Born Lippy – The Best Songs That Feature Whistling

“This is the new stuff. Now shut up.” If they were honest, that’s how most bands would choose to conduct that awkward ‘difficult follow-up album’ interview. So props to Peter, Bjorn & John for actually saying it, in response to a probing from Eddy Lawrence in the current issue of Time Out.

The prickly Swedish trio, it seems, are a little tired of being asked questions about ‘Young Folks’, a song that is now over three years old. No-one likes being labelled a one-hit wonder, especially when the song was a bit of a novelty hit in the first place (one ubiquitous enough to have been covered by both The Kooks and James Blunt: a double-whammy of disappointment).

Still, judging by the underwhelming reviews new album ‘Living Thing’ has been getting, PB&J are unlikely to score a follow-up hit. They’re more likely to go down in history as, ‘Oh, you know, that band with the whistly song…no, not Scorpions, the other one…”

But is that such a bad thing? Whistling, after all, has been responsible for many great moments in pop. Ever since Stax guitarist Steve Cropper produced ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay’ and decided not to erase Otis Redding’s improvised whistling verse (he had intended to sing actual lyrics, but died before finishing them), pursing one’s lips in song has been synonymous with a mood of laid-back, hands-in-pockets cool.

But that’s not the only mood it can summon up. Here are our five favourite whistling tracks. Which others do you think should have made the cut?

5. Pixies – La La Love You
Sung by drummer Dave Lovering, this weird, elliptical little track from ‘Doolittle’ can be read as a straight love/lust song or an ironic dig at love song conventions, depending on your perspective.

4. Rammstein – Engel
Fetish-club imagery. Scything distortion. German lyrics bellowed by a scowling former Olympic swimming team member. What’s not to be mildly disturbed by?

3. De La Soul – Eye Know
Stacking a brief snatch of Otis Redding’s ‘…Dock Of The Bay’ whistle on top of samples from Sly & The Family Stone, Steely Dan, Patrice Rushen and The Mad Lads resulted in a tune of matchless style and slinkiness.

2. The Beach Boys – Disney Girls
From ‘Surf’s Up’, this Bruce Johnston-penned/sung track is one of the band’s schmaltziest songs – but it’s also quietly arresting in an amorphous, melty-psychedelia kind of way. Skip to 3.45 for the whistling solo.

1. Teenage Fanclub – Mellow Doubt
From 1995’s ‘Grand Prix’, one of those gorgeous moments when Norman Blake stopped trying to sound like Alex Chilton and sang truly, unaffectedly from the heart.

Honourable mentions:

The Bangles – Walk Like An Egyptian
Rufus Thomas – Walking The Dog
Grizzly Bear – Shift
Paul Simon – Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard
My Morning Jacket – It Beats 4U
Andrew Bird – Various
The Smiths – How Soon Is Now

Whistling facts!
1. In Ian Fleming’s ‘James Bond’ novels it is one of 007’s misconceptions that gay people cannot whistle.
2. The guitarist Les Paul is capable of whistling two melodies at once, a technique known as duotone.
3. Amongst actors, whistling onstage is considered extremely unlucky.
4. In Russia, whistling indoors is believed to bring poverty.
5. Many cultures, such as the Mazatecs of rural Mexico, use whistling as part of their language.