Ed Harcourt’s top 10 headphone tracks.

Ed Harcourt - Top 10 headphone tracks

I’ve been indulging in the use of headphones from a very early age, in the early ’80’s, to being in my studio lair in the present day.

I have to say, I probably listen to music through them more than I do speakers, like most it’s been a specific soundtrack to my life, always bringing joy to the most mundane of days and melancholia in those darker nights.

I love the subtleties that lie partially hidden within my favourite records, the little shimmers at the bottom of the river, but I also love a good old fashioned sonic juggernaut that tears your head off. It’s been very difficult to choose but I’ve tried to put across a broad spectrum of my top ten headphone tracks. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I do.

Expecting to Fly – Neil Young

I still can’t get over the production on this, it’s so timeless. It’s one of those tracks that I always listen to on a long haul flight somewhere, especially when everyone else is asleep (I don’t sleep much) and you’re looking at some epic mountains. It’s also the perfect driving song as the sun comes up.


Thoughts Of You – Dennis Wilson

This is something that is so sad and bleakly beautiful. It starts off with fragile piano and Dennis Wilson’s ravaged voice,  like he’s on the beach looking at the sea and then it sucks you into a sonic maelstrom amidst all these backwards vocals, a sort of low Gregorian choir and bowed bass, while Dennis sounds like he’s ripping his chest open! Then suddenly without warning the sea spits you back out onto the beach. It’s riddled with this regret and darkness but sonically incredible. Listen carefully to the strings at the end of the song with the lights turned off.


A Song For The Dead – Queens Of The Stone Age

Always seems to come on at the right time, usually if I’m pumping some iron or doing something else manly. Probably one of the best drum intros of all time, a la Dave Grohl. A nice menacing performance from Mark Lanegan too. If the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse formed a band, I’d hope that they sound a little like this song.


Tomorrow Never Knows – Beatles

There’s no way I could leave out the Beatles and I chose this track because it still sounds innovative today. I think if someone released this in 2013 it would still be seen as groundbreaking. They experimented with various tape loops to create the track but I always wondered what the weird ‘seagull’ noises were and only recently found out that it’s a laughing voice played at double speed. Also it features the first use of the ‘flanger’ effect.


I Put A Spell On You – Screaming Jay Hawkins

This is so demented and always makes me feel really good when it comes on at random. Apparently it was originally a love ballad but when it came to recording, the producer Arnold Maxin, got Screaming Jay and the band really drunk and that’s why he’s screaming so much, the babbling and gesticulating that became his trademark sound. He’s been quoted that he doesn’t actually remember making it!


Gospel With No Lord – Camille

Her show at Koko (London) was one of the best I’ve ever seen. This opens her album, Music Hole, and it’s pretty interesting. She’s using a lot of her voice in different ways, there are sharp turns and unexpected twists sonically. She’s quite theatrical at times but I quite like that and it’s been recorded really well even though it sounds very busy and complex, you can hear everything very clearly.


Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet – Gavin Bryars & Tom Waits

This is so affecting, really gets me every time. I don’t listen to it often but did nearly every day whilst making Here Be Monsters. We started each day of recording listening to it actually. If you can handle it and be patient the full version is 74 minutes long but it’s well worth trying, as Tom Waits makes his entrance after about 50 minutes, accompanying the old man’s weathered and noble voice. The strings and choir are so beautiful they really make me well up when I listen to it.


Soon – My Bloody Valentine

A popular choice from the classic Loveless album, it’s a bit like Tomorrow Never Knows in the respect that it still sound so fresh today; there are many emulators but none will surpass it. There’s layers and layers that gradually reveal themselves the more you immerse yourself. Listen to it extremely loud whilst walking down a crowded street.


The Rainbow – Talk Talk

From one of my favourite albums, Spirit Of Eden. I think there’s a lot of my musical friends who feel the same, it’s been quite an influence on a lot of modern bands but was not revered at the time by the press, the way it is today. I used to listen to this quite often with friends at about 6 in the morning back when my responsibility was a little more, how do say, diminished. It seems like Tim Friese-Greene, the producer, was very meticulous about using the power of dynamics and space in order create a complex atmosphere and really take the listener on a sonic journey into the heart of their vision.


Canto Ostinato I – Simeon Ten Holt

When I was on tour in Scandinavia, my tour manager and I had a very long and arduous car journey between Stockholm and Oslo. It was in the dead of winter and we’d been doing a lot of driving so we were both making CDs for the trips to make them less boring obviously. You can only talk for so long.  He introduced me to quite a lot of music I hadn’t heard, this being one of them. It’s actually in 3 parts, each one being about an hour long; Simeon Ten Holt sadly died last year. I’ve recently been listening to a lot of Arvo Part & William Basinski but I keep coming back to this piece, it reminds me of Six pianos by Steve Reich which I performed at school once. I think it may be a live recording, it’s pretty psychedelic once you lose yourself to it.



  • Simon Honywill says:

    Totally agree with Talk Talk, and the album before Ed’s choice, The Colour of Spring is also an incredibly beautiful recording

  • derek charlwood says:

    Apart from the Beatles (which I grew up with) I don’t know any of the music on this list. Now here is a problem my 16o gigabyte ipod is full and I still have to load some music likely to end up on my best ten – Magico by Egberto Gismonti, Chalie Haden and Jan Garbareck – all ECM musicians and if youv’e not listened to any ECM recordings (especially on B & W headphones – I am so glad I bought them I listen 4 or 5 hours a day) then you have not experienced headphone musical nirvana. The same goes for Renee Jacobs Marriage of Figaro, Angela Hewitts Well Tempered Clavier. But of course you can’t beat good old rock’n’roll!

  • Antonio Magaia says:

    I don’t know the Spirit of Eden album. But, I totally agree with Simon, The Colour of Spring is a wonderfully produced recording. It’s been in my best 20 albums for more than 20 years.

  • Susanna Grant says:

    Hi Antonio,

    If you like The Colour of Spring, you will love Spirit of Eden, it’s an astonishing sounding album and really bears repeated listening.


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