Amazing headphone songs?
June 12, 2006 6:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for songs that sound particularly great in headphones. Any recommendations? Any genre is fine.
posted by futility closet to Media & Arts (52 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Quite a broad question, but lots of Hendrix stuff uses stereo panning - which sounds good on 'phones.
posted by the cuban at 6:47 AM on June 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've always been partial to The Cars first album. They did some funky panning stuff in there. Any of Frank Zappa's studio stuff is usually chock full of things you can usually only hear or pick up on with headphones.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 6:50 AM on June 12, 2006

All of Keep it Like a Secret sounds great-- I always try to figure out how many guitars are going at once, and I can never agree with myself.

Van Halen's Crossing Over contains awesome stereo effects, if you can stomach Hagar-era VH.
posted by Kwantsar at 6:50 AM on June 12, 2006

"I'm Not In Love" by 10CC blew me away when I first heard it on headphones.
posted by essexjan at 6:56 AM on June 12, 2006

Paul's Boutique from the Beastie Boys.
posted by neilkod at 6:57 AM on June 12, 2006

Give Up from the Postal Service.
posted by nitsuj at 6:59 AM on June 12, 2006

Are you asking because you prefer to listen to music with headphones and you're looking for nice effects, or because you want to test a set of headphones before you purchase them?

If it's the former, then albums by Nine Inch Nails and Tool definitely qualify as headphone albums for me. If it's the latter, then the most recent albums by either of those bands are recommended, in addition to the song "Bring Me the Disco King" off David Bowie's album Reality (it's just vocals, piano, and drums played with brushes), or any track off of Janet Jackson's remastered greatest-hits album Design of a Decade.
posted by Prospero at 6:59 AM on June 12, 2006

To clarify, I'm asking because I'm a recent iPod convert and am discovering a lot of things I'd never noticed before (panning, separation, effects, etc.) when listening with speakers. I kept the question broad because I'm interested in everything. Keep 'em coming!
posted by futility closet at 7:09 AM on June 12, 2006

Roger Waters' Amused to Death sounds fantastic via headphones, and as a bonus, you'll get to hear what QSound brings to the mix.
posted by ewagoner at 7:09 AM on June 12, 2006

in the ambient/electronic genre:

Board of Canada (Geogaddi, Music has the right to children)
Mum (Finally we are no one)
Notwist (Neon Golden)
posted by swordfishtrombones at 7:10 AM on June 12, 2006

Seconding Prospero. Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral has all kinds of stereo effects.
posted by Khalad at 7:16 AM on June 12, 2006

digable planets -- blowout comb
posted by milarepa at 7:20 AM on June 12, 2006

The Headphone Materpiece by Cody Chestnutt might fit, though some would claim the title is a bit misleading, as it is truly lo-fi at its core, though raw and immediate throughout.
posted by freq at 7:27 AM on June 12, 2006

Spilt Milk by Jellyfish
posted by nimsey lou at 7:32 AM on June 12, 2006

All my first choices were taken, so I'm seconding Tool, NIN, and Boards of Canada. Also try Squarepusher or Venetian Snares(from my home town!) for some more chaotic sounds.
posted by utsutsu at 7:39 AM on June 12, 2006

The Rhythm of the Heat - Peter Gabriel. The drums take over your soul.
posted by helcat at 7:40 AM on June 12, 2006

Space Oddity- David Bowie
posted by kimdog at 7:53 AM on June 12, 2006

Pink. Floyd.

posted by kindall at 8:01 AM on June 12, 2006

"Abigail, Belle Of Kilronan" from the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs has stereo effects that I find alternately hypnotic and nauseating.
posted by murphy slaw at 8:22 AM on June 12, 2006

Anything on Pan Sonic's Kesto album. (I had to take it off my iPod because I couldn't help but listen to a few tracks every time I went out.)

Oh, and if you haven't already, I suggest throwing away the headphones that come with the iPod and getting a decent pair - I like Shure E2c myself - best £50 I ever spent! On headphones, anyway.
posted by jack_mo at 8:23 AM on June 12, 2006

First, if you're using the standard iPod headphones, you'll probably enjoy the music even more if you get better ones. I love my Grado SR 60s, and they go for about $70.


