What is it about whistling that is so evocative in stirring particular emotions? Whistling is often seen as cheery but it can also be melancholy, wistful or something to pass the time or even a “look busy” mask for something you shouldn't doing. It can also be a warning: “lookout, someone's coming!” The dexterity of some whistlers is impressive, showing an ability to twist their tongues and breath to manipulate the air into such wondrous sounds.
Last week, our very own Selector Radio show’s Biggest Record in the UK was “See Me Love Me” from Coves, featuring a catchy whistling hook, showing there’s still a place for a good old whistle in new music! Check it out here!
So, inspired by the wonders of whistling, we've put together our very own whistling playlist!
– Joel Mills
Check out our whistling playlist below and find out who chose what and why further down the page.
PHANTOM POWER – DIAGRAMS
Tunng co-founder Sam Genders (aka Diagrams) is just a brilliant songwriter, with or without whistling! This song was released around the same time as his trip to Changsha, China, in 2014, and reminds me of the soul-searching diary entries that accompanied it.
A SPOONFUL OF SUGAR – JULIE ANDREWS, MARY POPPINS ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK
Extreme jolliness plus contrapuntal whistling from some friendly yet unconvincing animatronic birds.
OVER MY SHOULDER – MIKE AND THE MECHANICS
My Dad is a big Paul Carrack fan. He sings the lead vocal and whistles on this one (Paul Carrack that is, not my Dad) and this reminds me of the sort of classic pop fare that accompanies him on long car journeys (my Dad that is, not Paul Carrack).
NIGHT TERROR (LIVE) – LAURA MARLING
A friend introduced me to Laura Marling when her first album came out and I’ve been a fan since. When she performs this one live – one of my favourites – her unusual and impressive ventriloquist whistling style comes to the fore!
SISSYNECK – BECK
Taken from the groundbreaking Odelay album, this single's front door is a great unforgettable cheery cheeky whistle riff.
LA LA LOVE YOU – PIXIES
From the album Doolittle, this track's Shadows-like guitar riffs tex mex minimal lyrics interspersed with wolf whistles.
TONADA DE LUNA LLENA – SIMON DIAZ
Opens with a melancholy whistle immediately drawing the listener into the hopeful romantic wistfulness of the full moon.
WIND OF CHANGE – SCORPIONS
I’m no fan of this song, but the whistling always raises a smile and reminds me of an episode of Chris Morris’ current affairs parody series, Brass Eye. The sketch in question is about the decline of society in the fictitious town of Coswick and it closes with "Wind of Change" playing out as presenter Ted Maul directly quotes the song title.
ANDREW BIRD – SCYTHIAN EMPIRE
Interesting Andrew Bird fact: not only is he something of a singing lexicon, he is also none other than the man behind Walter's "Whistling Caruso" in The Muppets! So, as a whistling virtuoso, this track perhaps doesn’t demonstrate the acrobatic potential he’s capable of but, nonetheless, it’s one of my favourites of his, off a truly wonderful album, Armchair Apocrypha. A side note: catch this man live. He really is one of the best in the business.
ROBBIE BASHO – LEAF IN THE WIND
Robbie Basho’s death in 1986 was one of the most unusual I’ve come across, dying suddenly as a result of an “intentional whiplash” experiment during a visit to his chiropractor. Listening to tracks like "Leaf in the Wind" and "Blue Crystal Fire" exemplifies what a formidable talent he was and what a tragic loss to the world of music he was. The vibrato in his voice gets me every time. Even here, in whistling form, it’s crazily evocative and affecting.
SITTIN’ ON THE DOCK OF THE BAY – OTIS REDDING
Simply a carefree, cheerfully unaffected tune; the whistling feels off-the-cuff and unrehearsed.