Sometimes, words just aren’t enough. That’s the case with the Top 10 Whistling Songs. The musicians listed below chose to put their lips together and blow when their track needed that little something extra. A well-placed whistle can convey bayside reflection, Cold War paranoia or the frustration of a struggling relationship. Here are 10 classic acts who chose to whistle while they worked.
‘Wind of Change’Scorpions
From: ‘Crazy World’ (1990)
In this case, the ‘Wind of Change’ comes straight from the lips of Scorpions' frontman Klaus Meine, who whistles the intro (and repeating motif) to this power ballad. The song was inspired by the Scorpions’ visit to Russia in the waning days of the Soviet Union. Meine wasn’t just whistling Dixie. ‘Wind of Change’ preceded the fall of the U.S.S.R. in 1991, after which the song became a smash single all over the world.
'Golden Years'David Bowie
From: ‘Station to Station’ (1975)
In the closing moments of this hunk of plastic soul, David Bowie unleashes a whistle that just slices right through the densely packed funk. Just about anything else would have been lost in the tightly tangled guitars, but the whistle blasts to the top. Plus, whistling makes for a perfectly insouciant capper to ‘Golden Years,’ which captured Bowie at the height of cool.
From: ‘Imagine’ (1971)
The former Beatle was equally adept at blowing through a harmonica as he was through his lips. That’s him on the finale to the Fab Four’s ‘Two of Us,’ as well as the middle section of this soaring ballad from John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ solo album. He and producer Phil Spector could have let the strings take over in this part of the song, but the whistling keeps John central to ‘Jealous Guy.’ And it’s Lennon’s earnest emotions that prevent the song from slipping deep into syrupy maudlin swamp.
From: ‘Breakfast in America’ (1979)
John Helliwell’s lone contribution to this Supertramp hit doesn’t last long, although you couldn’t imagine the song without it. Over Rick Davies’ roller rink organ, Helliwell contributes a fluttering little whistling flourish – just before the guitar chimes in and we’re off to falsetto-ville courtesy of the chorus. Supertramp could have put a saxophone or a keyboard or a guitar solo there, but in those fleeting seconds, they chose to whistle. It’s an unforgettable moment in the song.
From: ‘The Stranger’ (1977)
What’s the deal with whistling strangers? This entry in the Top 10 Whistling Songs is bookended by Billy Joel’s lonely, echoing whistle. The story goes that the singer-songwriter thought some sort of instrument should provide the melancholy melody in the intro and outro, but after producer Phil Ramone heard Joel whistling the tune, he didn’t think it needed to change. The late-night, street corner atmosphere that Billy’s whistling provides is the perfect counterweight to the funky main portion about the uglier side of ourselves.
From: ‘G N’ R Lies’ (1988)
Axl Rose’s whistled intro on this tender ballad is as much the audio equivalent of his serpentine sway as Slash’s ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ riff. Just at the mention of the song, you probably picture Axl at the mic, slithering away with his lips pursed. Izzy Stradlin wrote the words and lyrics to ‘Patience,’ but it’s Rose’s whistling – which lasts nearly a minute at the beginning of the song and recurs later – is far and away the standout element on the most vulnerable of Guns N' Roses' classic tracks.
'Centerfold'J. Geils Band
From: ‘Freeze Frame’ (1981)
The central melody of this J. Geils Band hit starts out being played by a synthesizer, then gets strummed on a guitar and is sung in a chorus of “na-na-na-nas”. But as Peter Wolf and his innocent high school memories once and forever tarnished, the hook eventually devolves into simple whistling. It might be the catchiest whistled melody this side of Mayberry. Hear ‘Centerfold’ once and you’ll be whistling it all week.
'Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard'Paul Simon
From: ‘Paul Simon’ (1972)
There’s plenty going on in this early Paul Simon solo gem, including an inscrutable tale of urban hijinx and eclectic percussion including a Brazilian cuica. Regardless of what the song is about, there’s an irresistible sense of joy that radiates from ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’ – the high point of which is the song’s instantly memorable whistled solo. There’s no better soundtrack for taking it out and chopping it up.
'(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay'Otis Redding
From: 'The Dock of the Bay' (1968)
Redding’s signature song finds the soul singer wearied from the road, but discovering a semblance of peace by staring out into the “Frisco Bay.” The music legend died mere days after recording his vocal for ‘Dock of the Bay,’ leaving friend and co-writer Steve Cropper to finish the track. The Booker T. and the M.G.’s guitarist, distraught over Otis’s death in a plane crash, struggled to complete it and even toyed with the idea of the Staple Singers laying down backing vocals. Instead, he opted for wave and seagull sound effects, along with a whistled coda that would become one of the song’s hallmarks. Redding’s bandleader, Sam “Bluzman” Taylor, was the one enlisted to whistle that signature bit from the end of ‘Dock of the Bay’ – the first posthumous No. 1 hit in U.S. history.
‘Games Without Frontiers’Peter Gabriel
From: ‘Peter Gabriel’ (1980)
Topping the Top 10 Whistling Songs is a tune in which the whistling is far from jolly and carefree. Peter Gabriel’s mechanical-sounding rumination on world politics in the 20th century (or, if you prefer, the annual European “Games Without Frontiers” contest) features a bridge that incorporates a martial refrain that’s a bizarre world version of ‘Colonel Bogey March.’ “Whistling tunes with piss on the goons in the jungle,” Gabriel shrieks, after whistling the shrill motif along with producers Hugh Padgham and Steve Lillywhite. It’s a knockout.