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Smackdown: Whistling

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Whistled melodies have inspired great music from Otis Redding, Paul Simon and others. But whistling has also inspired murderous looks on the subway. We debate the sometimes-awesome, sometimes-annoying art of whistling. Guests include New Yorker editor and writer Ben Greenman and singer, teacher – and competitive-whistling champion – Emily Eagen.

Listeners: What do you think about whistling in music? Angelic or annoying? Leave a comment below.

Guests:

Emily Eagen and Ben Greenman

Comments [103]

Rose W from Wantagh, NY

I'm a gal and I have always loved to whistle. Bing Crosby whistles in a short part of White Christmas that is very charming. There's a version of Heartaches by Ted Weems in which he whistles a few bars that I think really makes the song stand out. My other favorite is the whistled portions of Billy Joel's Strangers. I've gotten so good at whistling along with all of these, that people have told me I sound just like the originals. I can't tell because I'm hearing it from inside my own head, but I can always tell when I make a mistake!

Jun. 08 2012 05:55 PM
maxx from nj

listen to pumped up kicks by foster the people the whistling is used perfectly

Jul. 01 2011 03:54 PM
a g from n j

do you people get that "be happy don't worry", is ironic,it's not happy,silly people. remember the landlord and litigation lyric in the tune. i'm surprized no one picked up on this. remember the bush one campaign song[this was it,folks] and bobby mcferrin,did not agree with the bush one platform,nor the notion that this is a song of jollity.

May. 04 2011 12:18 AM
Walter Koenig

You asked for a pop song whistler? How about der Bingle, Bing Crosby (I assume he did his own whistling).

Also, then talking about the quality of whistling in Sweet Georgia Brown, no one said anything about the glisades and trills! Clearly quality whistling!

May. 03 2011 10:37 PM
bjorn from brooklyn

As annoying as guns and roses can be. There is some good whistling in both " patience" and "civil war".

May. 03 2011 10:19 PM
Michael Ross from Manhattan

Four words - Dock of the Bay - whistling got soul

May. 03 2011 10:16 PM
Tarik H from Ditmas Park

Remember "the whistle song", Frankie Knuckles? Was all over when I started going to clubs. Catchy.

May. 03 2011 10:15 PM
12-String Frank from Staten Island, NY

I thought of some other examples"

The opening of the Genesis song "The Battle of Epping Forest" has haunting whistling.

The Jethro Tull song "The Whistler" has an Irish flaire even it's done on a woodwind.

May. 03 2011 07:16 PM
Vinn from Manalapan, NJ

"John Schafer is a VERY smart guy. But this, as are many subjects covered on this show is arcane and unnecessarily pedantic.

Whistling?

Really???"

I'm curious, can you whistle?

May. 03 2011 02:41 PM
Caryn from Brooklyn, NY

I love Andrew Bird and his whistling. He's gonna marry me someday...

May. 03 2011 02:39 PM
The Whistler

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PY-1-sMKjV4

May. 03 2011 02:39 PM
jono from uptown

Al Jolson began as a whistler

May. 03 2011 02:36 PM
jono from uptown

Al Jolson began as a whistler

May. 03 2011 02:35 PM
Susannah Perlman from NYC

I love whistling ... what about Muzzy Marcellino, you have yet to mention him?

May. 03 2011 02:35 PM
Wick Smith from Bridgewater, NJ

The Whister was a popular radio show on the West Coast. A woman who worked near by was the only person who could do the required whistling, so she would come in at the beginning of each show and whistle.

May. 03 2011 02:35 PM
Jacques Chauvet from New York

Best soundtrack music with whistling:

The Bridge on the River Kwai!!!!

Amazing Whistling!!!!

May. 03 2011 02:33 PM
Tim

My father, an ex-marine, used his melodic, piercing whistle to summon us home from the bluffs of the Texas Gulf coast for dinner. It was a tune that had traveled with the family for generations from Central Europe. Simple, warm and touched with melancholy, it might die with me since I can't whistle a tune....

May. 03 2011 02:33 PM
Chris Lowery from NYC

I love to hear people whistle. One of my favorite whistling songs is a Meat Puppets whistling song on Up On the Sun.

May. 03 2011 02:32 PM
Dano from Kearny, NJ

John John John.....

It's FOR THE BIRDS!

