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.
“Girl Gone Bad,” Van Halen
All of Eddie Van Halen’s 1984 guitar solos were dazzling, but the showstoppers are “Hot for Teacher,” with its hot-rodded blues boogie shuffle, and “Girl Gone Bad,” featuring Van Halen’s signature harmonics, a dynamic progressive rock structure and a blazing solo filled with Allan Holdsworth–style legato runs.
“Allan really inspired me,” Van Halen said. “There weren’t any other guitarists out there who were blowing my mind at the time other than him. I don’t think anyone can copy what he does. He can do with one hand what I need two to do. How he does it is beyond me. But sometimes his playing is so out there that people don’t get it.
“I always carried a microcassette recorder with me. I recorded my idea for ‘Girl Gone Bad’ by humming and whistling into it in the closet of a hotel room while Valerie was sleeping. I pretty much wrote the entire song in that state, and then when I got home I put it all together.
“I had actually retired the Frankenstein by then. I’m pretty sure I used the Kramer 5150 guitar the most on that album—“Panama,” “Girl Gone Bad,” “House of Pain,” the solos on “Jump” and “I’ll Wait.”
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 match-ups pretty much every day of the month, sometimes more than once per day, just to give you an early warning. Merci!