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!
“Red Barchetta" (Live), Rush
Taken from their standout 1980 Moving Pictures album, Rush’s “Red Barchetta” is a classic any way you slice it, but especially between the ears. Guitarist Alex Lifeson navigates seamlessly between the varying sections of the song, which was written about a sports car. What takes “Barchetta” over the top is the “wind in my hair” sequence at 2:34, where you’re instantly transported to the race track or, in this case, the riverside.
Taken from their incredible fourth album, Fragile, Yes’ “Roundabout” is the band’s most recognizable track from their early prog-rock period. Through headphones, “Roundabout” is simply a party. Guitarist Steve Howe’s signature counterpoint licks and phrasing perfectly compliment the late Chris Squire’s thumping lead bass lines. Jon Anderson’s vocals add to the excitement of this eight-minute classic. If you’ve never listened to “Roundabout” through headphones, now would be a perfect time to check it out.
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!