May. 03 2011 02:32 PM
charles from Tarrytown NY

Martin Denny

May. 03 2011 02:32 PM
AB from Brooklyn, NY

Best Popular Singer AND Best Pop whistler...

...Al Jolson.

*P.S. A 2nd comment as I didn't see my initial one listed

May. 03 2011 02:30 PM
Wick Smith from Bridgewater, NJ

Orson Wells played the Shadow on radio. But a woman who worked near by was the only person who could do the required whistling, so she would come in at the beginning of each show and whistle.

May. 03 2011 02:30 PM
Kat from Caldwell nj

My opinion on whistling highly depends on who's doing it- a guy from my work who always whistles walking to his car- highly annoying! My high school crush Axl whistling in GNR's Patience - highly enjoyable!

May. 03 2011 02:29 PM
Bill from New York

One tune that always gets me whistling is the theme music from Mayberry. It was played earlier this morning on WNYC.

May. 03 2011 02:29 PM
Celia from East Village

another vote for the Whistling Song byTwisted Nerve from Kill Bill! Starts out innocently enough, but becomes progressively more threatening as it continues. Please play a sample!

May. 03 2011 02:29 PM
MICHAEL SLATER from MANHATTAN

LOVE THE TOPIC; I WHISTLE EVERYWHERE; IT'S A FORM OF MUSICAL PRACTICE FOR ME.
ANYWAY, THE THEME FROM GOOD BAD UGLY -- THAT'S NOT WHISTLING -- IT'S A SLIDE WHISTLE !! I CAN'T BELIEVE NO ONE HEARS THAT !!\SEE YA - -MS

May. 03 2011 02:29 PM
Zak from Manhattan

Otis, Sittin on the Dock of the Bay, nuff said.

May. 03 2011 02:29 PM
Amanda Sweet from DC/NYC

Do you know Jason Victor Serinus, the 'voice' of Woodstock? http://www.jasonserinus.com/
For me, it really depends on the tune that I am hearing whether or not the whistling irritates me.

May. 03 2011 02:28 PM
Alexandra from Norwalk CT

As the unfortunate offspring of a CONSTANT whistler, I'm interested to know what if anything is known about the psychology of whistling? Why are some folks whistlers and others not?

Otherwise I don't have a problem with whistling in music- especially when it's highly musical.

May. 03 2011 02:28 PM
Amanda Sweet from DC/NYC

Do you know Jason Victor Serinus, the 'voice' of Woodstock? http://www.jasonserinus.com/
For me, it really depends on the tune that I am hearing whether or not the whistling irritates me.

May. 03 2011 02:28 PM
Linda from Newark NJ

just reminded of Toots Thielemann as well, on Bluesette.

May. 03 2011 02:28 PM
BC from NJ

Another fine whistler, more jazz/folk than pop, is the French guitarist Pierre Bensusan. Always interesting.

May. 03 2011 02:26 PM
Edward from NJ

What's up with you all saying "everyone can whistle"? I can't whistle, and I always figured there were plenty of non-whistlers out there to keep me company.

May. 03 2011 02:26 PM
The Whistler

Ever hear Martha Plimpton sing her ballad version of "Thunder Road" with a whistle solo/outro (actually recorded on "Studio 360")?

May. 03 2011 02:25 PM
Linda from Newark NJ

friend of mine has a whistling phone ring, called the Whistling Wizard. Here it is. I like it a lot, and it takes many listens to hear the cool background vocals too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duH79X-E31s

May. 03 2011 02:25 PM
Mark from Westchester

I think it was "I was Kaiser Bill's Batman"!!

May. 03 2011 02:25 PM
Alison from NYC

What about Andrew Bird?!
He's great!!

May. 03 2011 02:24 PM
Mark Fletcher from Bronx, NY

Good whistling topic; I'm a whistler, and during my Navy tenure a literal whistle was sounded before an any announcement over the ship's intercom.

May. 03 2011 02:24 PM
Jessica from New York City

Twisted Nerve from Kill Bill! Really eerie, and yet really compelling.

May. 03 2011 02:22 PM
AB from Brooklyn, NY

Best Popular Singer AND Best Pop whistler...

...Al Jolson.

