Okay, so you have your headphones out—what do you want to listen to?
Something beautiful? Something cool? Something you’ve never heard before? How about all three?
The following are six tracks by five of your favorite bands worth putting under the microscope for reasons listed below. Enjoy!
Joe Satriani — “Surfing with the Alien”
For the lead guitar tone on Surfing with the Alien’s title track, Joe Satriani used a wah-wah pedal and a harmonizer. The former worked perfectly, but the latter was acting a little weird and wonky.
Satriani told Guitar World, “The sound that came out of the speakers blew us away so much that we recorded the melody and the solo in about a half-hour and sat back and went, ‘Whoa! This is a song, man!’” Then the harmonizer broke down and couldn’t be fixed.
“We couldn’t do anything,” he said. “We lost our tone. When we finally got it working again, we weren’t able to recreate the original effect. It just sounded different. So rather than screw up a wonderful-sounding performance that may have had a couple of glitches, we decided to just leave it, because it was just swinging.”
Metallica — “The Four Horsemen”
One of the most unique features of Metallica’s classic track “The Four Horsemen” is its distinctive simultaneous two-headed guitar solo, heard from 4:10 to 4:30.
You can hear two Kirk Hammetts, one in each speaker, playing roughly similar but still quite different solos. In 1991 Hammett told Guitar World this cool effect was entirely a fluke. After recording two takes of the solo, Hammett and Co. were trying to decide which one to use.
“I listened to both tracks at once, to see if one would stand out,” Hammett said. “But playing both tracks simultaneously sounded great, and we decided to keep it like that on the record. Some of the notes harmonized with each other, and I remember Cliff [Burton, bassist] going, ‘Wow, that’s stylin’—it sounds like Tony Iommi!’”
Led Zeppelin — “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”
Led Zeppelin albums are filled with little slips and clams, but none of that really mattered to producer/guitarist Jimmy Page who justifiably valued vibe over perfection. He called it being “tight but loose.”
The following are two headphone-worthy accidents that somehow add a touch of funky magick to these Zep classics. If you listen closely to “Misty Mountain Hop” at about 1:15, you can hear Jimmy play the heavy part too soon. He then fumbles and jumps back in.
hen, on “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” you can hear a ghostly voice at 1:43. Is it a friendly Page poltergeist? Nah, it’s actually the sound of Robert Plant singing along with drummer John Bonham during basic tracking. Whether that’s his actual naked voice leaking through the drum mics, or perhaps being blasted through Bonzo’s headphones, we may never know.
Radiohead — “Creep”
One of the most memorable and dramatic guitar moments of the Nineties is the stuttering rhythm part that sets up the chorus of Radiohead’s “Creep.” And if Jonny Greenwood’s attitude-filled flourish (played at 0:58 and again at the two-minute mark) reflects the song’s angst-filled lyrics, there’s a reason.
“That’s the sound of Jonny trying to mess the song up,” explained co-guitarist Ed O’Brien. “He really didn’t like it the first time we played it, so he tried spoiling it. And it made the song.”
The Kingsmen — “Louie, Louie”
This last pick is a strange one.
If there was never a song designed for headphones, it’s the poorly recorded garage classic “Louie, Louie.” But there are so many hilarious mistakes in this shambolic mess, with a good set of ear buds the tune becomes a brilliant piece of audio theater.
Just close your eyes and you almost see and smell these drunken bozos having the time of their lives as they struggle to play their three chords right. Just dig the drummer yelling “F@#K! in the background because he hit his hand on the edge of one of his drums at 0:57. Or laugh as the singer comes in too early at 1:55 while barging in at the end the songs surprisingly great guitar solo.
Truth is, this is actually what headphones were made for!
Brad Tolinski is the editor-in-chief at Guitar World.