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Whistling - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Tuesday, May 03, 2011 - 01:26 PM

In general, I dislike the sound of whistling.  It strikes me as the musical equivalent of mayonnaise: a little bit can be a nice touch, but by itself it’s kinda gloppy and always threatening to turn sour. 

But sometimes whistling just happens, you know?  Like the other day I was accidentally in a good mood and had this catchy song going through my head when I realized it actually wasn’t going through my head – I was whistling it. Out loud. I hate when that happens. 

I am also willing to admit that there are times when whistling is actually a great element in a song.  I can even think of one song where the whistling is the very best part of the song.  So here’s my list of Songs With Whistling That Won’t Make You Want To Saw Your Own Head Off With A Dull Blade.

1. Brian Eno, “Back In Judy’s Jungle.”  From the English producer/polymath’s second record, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), comes this madcap take on Cold War spying, with the sung chorus detailing the spy team’s woeful list of qualifications while the whistling in the background suggests just how amateurish said team will be.  Surprisingly tough to whistle along to, though, with some daring leaps. 

2. A.C. Newman, “Drink To Me Babe, Then.”  A.C. is in fact Carl Newman, prime mover behind the indie-rock supergroup The New Pornographers.  This track from his solo effort The Slow Wonder has a short, whistled bridge (and outro) that is super gratifying to whistle along to.  And did I mention it’s short? 

3.  Billy Joel, “The Stranger.”  Title track from his landmark 1977 album, the success of which I resented, being a punk kid at the time and not at all into all this grown-up music Joel was doing.  Still, something about this whistled intro was so evocative, and so film-noirish, that I grew to like the song.  I never understood why, when he made the move to classical music, he didn’t consider making an orchestral theme-and-variations piece based on this intro. 

4.  Ennio Morricone, title theme to The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.   Honestly, this is here out of a sense of obligation more than any genuine love for the whistling.  I mean, the whistling is good, and as in the Billy Joel song it effectively suggests a loner, but the whole song is so trippy and eccentric that the whistling might be one of the more “normal” parts of it. 

Are there other examples where the whistling makes – or breaks – the song?  Leave a comment.

 

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