“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” While whistling was around long before Lauren Bacall, her husky voice did nothing to make it less popular. There’s a certain clearness in whistling that can make or break a song. Guns ‘N’ Roses went overboard with the whistling, using it in “Civil War” and “Patience”, the latter being used the most effectively. Flight of the Conchords’ “A Kiss Is Not a Contract” features a great whistle solo, proving that comedy is just as warm a bed for whistling to crawl into at night. And if you really want to see just how vital whistling can be to a song, look at Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” The following are the best songs with whistling in them as decided by me.
No specific rules this time. If it has whistling, it’s fair game.
10. Jungle Love (Steve Miller Band) – “Jungle Love” has aged well. When Steve Miller’s oft-sampled rock ‘n roll gem hits the airwaves, any male in the car is required to pump up the volume and roll their heads from side-to-side, singing along to all the words they know (which had best include the “crate of papaya” line.) The whistling occurs mostly near the end, and this song would be higher on this list if it was more pronounced. It takes the finale to a new level, though—the guitars fading early and letting the shrill whistle have center stage to end the song.
9. Goodbye Stranger (Supertramp) – The chorus harkens back to the Bee Gees, but the rest of this song screams Supertramp. I don’t typically like or listen to anything that screams Supertramp, but the blog must go on. And while the legacy of this song has been largely reduced to the argument of whether the lyrics are about a one-night stand or quitting marijuana, it still boasts a killer guitar solo and the pre-req whistling just before the 2nd chorus. Also, it deserves a spot on this list for no other reason but this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ky_c-YYMO8s
8. Young Folks (Peter Bjorn and John) – The hipster anthem of 2006 made whistling cool again. Anchored by a solid thweet melody that, like the Centaurian slug, latches on to the brain stem and refuses to let go even hours after a listen to, PB and J (I totally just got that) broke the indiepop wall and made it mainstream. With lyrics that glorify teenage apathy and preach the importance of living in the moment, its success is more satisfying than surprising. Plus, bongos?! Rad! The Kooks made a really good sans whistle cover of this song that’s worth checking out, too.
7. Walk Like An Egyptian (The Bangles) – Ok, so the whistling in this song isn’t real. And Susanna Hoffs’ looks may have propelled this one a little high. But it was voted best song of 1986 so it’s good. And it was banned after September 11th for mentioning Egypt so it’s edgy! And did you see Susanna Hoffs?! Finally, don’t forget it spawned its own dance craze. And I can’t think of a single song that spawned its own dance craze that sucked. Not. A. Single. One.
6. Sittin’ On the Dock by the Bay (Otis Redding) – Otis died in a plane crash shortly before this song came out. Wiki says:
(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” was released in January 1968 amid the fall-out of Redding’s death. R&B stations readily added the song to their playlists, which had been saturated with Redding’s previous hits. The song shot to number one on the R&B charts in early 1968. By early summer of that year, “Dock of the Bay” topped the pop charts. The album, which shared the song’s title, was released and became his largest selling to date, peaking at number four on the Pop Albums chart. “Dock of the Bay” went on to gain success in countries across the world, and brought Redding the greatest success of his career. The song went on to win two Grammy Awards: Best R&B Song (for songwriting) and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance (for vocals).
Wow. The whistling near the end adds gravity.
5. Bad Sun (The Bravery) – Masters of irony, The Bravery seem to always combine melancholy lyrics and boppy melodies to fantastic results. “Bad Sun” is just a slice from The Sun And The Moon—their most recent album—that marries the two so effortlessly. The thweets in this song are 100% real, as evidenced by the live clips on youtube, and if that weren’t awesome enough it has a whistling/mandolin solo! Like “Young Folks”, this song should come with a warning. Should the tune get lodged in your head, nothing short of a lobotomy can get it out.
4. Centerfold (The J. Geils Band) – Two memories are closely tied to this song for me. When I was about 12, I told the lyrics of this song to Ashley Furstenberg and I remember us both being thrilled by how naughty it was. Sixth-grade Matt couldn’t comprehend how something this blatantly filthy could make it on the radio. Had I heard “Darling Nikki” I think my head might’ve explode, a la Scanners. Secondly, the whistling bit always has me singing along, “Do you know the Muffin Man?” because that melody is so similar. Other than that, just a great all-whistle outro. Man, the 80’s loved their whistling.
3. The Stranger (Billy Joel) – Billy Joel just turned 60, so let’s start out with some congratulations. For a man who once tried to kill himself by downing furniture polish (he said it looked tastier than bleach), he’s certainly outlived all expectations. 1977’s “The Stranger” starts slow and reflective, turning to that tried-and-true whistle/piano combo, before launching into a more guitar-centric pop rock standard. The tone of the song stays reflective though; the lyrics explore the idea that everyone has a stranger in them, a part of themselves they take out only when everyone else has gone. Then the piano and whistling kicks back in to bookend the song. Taken as a whole, one of Billy’s best, imo.
2. Games Without Frontiers (Peter Gabriel) – Possibly the scariest music video I’ve ever seen. I guess he decided that if the song itself didn’t make a lot of sense, why should the video? There’s actually some deep meaning behind the lyrics about government ideologies and agendas, but why get into that when instead we can focus on an armada of whistles that barrage us at each chorus? It makes its way this far up the list on the whistling alone. Bonus for having lyrics about whistling: “Whistling tunes we hide in the dunes by the seaside / Whistling tunes we piss on the goons in the jungle.” I still like Phil Collins more.
1. The Fishin’ Hole (The Andy Griffith Show Theme) (Earle Hagen) – It put whistling on the map, in Mayberry to be precise, and made it popular to put that shrill noise your face makes when you put your lips together and blow into songs. No tolerance for vocals.
- Honorable mentions:
sweet georgia brown (Harlem Globetrotters Theme) – brother bones
nervous tic motion of the head to the left –andrew bird…check him out, he’s insane
don’t worry, be happy –bobbi mcferrin
daydream – lovin’ spoonful
me and Julio down by the schoolyard – paul simon