Almanac Music: Songs with Whistling in Them

 

Left to right: Ann Rutherford, Red Skelton, and Diana Lewis in the American film Whistling in Dixie (1942) – publicity still. [Wikimedia Commons.]

 

Songs with Whistling in Them

 

This week’s topic (or theme, if you prefer), in my ongoing series on popular songs,  is songs that contain whistling. Of course, readers’ contributions are welcomed as usual; quite possibly, this theme may be more difficult to contribute to than most others in my series so far. (However, I may – hopefully – turn out to be incorrect here.) In my brief comment upon the songs I’ve selected below, I’ve suggested the role the whistling plays in the context of the overall song. Do the same thing, readers, if you feel so inclined; if not, just list your song or songs.

 

 

‘(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay’, written by Steve Cropper and Otis Redding, performed by Otis Redding (released posthumously, 1968)

 

This cool soul classic, produced by Steve Cropper, was a posthumous Number #1 on the U. S. Billboard Hot 100 charts hit for Otis Redding in 1968. The whistling, near the song’s conclusion, adds to the sense of time lazily passing that permeates the song in general.

 

 

 

 

‘Jealous Guy’, written and performed by John Lennon (1971)

 

This beautiful John Lennon classic, from his Imagine album, produced by John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Phil Spector, was not released as a single during Lennon’s life. (It became a major hit for Roxy Music in the early 1980s, as many will recall.) The whistling in the middle of the song adds to the wistful melancholy of the song as a whole.

 

 

 

 

‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’, written and performed by Paul Simon (1972)

 

This folk-pop number was the second single on Paul Simon’s second, self-titled studio album. It became a moderate hit, and his since been covered quite a number of times. Mid-song, the whistling adds to a sense of fun and busy activity in the schoolyard depicted, and takes the place of a lead break.

 

 

 

 

‘Centerfold’, written by Seth Justman, performed by J. Geils Band (1981)

 

‘Centerfold’, a pop-rocker, was a major international chart topper for the J. Geils band, and their biggest hit. The song was a single from their album, Freeze Frame. Basically, the whistling in this song is heard in the song’s extended fade out, and serves  to accentuate the jaunty, upbeat air the song possesses.

 

 

 

 

‘Walk Like an Egyptian,’ written by Liam Sternberg, performed by The Bangles (1986)

 

This pop-rock, novelty number is from the Bangles second studio album, Different Light. In it, the whistling (done ‘by a machine’, according to Wikipedia) crops up as a surprise element, and works effectively by adding musical variety to the song.

 

 

 

 


‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’, written and performed by Bobby McFerrin (1988)

 

This a capella reggae number, a big international hit for Bobby McFerrin, has a whistled theme at its opening. This whistling is obviously intended to contribute to the song’s general feeling of happiness. In my opinion, it’s one of those songs that can irritate immensely, due to its ability to go round and round in one’s head and not leave. ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ is from McFerrin’s fourth album, Simple Pleasures.

 

 

 

 

……………………………………………………

 

 

So, readers – it’s now over to you. Your responses to this topic are warmly encouraged. Please add your own choice of a song (or songs) concerning the ‘Songs with Whistling in Them’ topic in the comments section, along with anything else you’d like to say. I hope to discover that there are more such songs that I’d initially imagined.

 

[Note: Wikipedia has been a good general reference for this piece, particularly when it comes to checking dates and other details.]

 

 

 

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About

Kevin Densley is a graduate of both Deakin University and The University of Melbourne. He has taught writing and literature in numerous Victorian universities and TAFES. He is a poet and writer-in-general. His fifth book-length poetry collection, Please Feed the Macaws ... I'm Feeling Too Indolent, was published in late 2023 by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Other writing includes screenplays for educational films.

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    A tough one KD, but these ones come immediately to mind

    The Prisoner – Saints
    I’m Shakin’ – Sunnyboys (original version on first album, whistling expunged from later releases)

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Many thanks, Swish – great to open with some Oz content.

    Whistling is something of a lost art, I feel.

  3. Patience – Guns N’ Roses

  4. Another Guns N’ Roses song ‘Civil War’ also has Axl Rose whistling the tune to “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”.

  5. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Greg. One doesn’t commonly associate Axl and the boys with whistling!

  6. Walking the Dog most famously by the Rolling Stones but a million others too. Would like to think Charlie was the whistler but guess it was Mick.

  7. Liam Hauser says

    Punky’s dilemma (Simon and Garfunkel)
    Love beats me up (Australian Crawl)

  8. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Couple more KD

    Golden Years – Bowie
    Six Months In A Leaky Boat – Split Enz

  9. I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman – Whistling Jack Smith

    https://youtu.be/39dJptQV_Jc

  10. Colin Ritchie says

    A couple that come to mind KD.
    ‘Daydream’ – Loving’ Spoonful (Great band, great music!)
    ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ – Monty Python (Only remembered this one as I used it as a ringtone)
    I’m trying very hard to think of a Bob song with whistling in it but I’m fairly certain he hasn’t recorded any.