The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
Olivia Tremor Control - Black Foliage Animation Music
The Lucksmiths - Warmer Corners
John Vanderslice - Cellar Door
John Vanderslice - Pixel Revolt
My Bloody Valentine - Loveless
Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
Brian Wilson - SMiLE
posted by ludwig_van at 8:25 AM on June 12, 2006

My items were all albums, by the way.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:26 AM on June 12, 2006

Heroin by Velvet Underground.
posted by justonegirl at 8:27 AM on June 12, 2006

Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love is the one with all the funky panning during the solo/bridge, right? That's a must-play.

I gotta second Jellyfish's Spilt Milk. Only, listen to it straight through (not on random play), and twice. I listened to it on random play for months before doing it all the way through. I felt like such a doofus afterwards....
posted by kimota at 8:36 AM on June 12, 2006

The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour (at least the first side) has some very entertaining headphone-friendly effects going on. A lot of fun play with the soundstage.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:39 AM on June 12, 2006

I have always loved listening to the Soft Bulletin by the Flaming Lips using headphones. So pretty!
posted by msali at 8:42 AM on June 12, 2006

This is a great question, btw. I find so much of today's music very lacking in what I would call "attention to the soundstage". It all is just so flat, compressed, and fucking loud. It's as if everyone has forgotten that the studio itself is as much a musical instrument as the guitars are.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:49 AM on June 12, 2006

Baba O'Reilly.
(Thorzad's right).

Pretty much everything is better in headphones... But try krautrock for real flavor— Kraftwerk, Guru Guru, Neu, Faust, Amon Duul II, Gong...

Then bands like White Noise, Delia Derbyshire, Third Wave, Rotary Connection (who may or may not suck depeding on your point of view), Chrome, Henry Cow, Nurse With Wound, Einsturzende Neubauten...

There's always psych rock and shoegaze too, like 13th Floor Elevators, Spiritualized, Spacemen 3, Ride, Lush, Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain, The Seeds, The Electric Prunes, The Amboy Dukes, Os Mutantes, Erkin Koray, Baris Manchau (sp?)...

And stoner rock, like Kyuss, Boris, Comets on Fire, Fu Manchu, Monster Magnet, Black Sabbath...

And dub, like Lee Perry's Black Ark box, The Congomen, Augustus Pablo, King Tubby, Prince Far I, I Roy, The Upsetters, Dillinger, Mickey Dread...

And '60s-'70s jazz/fusion like Miles Davis's electric period, Weather Report, Soft Machine, Herbie Hancock's electric band, Alice Coltrane, Larry Young...

What? There's really a lot out there. How about you give us some music that you like, then I can narrow it down...
posted by klangklangston at 9:02 AM on June 12, 2006

Red Sparowes - At The Soundless Dawn
Isis - Panopticon

Both very detailed in production and musically intricate.
posted by baphomet at 9:03 AM on June 12, 2006

these are all albums (which consist of songs):

The Microphones - "The Glow, Pt. 2"
M. Ward - "Transfiguration of Vincent"
The Robot Ate Me - "They Ate Themselves"
Iron & Wine - "Our Endless Numbered Days"
Prefuse 73 - "Vocal Studies & Uprock Narratives"
Sam Prekop - s/t
quasimoto - "the unseen"
Kruder & Dorfmeister - "The K & D Sessions"
The Smashing Pumpkins - "Melon Collie & The Infinite Sadness"

2nd Cody ChesnuTT's "The Headphone Masterpiece"
2nd MBV's "Loveless"
2nd "Pet Sounds"
posted by carsonb at 9:06 AM on June 12, 2006

Thorzdad: It's called Dynamic Range, and this is not a good question.
posted by bigmusic at 9:08 AM on June 12, 2006

It sounds like you want binaural and dummy-head recordings. The wikipedia articles have info, suggestions, links.
posted by spasm at 9:10 AM on June 12, 2006

Thorzdad: It's called Dynamic Range

FPP I made about dynamic range in modern music.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:19 AM on June 12, 2006

Why is this not a good question? Headphone listening is all but ubiquitous today. Getting recommendations for good recordings that exploit the particular environment is very helpful and interesting.
And, yeah, I know about dynamic range. But there's much more to the sound than just that. I guess that's part of the point of the question, in a way.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:31 AM on June 12, 2006

Bjork's Vespertine was recorded and mixed specifically with the intent that it would sound good on headphones.

It's also a great album.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:29 AM on June 12, 2006

The recommendation for hendrix was good but specifically you should be looking for the studio albums and songs like Third Stone from the Sun from Are You Experienced. However, the best album for his stereo stuff is Electric Ladyland which was mixed by Eddie Kramer and the masterpiece on that album is 1983 ... (A Merman I Should Turn To Be). If that song doesn't fit in the top 10 amazing headphone songs, then nothing deserves to.

