Andrew Bird first got notice playing violin with the Squirrel Nut Zippers, but over the last decade he’s developed his own following with a series of acclaimed solo albums on which he sings, bows and — perhaps most appealingly — whistles like nobody’s business. His latest, Break It Yourself, has just been released, which inspired us to scour the eMusic archives for some of history’s finest whistling songs. Pucker up, ya’ll.
Andrew Bird, “Lazy Projector”
Though his playing retains its trademark precision, Bird channels a newly scrappy energy on Break It Yourself, as this swaggering folk-soul slow jam demonstrates. "Come on, tell us something we don't know," Bird pleads over heavily reverbed guitar before sending up a little melodic figure that seems to gently rib whomever he's addressing.
Peter Bjorn and John, “Young Folks”
The ne plus ultra of whistle-enriched indie pop, this breezy 2006 ditty transformed Peter Bjorn and John from an obscure Swedish trio into a left-field favorite of the hip-hop jet set. (See PB&J-sampling tracks by Kanye West and Drake, among others.) Yet "Young Folks" itself — with a crucial vocal contribution from Victoria Bergsman of the Concretes and Taken by Trees — still exudes an appealing naivetÃ©. It lives up to its title.
Foster the People, “Pumped Up Kicks”
"Young Folks" spawned a bevy of knock-offs, but none (ear)wormed its way into the mainstream like "Pumped Up Kicks," which last year hit Number 3 on Billboard's Hot 100 and has been covered by Weezer, the Kooks and the dynamic duo of Taylor Swift and Zac Efron. It's probably too early to say if Foster the People will stick around long enough to duplicate that feat; either way, the tune's maddeningly catchy hook is here to stay.
Scorpions, “Wind of Change”
Quite possibly the best heavy-metal power ballad ever written about post-Cold War Europe, these long-toiling Germans' 1991 hit uses whistling in a solidarity-summoning way that recalls the "Colonel Bogey March" in The Bridge on the River Kwai. As Klaus Meine describes the future in the air — and how he can feel it everywhere — you find yourself thinking that his delicate little melody might just be the wind of change itself.
The Beach Boys, “Whistle In”
Brian Wilson devotees saw a longtime dream realized recently with the release of the insanely comprehensive The Smile Sessions box set. Hopefully history won't forget Smiley Smile, the appealingly daffy album Wilson cobbled together in 1967 to make up for his then-abandoned masterpiece. Check out this minute-long tunelet — titled with characteristic wordplay — for a taste of his harmonic brilliance in tantalizing miniature.
The Bangles, “Walk Like an Egyptian”
This 1986 smash is most readily remembered today for its galloping beat and for the goofy dance moves it continues to inspire at wedding receptions around the world. But halfway through "Walk Like an Egyptian" the Bangles strip away all the SoCal-pop gloss for a whistled verse that gives the tune an unexpected splash of mall-rat melancholy. Then those drums crank up again and we're safely returned to party mode. Mazel tov!
Paul Simon, “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”
One of pop's premier hunter-gatherers, Paul Simon has always made expert use of every instrument at his (and his various collaborators') disposal. In this famously enigmatic cut from his self-titled 1972 disc, Simon's whistling works like a piece of scenery, putting us inside the schoolyard he and Julio are down by. We may not know what on Earth they're doing — or even how they got there — but the sound provides welcome proof of life.
Guns N’ Roses, “Patience”
Any Guns N' Roses fan knows that Axl Rose's secret sauce — what makes him hair metal's greatest frontman — is the vulnerability that lies just below his arena-rousing confidence. And nowhere in the G N' R songbook do you get more of that extravagant sensitivity than in this 1989 gem, which announces its dudes-on-stools acoustic vibe with some high-lonesome whistling right at the top.
The Black Keys, “Tighten Up”
Despite its title, the blues-punk duo's swinging 2010 jam actually showed that the Black Keys could loosen up: Here they ditch the glum self-seriousness that dogged their early stuff and finally start projecting the sense that they enjoy playing their music. (Maybe Danger Mouse, who produced the cut, arranged a pep talk with Cee-Lo Green.) As Snow White's pint-size pals once advised, whistling while you work gets the job done.
Juelz Santana, “There It Go (The Whistle Song)”
"Time to whistle at her," the jocular Dipset MC decides not long into this 2005 rap hit, and so for the rest of "There It Go" we're treated to a cheerful little catcall that functions as the track's sole melodic element. Santana gets a little pervy as he goes along, requesting at one point that you "move it till you feel something hard in your back." (Like what, Juelz?) Fortunately, the whistle prevents him from sounding like too much of a creep.
Otis Redding, “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay”
The most charming element of one of the most charming tunes of all time, Redding's whistling in this 1968 classic (released mere weeks after his death in a plane crash) draws much of its power from its technical imperfections: the little flubbed note at the beginning of the solo, for instance, which helps convince you that you and Otis are indeed just sittin' on the dock of the bay, watchin' the tide roll away.
Drake, “Best I Ever Had”
OK, we'll admit it: There's actually no whistling to speak of in this breakout 2009 hit from the Toronto heartthrob's So Far Gone EP. But how could we decline to include a song in which Drake brags about his bedroom abilities by promising to make your private bits whistle the Andy Griffith theme song? If that doesn't illustrate the quiet power of mankind's built-in instrument, we don't know what does.