*P.S. A 2nd comment as I didn't see my initial one listed

May. 03 2011 02:21 PM
Justin from Brooklyn

The Black Keys - Tighten Up

Good example of a recent song that uses whistling in a way that fits the song.

May. 03 2011 02:21 PM
a g from n j

that's a pitchy whistle dog. -randys' lament

May. 03 2011 02:21 PM
Chuck from Valley Stream

Speaking of superstitions, an old fisherman's superstition is "Don't whistle - you'll whistle up a storm..."

May. 03 2011 02:21 PM
Sheri Stein from Brooklyn

If you want to hear amazing whistling, listen to Al Jolsen on "To-to-tootside."

May. 03 2011 02:21 PM
Gary B from Port Washington

John Lennon used it effectively in Jealous Guy and the Beatles Seemed to use it in Rocky Raccoon.

May. 03 2011 02:20 PM

John Schafer is a VERY smart guy. But this, as are many subjects covered on this show is arcane and unnecessarily pedantic.

Whistling?

Really???

May. 03 2011 02:20 PM
Stuart Williams from Astoria

Peter Gabriel's "Intruder" off of his third solo album. Great example of whistling used to great effect.
Thank you.

May. 03 2011 02:20 PM
Justin from Brooklyn

The Black Keys - Tighten Up

Good example of a recent song that uses whistling in a way that fits the song.

May. 03 2011 02:20 PM
stuart from nyc

to Mark in Westchester:
"I was a kaiser bill's Batman" by Whistling Jack Smith was a stupidly big hit around 1967.

May. 03 2011 02:20 PM
BC from NJ

Dont' forget another good whistler, Roger Miller, especially on "England Swings," where Miller and producer Buddy Killen whistled a duet. Also Miller's "Whistle Stop" from Disney's 70s cartoon "Robin Hood."

May. 03 2011 02:20 PM
Louis James from Jersey City, NJ

Guns N' Roses "Patience"

May. 03 2011 02:19 PM
AB from Brooklyn, NY

Greatest pop whistler of ALL TIME. Also greatest pop singer of ALL TIME...

...Al Jolson.

May. 03 2011 02:18 PM
jill from manhattan

I can't whistle, and that's annoying! Good or bad, how can I "sing" along?

May. 03 2011 02:17 PM
Alex from Brooklyn

John Lennon was a great whistler. Jealous Guy. Not at all effected.

May. 03 2011 02:17 PM
phillip from bklyn

I gotta jump in for WFMU manager Ken, who has TONS of whistling segments in his AWESOME shows. Here's a bit with Robert Wyatt:
http://wfmu.org/flashplayer.php?version=2&show=38803&archive=66276&starttime=2:38:25

from this playlist: with more whistlers!!
http://wfmu.org/playlists/shows/38803

I love it!

May. 03 2011 02:17 PM
isaac from jersey city

annoying--"winds of change", the scorpions
good--"patience", gnr

whistle while you work!!

May. 03 2011 02:17 PM
Dale from Red Hook

Out in the world I find whistling annoying at best and extremely creepy at worst. (Walking alone down an empty street at night hearing that one guy walking behind you and whistling just doesn't help you feel safe.)

But in music it can be great. My favorite example is "Jealous Guy" by John Lennon. The live cover by Elliott Smith is just wonderful. He even says in his shy tone before he starts the song, "Any whistlers in the crowd? Here's your chance." It gets me every time I listen to it.

May. 03 2011 02:17 PM
Eytan Oren from Brooklyn

Top 3 whistle songs:

1. Otis Redding - Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay
2. Two Of Us - Beatles
3. Guns N' Roses - Patience

May. 03 2011 02:17 PM
sophie

Leonard Cohen's deranged whistling at the end of One of Us Cannot Be Wrong... Brilliant.

May. 03 2011 02:17 PM
Steve from Hom

I've been an incessant whistler since I was 6 (I'm a out 50 hrs older than that now). It's my only musical talent. Also, I don't need an iPod..... I've got my playlist with me all the time. Love whistling in pop music. I can whistle Flight of the Bumble Bee.......love to put Simon & Garfunkle to the whistle.

May. 03 2011 02:17 PM
stuart from nyc

Whistling was big in the 1920s through 1940s. I assume it was used in popular music by artists who could not play a musical instrument.