  11. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Mickey, for ‘Walking the Dog’. Dogs and whistling go naturally together.

    I have a feeling this discussion is going to be a considerably bigger one than I first thought.

  12. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks Liam H for your choices. It figures that Oz Crawl were quirky enough to have a song with whistling. I’ll have to give it a listen.

  13. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Swish, for the additional choices.

    And thank you, McAlmanac – I’ll certainly give your choice a listen.

  14. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Col, for your songs.

    ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ is definitely a ‘song with whistling’ par excellence! (And it’s just about impossible to think about the song outside its Life of Brian context.)

  15. McAlmanac says

    The Stranger – Billy Joel

  16. Rick Kane says

    Another ripper KD!

    Must have Slim Whitman in there of course and I’ll call out Rose Marie. Incidentally, saw him live in the 80s. What a yodel.
    Then there’s Jimmy Jazz by the Clash
    I hope we’re allowed to include Morricone and A Fistful of Dollars.
    And one of Elvis’ more dreadful songs, Whistling Tune.

  17. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks again, McAlmanac.

    Coincidentally, a mate of mine I visited today suggested Joel’s ‘The Stranger’. The whistling in that song is particularly atmospheric.

  18. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Rick, for a typically interesting and varied group of selections.

    Never heard of the Elvis song, but I will give it a listen.

    I’m now waiting for more country songs, too.

    Cheers.

  19. Karl Dubravs says

    An oldie but a goodie – released in 1966 – is:

    Winchester Cathedral by the New Vaudeville Band

    The version by Lawrence Welk also has a whistle in it – unlike the whistle-freeFrank Sinatra version.

    Karl

  20. Luke Reynolds says

    “Settle Down” from the Hoodoo Gurus’ excellent 2022 album ‘Chariot of the Gods’ is a very well written song that finishes with a lovely whistle.

  21. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Karl. Thanks for your interesting contribution.

    I’ve always liked ‘Winchester Cathedral’ for its melody, and its somewhat odd approach – the singer of the song is actually addressing a cathedral! It opens, for example:

    ‘Winchester Cathedral
    You’re bringing me down
    You stood and you watched as
    My baby left town…’.

  22. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Luke, for ‘Settle Down’ – a good, characteristically melodic Gurus song with a neat bit of whimsical whistling near its end.

  23. Now, for some big guns:

    Kyu Sakamoto, Sukiyaki
    Marty Robbins, The Story of my Life
    Mercury Rev, Opus 40
    Peter, Bjorn and John, Young Folks
    Foster the People, Pumped Up Kicks

  24. Tony Barber – the Cambridge Whistler

  25. Kevin Densley says

    Hi again, Rick. You’ve certainly pulled out some big guns here – so much so that I’ll need to look most of ’em up!

    Cheers. Great to see this list expanding.

  26. Kevin Densley says

    Ah, the Cambridge whistler – the TV cigarette ad that lsunched a young Englishman’s Oz TV career, if I’m not mistaken.

  27. Move over youngsters. 20 Miles by Ray Brown and the Whispers( releasesdJan 1965)

  28. Kevin Densley says

    Thank you, Tim. This one’s a little beauty – very sixties pop, performed by an Australian band, too.

  29. Ian Wilson says

    You’re the Victim by Grant Hart. Nice topic again Kev cheers

  30. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Ian, for your song choice – it’s one I’ll definitely check out.

    Glad you like the topic, too!

  31. Rick Kane says

    As coincidences go, we went out with friends yesterday to see the Steamboat Whistlers, a New Orleans Trad Jazz band, including a tuba, sax, banjo, trombone, trumpet and washboard but unfortunately, no whistling. A great combo, playing instrumentals of old fave tunes. Oh, and here’s a few more songs with whistling.

    England Swings, Roger Miller
    Red Eyed and Blue, Wilco
    The Lazy Song, Bruno Mars (check out the video)
    Let’s Go Surfing, The Drums
    I Like Birds, Eels

    Cheers

  32. Dave Nadel says

    A couple of very uncool songs.

    Whistle While You Work is song from Disney’s 1937 film Snow White. I didn’t even like it as a small child. However I did like the parody someone sang me a few years later – I suspect it comes from soldiers in World War II – “Whistle while your work, Hitler was a jerk, Mussolini was a ninny, whistle while you work.”

    Whistle Down the Wind was a 1961 movie starring a young Hayley Mills. Andrew Lloyd Webber turned it into a musical with lyrics by Jim Steinman. It was not one of Lloyd Webber’s greatest successes. I found a reasonably listenable version of the title song by Tina Arena on You Tube but personally if I am going to listen to a song about people doing things with the wind I’d prefer to hear Warren Zevon or Linda Ronstadt telling “her” to Hasten Down the Wind.

