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, (opens in new tab) 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! (opens in new tab)
“In Bloom," Nirvana
Like many Nirvana songs, "In Bloom" shifts back and forth between quiet verses and loud choruses, which makes for a great headphone experience. Kurt Cobain uses a Mesa Boogie amp for the verses; during the chorus he switches to a Fender Bassman for a heavier, double-tracked fuzz tone. Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl kept their parts simple; Grohl said it was "an unspoken rule" to avoid unnecessary drum fills, while Novoselic felt his role was about "serving the song." During the choruses, Cobain and Grohl harmonize while singing, "He's the one/Who likes all our pretty songs/And he likes to sing along/And he likes to shoot his gun/But he knows not what it means."
- “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.
The polls are closed. Steve Vai's "Blue Powder" has advanced to the next round. Be sure to check out today's matchup at GuitarWorld.com.
Behold the Latest Bracket!
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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!