May. 03 2011 02:17 PM
Steve M from Morristown, NJ

What about Guns N' Roses' "Patience"? In my opinion the best use of the whistle.

I dont mind whistling in my personal life, my father whistled all my life. Growing up I tried to emulate his full toned, rich whistle.

He would whistle Italian tunes and carry the melodies to create his own music.He mostly whistled in the morning.

May. 03 2011 02:16 PM
Mark from Westchester

There was a hit single during the 60's that featured no vocals apart from a repeated melody line that was whistled. Cannot for the life of me remember the name.....key kept rising, verse by verse.

May. 03 2011 02:16 PM
dj from nyc

I pulled up this page to sound off about Andrew Bird... I see I am one of many.

May. 03 2011 02:16 PM
Laurie D from Keyport nj

The end of Pat Benatar's Love is a Battlefield has a nice bit of whistling.

May. 03 2011 02:16 PM
Bob

BING CROSBY. Other than Bing, who made it music, it should be banned from recordings.

May. 03 2011 02:16 PM
Toby

Andrew Bird

May. 03 2011 02:16 PM
Tony Mottola

Let me toss out the name of a great jazz whistler, Bob Haggart (composer of "What's New"), who wrote and whistled the Bob Crosby Band hit "Big Noise from Winnetka."

May. 03 2011 02:16 PM
ar525 from Park Slope

for a g from n j- this is just another banal discussion on sound check.

May. 03 2011 02:16 PM
KP from NJ

Whistling is ALWAYS annoying. The only thing that might be more annoying than whistling in a pop tune would be if the whistling were backed up by a banjo....

May. 03 2011 02:16 PM
Dave Rittinger from Brooklyn

HANDS DOWN
ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD

May. 03 2011 02:15 PM
Garry from Manhattan

Emily said "everyone can do it," but everyone can't do it! Due in part to an overly tight frenulum I can't whistle. This is very upsetting to me and it makes songs like Dock of the Bay off limits for singing along in my car. It's very troubling and turned me off of whistling in all songs.

May. 03 2011 02:15 PM
Alex from Brooklyn

John Lennon was a great whistler. Jealous Guy. Not at all effected.

May. 03 2011 02:15 PM
andrew from nyc

i was once whistling down the street in Richmond, VA and a homeless guy freaked out on me...because it is typically cheerful and too self-confident.

May. 03 2011 02:15 PM
janet from ny

Martin Sexton!!!

May. 03 2011 02:15 PM
Deborah from Middletown NJ

best use of whistling
XTC - Generals and Majors

or are those flutes?

May. 03 2011 02:15 PM
Ed from New York

Andrew Bird incorporates whistling in the majority of his songs and I don't mind it one bit. The guy has whistling skills.

May. 03 2011 02:14 PM
Kate from Queens

Andrew Bird is a talented singer, songwriter, and violinist, but he's also an incredible whistler. His whistling has nothing to do with jollity and can even sound melancholy at times. Bird uses his whistling evocatively, and it sometimes rivals his violin playing!

May. 03 2011 02:14 PM
Jen

Andrew Bird! He takes whistling to another level, beyond simple melodies.

May. 03 2011 02:14 PM
Robert niosi from Westchester

Great pop artist whistler: Al Jolson

May. 03 2011 02:14 PM
alicia

I would happily let m ward whistle me to sleep any night.

May. 03 2011 02:14 PM
Dave Rittinger from Brooklyn

HANDS DOWN ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD ANDREW BIRD

May. 03 2011 02:14 PM
Silbin from Long Island City

An occasional whistle is okay in pop music as long as it's not used to excess!

Lighten up, people!

What about John Lennon's "Jealous Guy"?
Can't imagine that song without it!

May. 03 2011 02:14 PM
leontarsis

Roger Whittaker

May. 03 2011 02:14 PM
desdemona finch from Brooklyn


Ron McCroby, unfortunately, is dead. But here he is:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4n3QJ3k7OZg

May. 03 2011 02:14 PM
stuart from nyc

What about the end of "Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding? Since it was the last song he recorded, and released soon after his death, the whistle gives it a certain sadness. I cannot imagine the song without the whistle.

May. 03 2011 02:14 PM
Peter from Inwood

What about John Lennon?

"You've got to Hide Your Love Away", and songs from solo career too.