  33. Rick Kane says

    Or Jimi turning the philosophical notion in Bob’s song Blowin’ in the Wind and coming up with an answer in his song, The Wind Cries Mary. Hi Dave and no, I won’t mention the football. :)

  34. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Rick, for more ‘songs with whistling’ – yes, I really like the Bruno Mars clip and song. In general terms, I like the ‘Bruno’ stuff I hear. I wish I could dance like him, too.

    And synchronicity, perhaps: Steamboat Whistlers and ‘Songs with Whistling in Them’. There’s a bit more to synchronicity than coincidence, I feel – more of a sense of zeitgeist, of the universe coming together in a certain way.

  35. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Dave, for your contribution. Yes, I knew of ‘Whistle While You Work’ – fair enough. There’s a lot of whistling in that one, from memory. I liked your discursion into the realm of wind, too.

    Regarding ‘Hasten Down the Wind’ – it’s a brilliant song, but it might be one of those incredibly rare occasions in which a great song is eclipsed by an LP cover of the same name (1976), a cover which depicts a young Linda Ronstadt on a night-time, windswept beach in a see-through calico top. Oh boy!

  36. Theme from the ’56 movie The Proud Ones.
    A heap of Roger Whittaker ones – Early One Morning, Those were the days, Whistle Stop, Mexican Whistler and Finnish Whistler.

  37. Dave Nadel says

    Thanks for not mentioning the footy Rick, your team was very impressive on Saturday.

    You are absolutely right about Linda Ronstadt’s cover, Kevin. I just had a look at the cover of the vinyl record that I bought in the seventies. It is a really dramatic cover. Behind Linda on the beach is a shadowy horse which adds to the drama of the picture.

  38. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks – Fisho, for your fine contribution. Just had a listen to The Proud Ones theme – atmospheric indeed.

    Need to give the Roger Whittaker tunes you mentioned a listen, too.

  39. Frank Perich says

    Not sure Slim Whitman got a guernsey in the aforementioned. Anyhow amongst his formidable songbook he has a whistle on his take of SECRET LOVE which Doris Day made her own.
    More contemporary is a nice whistling interlude on Nick Shoulders WONT FENCE US In.

  40. Kevin Densley says

    Thank you, Frank, for your input. Slim Whitman has already been mentioned, but not specifically for ‘Secret Love’, so that’s a newie in this discussion. Neat bit of whistling on Shoulders’ ‘Won’t Fence Us In’, too.

  41. Rick Kane says

    And of course, Kanye West with All Day. By the way, the guy whistling is Paul Mccartney and I must say I added this song just to go woohoo, we got our Macca tickets. Very exceited.

  42. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Rick, for Kanye’s ‘All Day’ – what a talented man that guy is.

    I may be going to Macca, too – to be confirmed.

  43. DBalassone says

    I’m a bit late to the party here, but ‘The Killing of Georgie’ by Rod Stewart.

  44. Kevin Densley says

    Cheers, Damian. It’s surprising, isn’t it, where whistling crops up?

    People, especially men, used to do it – in everyday life – walking down the street.

  45. Tony Forbes says

    Great topic, Kevin. I think I read somewhere that Otis whistled that verse because it was a work in progress till he wrote the third verse. Another untimely death. Steve Cropper put his lovely lead guitar part on after also.

  46. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Tony. Always good to hear from you.

  47. Here’s one out of left field. During the early fifties a radio play, written by South Australian Lindsay Hardy, took Australia by storm. It was titled “Dossier on Dumetrious” and went for 104 episodes. Dumetrious was a notorious criminal and hardly anyone knew his true identity. Anyway the thing that finally did him undone was he was often WHISTLING THE SAME TUNE which we listeners heard at various times in each episode. I have since got a copy of the whole 104 episodes on my hard drive. I can assure you it makes fantastic listening to even today. By the way, the Dossier was the first of 5 wonderful serials broadcast over the radio, each following the adventures of Major Gregory Keen of the MI 5.

  48. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for your comments, Fisho – fascinating stuff.

    I’m quite a fan of historical radio serials, particularly Australian ones.

  49. The Beatles: “Two of us”
    The Seekers: “Georgie girl”
    Supertramp: “Goodbye stranger”
    Peter Gabriel: “Games without frontiers”
    Theme from “Bridge over the River Kwai”

  50. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for this fine bunch, Smokie.

    To select one for comment – of course, The Beatles ‘Two of Us’ has whistling, right near the end! I’d forgotten that.

  51. Another Beatles track, which has plenty of whistling: “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”.

  52. Kevin Densley says

    Yep, Smokie – thanks for ‘The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill’, another one for the list.

    Interestingly, part of this song had co-lead vocals by Yoko Ono; as Wiki puts it, ‘the only song recorded by the group to feature lead vocals by a non-member’.

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