new direction for 1966 was evident from the very first track recorded for Revolver: “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Titled simply “Mark 1” at the time recording commenced on April 6, 1966, the song was written by Lennon, the product of his experience with LSD, which he’d taken the previous January. Using lines from The Psychedelic Experience, an LSD manual based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, he wrote the song as a mantra composed of one repeating melody line over driving bass and drum track. “It’s only got the one chord, and the whole thing is meant to be like a drone,” Lennon told Martin and Emerick.
Additionally, he explained, he wanted his voice to sound “like the Dalai Lama chanting from a mountaintop.” Says Emerick, “I was thinking, Well, I’ve got an echo chamber and … that’s all! I didn’t know what I was going to do. And suddenly, there it was, staring me in the face!”
“It” was the studio’s Leslie rotary speaker cabinet, a standard piece of equipment for organs but one that had never been used for any other instrument or for voice. As Lennon’s voice came swirling through the Leslie, the assembled group listened in awe from the control room. “It’s the Dalai Lennon!” exclaimed McCartney.
“Blue Powder,” Steve Vai
Although “For the Love of God” gets most of the guitar-centric attention from Vai’s Passion and Warfare album, let us not forget the brilliant “Blue Powder.”
The track was originally recorded in 1986 as a showcase track for Carvin; Vai used the company’s X-100B amp on the track. The song was even given away with Guitar Player magazine as a flexi-disc. Vai was introduced to Carvin by Frank Zappa, who had also used the X-100B. The drums were subsequently re-recorded for the album.
Behold the Latest Bracket!
How the Bracket Was Compiled
Here’s how the bracket was—very unscientifically—compiled.
We drew the songs’ names out of a hat (It was, in fact, a Quebec Nordiques baseball cap, which is called a casquette in Quebec) to help us create our bracket, which is available for your viewing pleasure below. Obviously, none of these songs are ranked or come from a previously compiled list, so we chose purely random matchups to have as little impact as possible on the final outcome.
Remember that, as with any poll, genre might occasionally clash against genre, so you’ll just need to decide which song has (or has had) the most to offer within its genre.
As always, you can vote only once per matchup (once per device, that is), and we’ll be posting matchups pretty much every day of the month, sometimes more than once per day, just to give you an early