Whether we’re talking a haunting refrain or a jaunty intro, whistling can turn a good song into a great one, a throwaway pop ditty into a memorable classic. Hundreds of artists have discovered the power of putting their lips together and blowing over the years, from Guns N Roses to Otis Redding. It might not be as common as it used to be, but dig around the charts and you’ll still find plenty of tunes to whistle along to. If you want to introduce some classic whistling tunes to your playlist, here’s our pick of the 10 best songs with whistling ever made.
10. The Bangles – Walk Like An Egyptian
Walk Like An Egyptian might be light on verses, but it’s heavy on whistling. Released in 1986 as the third single from the album Different Light, it propelled The Bangles to number one in the US and number 3 in the UK, becoming one of their most successful singles of all time. Somewhat weirdly for a harmless pop ditty about Egyptian hieroglyphs, crocodiles, and blond waitresses, it was later included on a “list of records to be avoided” by the BBC when tensions were running high during the first Gulf War.
9. Bing Crosby – White Christmas
What would Christmas be without this perennial holiday classic from Bing Crosby, which features the crooner whistling along to a chorus of backing singers as they sing that immortal refrain, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.” Since spending 11 weeks at the top of the charts in 1942, White Christmas has become the biggest-selling single of all time, selling over 50 million copies worldwide.
8. Scorpions – Wind Of Change
A whistled melody ushers us into the Scorpions’ career-defining hit from January 1991. Recorded as the third single from the band’s eleventh studio album, Crazy World, and released in the immediate aftermath of the August Coup that signaled the start of the Soviet Union’s fall, it was quickly adopted as the anthem to the end of the Cold War. A chart-topper across Europe and a top 5 hit in the US, the song has since become one of the best-selling singles of all time, selling over 14 million copies worldwide. It’s a great song, but would it have become quite so successful without the whistling? It’s doubtful.
7. Guns N’ Roses – Patience
As Rolling Stone says, frontman Axl Rose’s whistling at the opening of this soulful acoustic number from Guns N’ Roses is melodic and sad – as befits someone who’s sat “here on the stairs ’cause I’d rather be alone/ If I can’t have you right now.” Released as a single from the album G N’ R Lies, the song climbed to number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.
6. Peter Bjorn & John – Young Folks
It’s hard to find too many songs featuring prominent whistling made after the millennium, but if it went out of fashion the moment the clock struck 2000, someone forgot to tell Peter Bjorn & John, whose 2006 song Young Folks wouldn’t be the song it is without its super catchy whistling. Somewhat curiously, the whistling was originally only used as a placeholder for another instrument – fortunately, someone released that no instrument could do what a pursed set of lips and an exhaled breath could and decided to keep it in.
5. Beck – Sissyneck
As thedadwebsite.com points out, Beck is a master at transcending musical styles. On this timelessly fresh track from the 1996 album Odelay, he jumps between genres and instruments like a flea on steroids. The piercing whistling segment in the introduction comes courtesy of Dick Hyman’s The Moog and Me.
4. John Lennon – Jealous Guy
Jealous Guy, with or without the whistling, is a beautiful song, and quite possibly one of the loveliest apology letters ever set to music. The whistling is the cherry on top. It’s been covered over 90 times since Lennon first recorded it in 1971, making it one of his most covered songs. Check out the Roxy Music version for a different but equally enjoyable listen.
3. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes – Home
This song from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes opens with an upbeat chorus of whistling… but it doesn’t stop there. The song features almost three minutes of whistling in total, making it one of the most whistle-heavy songs on our list. Whether it was the whistling or the heartwarming lyrics that caught people’s imagination the most, who knows, but Home ended up becoming a major hit for the group in 2010, and remains one of their best-known songs to this day.
2. Bobby McFerrin – Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Inspired by Indian mystic Meher Baba’s catchphrase “Don’t worry, be happy,” Bobby McFerrin scored a number one hit with this deliciously jaunty, life-affirming pop confection, which features one of the best uses of whistling in music history. Released in 1988, it became the first a cappella song to ever top the Billboard charts in the US.
1. Otis Redding – (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay
As allmusic.com notes, (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay was supposed to mark the beginning of a new phase in Otis Redding’s career. Instead, it marked the end. Recorded just three days before his death in a plane crash in December 1967, it became the first posthumous single to ever reach number one in the US. There’s some debate over who performed the whistling outro – some say that Sam Taylor, Redding’s band leader, was drafted in to overdub Redding’s original version, whereas producer Steve Cropper insists Redding’s whistle made the final cut. Regardless of whose lips it comes from, it makes the song.