The Wish You Were Here album by Pink Floyd is obvious but noone has mentioned it specifically.

Modern stuff: Jane's Addiction's Nothing's Shocking has some good stereo mixing. Garbage's first few albums. "Sugar Free Jazz" from Soul Coughing's first album.

Boards of Canada definitely. Some of the Flaming Lips' more experimental work.

The last three songs on the Beatle's Sgt Peppers were once thought to be the ultimate test for stereo speakers. The opening sound and riff on "Good Morning, Good Morning" should bounce across the stereo field nicely.
posted by jeremias at 11:35 AM on June 12, 2006

Pink Floyd's One of These Days. I never could figure out what the lyrics were, until one night, seriously buzzed in college, I drifted off in the middle of the song listening with headphones. I sat straight up. Couldn't sleep after that.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:37 AM on June 12, 2006

Children of the Sun, Billy Thorpe.
posted by bitmage at 1:05 PM on June 12, 2006

Telafon Tel Aviv - Map of What is Effortless, especially the first track. I will contest that it sounds better through headphones and speakers. They really take advantage of outputting to different sides and layering them. I get chills everytime I listen to it.
posted by like_neon at 1:40 PM on June 12, 2006

Gah, "better through headfphones than speakers"... although now that I think about it, I think this is true of most songs.
posted by like_neon at 1:41 PM on June 12, 2006

Fantasma by Cornleius (album)
posted by jmevius at 1:45 PM on June 12, 2006

"Revolution 9" by the Beatles... and all the other Beatles songs that have already been suggested.
"Leif Erikson" by Interpol
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 2:12 PM on June 12, 2006

I agree with the Vespertine recommendations and would also add the Bjork song named "Headphones" -- it was specifically designed to be a headphones song.
posted by edlundart at 3:07 PM on June 12, 2006

Let me preface this by saying that I am pretty much technologically brain-dead, so I have no idea what causes some songs to sound so great on my headphones and terrible on my stereo-speaker-thingy system, and vice versa. But if you're into indie pop, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is amazing on headphones, but all the subtleties are for some reason lost on my stereo thing.
posted by notswedish at 3:17 PM on June 12, 2006

I think it's `The Prophets song' by Queen (in fact, a lot of early Queen is great for headphones)

There are some strange left right effects including one which has separate left and right vocals which make two distinct lyrics.

How to describe it?


So it's `Come Here' and `I hear you' with homonym `Here' making both of them. Fantastic stuff.
posted by tomble at 4:18 PM on June 12, 2006

Well, the formatting went weird.

It goes

L : COME---------HERE
R: -----------I------------YOU

Also, Roger Waters' `Amused to Death' is full of sound effects and interesting soundscapes, many of which are recorded in such a way as to sound 3D. A barking dog at the beginning sounds like it's next door (and it fooled me the first few times I heard it). Some people love the album, some people hate it, but it REALLY has it's moments.

There's a bit at the end of "it's a miracle" which gives me full body goosebumps every time.
posted by tomble at 4:35 PM on June 12, 2006

I like "Once More" from the Bevis Frond's album "Inner Marshland".

At one point there are two different sets of (rather sweet) lyrics being sung simultaneously in left and right ears, and it's fun trying to follow one without getting bollixed up by the other; and Bari Watts's guitar solo at the end will take your head clean off (especially if you've primed it with a little magic smoke).
posted by flabdablet at 5:50 PM on June 12, 2006

I third Pink Floyd. It's different music in headphones. Especially "Animals." The details are extraordinary.

For some reason, Tom Petty sounds really good on cans to me too.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:03 AM on June 13, 2006

outkast - stankonia
coltrane - my favorite things
phish - a live one
crystal method - tweekend
posted by foraneagle2 at 12:09 AM on June 13, 2006

The first track on the Latyrx album (with Lyrics Born, now best known for his diet coke commercial) has totally different raps going on in each stereo channel.
posted by klangklangston at 4:52 AM on June 13, 2006

That latyrx song is freaking awesome.

I also second the recommendation for the album The Microphones - "The Glow, Pt. 2"
posted by stratastar at 1:25 PM on June 14, 2006

Radiohead, OK Computer
posted by Tlogmer at 9:20 PM on June 14, 2006

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