20 isolated vocal tracks you need to hear right now

Way back in January 2010 a YouTube of Kurt Cobain’s isolated vocal take on ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ started doing the rounds on the net. There was something strangely captivating about the recording – it was emotional and intimate, transporting the listener into a private moment with Cobain. While it wasn’t the first of its kind, it triggered a wave of isolated vocal recordings of well known songs. In the years since, we’ve collected some of the best – so go ahead and dive in. 

Nirvana – ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’

The one that “started it all”. Cobain’s vocals at their most raw and ragged.

‘Territorial Pissing’

This isolated vocal actually appeared way back in 2009, and it is even more affecting than ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. The most brutal track on Nevermind (and one of the album’s only “non singles”) this song is full of rage. And once you strip away the squalling guitars you can hear that most of that anger is coming from Cobain’s overwrought vocals.

Eminem – ‘Lose Yourself’

There was a time long ago that Marshall Mathers cut his chops in MC battles: no grand production, no entourage, no Dre. This track gives us a fleeting glimpse of the Em that once was, and it’s pretty rad.

The Beatles – ‘Don’t Let Me Down’

There are dozens of these floating around from The Beatles but ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ is one of the best. You get all of John’s Lennon’s range – from his desperate wail in the chorus to his sweet melodies with Paul McCartney.

Queen and David Bowie ‘Under Pressure’

One of music’s greatest vocalists with Bowie. ‘Nuff said.

 The Ronettes – ‘Baby I Love You’

Take away all of Phil Spector’s wall-of-sound production and you’re left with the stunning melodies of one the ‘60s greatest vocal groups.

Adele – ‘Rolling In The Deep’

Despite this song being horrifically over-played when it was released in 2011 you won’t be able to stop yourself listening to this vocal track over and over again.

Destiny’s Child -’Survivor’

A pretty amazing reminder of just how well Beyonce, Kelly and Michelle harmonised back in the day. Stick around for the “ohhhs” at the track’s end.

Blondie – ‘Heart Of Glass’

A terrifying reminder of why you should never, ever attempt ‘Heart of Glass’ at karaoke. Unless, of course, you’re Deborah Harry.


Beach Boys

Honestly, we could probably sit here all day and listen to the isolated vocals of every Beach Boys song ever written. But here’s one of the highlights.

Smashing Pumpkins – Cherub Rock

This is what pure uncut angst sounds like.

Lorde – ‘Royals’

This sounds better than Cristal, Maybach, jet planes, islands, and tigers on a gold leash.

Soundgarden – ‘Black Hole Sun’

Replete with mid-’90s double-tracked vocals in the chorus.

Bonnie Tyler – ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’

Possibly one the best isolated tracks ever, featuring the somewhat ridiculous vocal aerobics of Rory Dodd and Bonnie Tyler.

The White Stripes – ‘Seven Nation Army’

White’s vocals sound strangely underwhelming without that rumbling guitar/bass line to prop them up.

Paul McCartney – ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’

It’s easy to forget just how huge McCartney’s range is until you dial back the instrumentation and melodies in ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’.

The Rolling Stones – ‘Gimme Shelter’

This one is all about the dueling vocals of Mick Jagger and Merry Clayton.

Outkast – ‘Ms Jackson’

This has been floating around since 2008 and kind of makes us wish Big Boi and Andre 3000 would release an a capella album. Or any Outkast album for that matter.

Whitney Houston – ‘How Will I Know’

Pre-Bobby. Whitney at her best.