May. 03 2011 02:14 PM
ted in atlanta from whistle stop, GA

This is an easy one. If I'm doing it, angelic. if anyone else is doing it, excruciating! The guy that did the whistling for "The Andy Griffith Show" came to our gym for a school presentation when I was in 5th grade... I thought it might be a fun career. Thankfully, other opportunities presented themselves. (no offense to Emily)

May. 03 2011 02:14 PM
Jeremy Shatan from NYC

Whistling. Hmm. On the one hand you have the immortal work of Bing Crosby and the lump-in-your-throat solo by Bryan Ferry on his cover of Jealous Guy.

On the other you have people whistling tunelessly to the music you can't hear in their headphones and dreadful songs like that Peter, Bjorn & John number from a few years ago.

On balance, I guess I will suffer the latter to live in a world where the former also exists.

May. 03 2011 02:13 PM
ChrisC from Sunset Park

Andrew Bird is a great pop music whistler.

May. 03 2011 02:13 PM
Jon from Brooklyn

Whistling?! Yet another incredibly inane discussion topic. Why not have performances instead of all this pointless conversation?

May. 03 2011 02:13 PM
Abby

Al Jolson was the all-time great pop music whistler...

May. 03 2011 02:12 PM
Deborah f from Middletown


Best whistling: XTC's Generals and Majors
or is that sound flutes??

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCW6Kte2o1A

May. 03 2011 02:12 PM
desdemona finch from Brooklyn

Whistling in moderation is kind of cool on recordings and in performance as long as it's reasonably on pitch.

The problem is when people who can't whistle try to express themselves outside the recording studio and music hall upon the innocent ears of the public around them.

I hate those people. They should be put away in bad whistlers' prison.

Having grown up with a mediocre whistler, bad whistling makes my skin crawl. But I did grow up with a Ron McCroby (from Cincinnati) album so I haven't given up completely. He's a great whistler. Check him out, if he's still around.

May. 03 2011 02:11 PM
Evan

To Ben Greenman, whistling in songs is fairly banl but harmless. Do I want an all whistling radio station? No. But it's not annoying. "Don't Worry, Be Happy" is, however. "Here's a little song I wrote, it might want to make you slit your throat."

On an unrelated note - Pre-Internet, my friends and I would periodically try to remember all the songs with whistling in them. You'd be surprised at how many there are.

May. 03 2011 02:10 PM
Deirdre from Philly

If you can whistle in tune, I say go for it. I don't care what you are whistling. If, on the other hand, you can not whistle in tune please keep it to yourself in public. I can't stand bad whistlers they give me a headache, and its just rude.

May. 03 2011 02:09 PM
Brooklyn Peter

Very moving whistling at the open and close of "Chuvas de Vaerao" (spring rain), a lovely ballad by the great Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso. From his early tropicalista album Personalidade.

May. 03 2011 02:09 PM
Vinny from Manalapan, NJ

I love to whistle, and it can add a lot to a song. My favorite whistle in song is the beginning of the Billy Joel song "The Stranger". It sounds best in a Subway tunnel.
I find that whistling is also infective, and that if I whistle somewhere, be it out on the street, in the subway, invariably, someone else will begin whistling. Try it, I'm telling you, it works.

May. 03 2011 02:05 PM
frank from bed-stuy

The whistling nun! Look it up. Late 60s nun whistling over " the sound of music." Possibly the worst/best piece of whistling ever.

Whistling is great, but should only be recorded by mel brooks, and the whistling nun.

Frank, bed-stuy.

May. 03 2011 01:47 PM
a g from n j

a well placed understated whistle like "the stranger" intro, can be wonderfully evocative. i don't want to hear or see people doing a faux-flute thing, with their hands in mime-pose. corny, corny, corny.

May. 03 2011 01:25 PM
12-String Frank from Staten Island, NY

The most recognizable whistle sound I can think of is in the beginning and end of "The Stranger" by Billy Joel.

Don't the New Pornographers have a hit song with whistling??

May. 03 2011 11:24 AM
Tony Garcia from Kansas City

Ever hear the annoying whistling intro to Guns and Roses' "Patience". Geez, you need patience just to hear the song.

May. 03 2011 11:03 AM
a g from n j

to those who want to call this just another banal discussion on soudcheck-

shut up........

May. 03 2011 09:05 AM

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