Earworms. My brain is often like a giant jukebox, with a regular parade of earworms playing when I’m not otherwise listening to music, and just recently there’s been a few that have involved whistling at one point or another.
/Playlists /Spotify / /YouTube
/Related /Tuesday Ten/Index
/Assistance /Suggestions/123 /Used Prior/6 /Unique Songs/80 /People Suggesting/74
/Details /Tracks this week/10 /Tracks on Spotify Playlist/10 /Duration/40:57
So the obvious next stage was to do a /Tuesday Ten on the subject, and as always, the large number of contributors when I put out a call for suggestions didn’t let me down in the slightest.
That said, one thing I did do was to try and feature songs that use actual whistling, as opposed to synths that sound like whistling. So that meant Sananda Maitreya’s Wishing Well and The Bangles’ Walk Like An Egyptian both got discounted.
Even those being discounted left a whole lot of other suggestions, and thanks to everyone who got involved as ever.
It hasn’t exactly solved the earworm issue, mind…
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound me. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
The lead single to Rammstein’s worldwide breakthrough (and remarkably, only their second album) Sehnsucht, an album that was released twenty-five years ago yesterday (and I bought it when it came out, too). Unlike many of the other tracks on the album (aside from a couple of ballads, it’s all bangers, really – and heavy, dark ones at that), this song has an almost ethereal touch, partially thanks to Christiane “Bobo(lina)” Hebold’s backing vocals, and also thanks to the unusual touch of a whistled melody, that opens the song and returns later, intermittently. It is such a distinctive and beloved R+ song that it these days closes every show, with Till Lindemann attached to some spectacular metal wings that naturally shoot fire.
/Wind of Change
Scorpions had already been an active band for twenty-five years, or thereabouts, by the time the Berlin Wall came down (they were formed in 1965), and were already a big thing, but Wind of Change took them to another level entirely. As a single it sold over 14 million – which are insane numbers for a single – and it seemed to connect with the time and the collective consciousness in a way that a vanishingly small number of songs ever do.
A song about the changing world of the time, written apparently by Klaus Meine after he witnessed the rapid change in Moscow for himself during glasnost, and when the Berlin Wall was breached (both figuratively and literally), this song became an unexpected anthem for legions of youths in Europe, as they saw their future change in front of their eyes.
Needless to say, the iconic whistling intro is one of those parts of a song that pretty much anyone will recognise, such is the ubiquity of it over the years. In addition, the transformative effect of the song, and wild success, also spawned a fascinating rumour that the CIA collaborated in creating the song, covered in the fabulous Podcast Wind of Change, which broadly debunked the theory, but it is still a hell of a ride…
One thing that became clear while collating all the suggestions, and working out what I might include, is that an awful lot of songs that involve whistling are almighty earworms. One unlikely source comes from the industrial/avant garde provocateurs Laibach, whose opening track to the outstanding Spectre has a constant whistling refrain through the entire song. Despite only being eight years old, it feels like it is commenting on a different age entirely, as they celebrate the work of Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning to reveal unpleasant truths about western nations that, just for a short while, might have brought about change (I wrote a whole lot more about Spectre on /But Listen /138). Sadly the future we got wasn’t quite as rosy.
Remarkably, too, it was the only original Laibach song to feature in their much-publicised show in North Korea (memorably documented in the excellent film Liberation Day).
Something of a late-nineties offshoot from Cubanate by Marc Heal, that at points in particular isn’t a million miles from the parent band sound. Homemovies is one such song, with a dense, rumbling groove of a rhythm pattern that nods to a couple of Cubanate songs, while Marc Heal’s lyrics are rather buried deep in the mix. The curious bit of this track is why it is relevant here, as significant portions of the song have a catchy whistled melody floating on top: and thus becomes one of the few electro-industrial songs to feature whistling at all.
/The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (Main Theme)
/The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Probably the greatest film composer of all, Ennio Morricone wrote over 400 such musical scores for film and television, and a number of his works have become more famous than the films themselves. His awesome theme for The Good, The Bad and the Ugly has elements of triumphalism, but also moments of deep sadness and isolation, much as the film has giant, open spaces in both the landscapes and the dialogue, as if not everything needs to be said and/or spelled out. And while it isn’t the main element, the whistling refrain used within the theme is a perfect, necessary part of the wider whole.
/Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches
I’ve no idea what Shaun Ryder was on about during this, or many of his other songs – even if the bulk of this song is a major reworking of John Kongos‘ He’s Gonna Step On You Again, Ryder still adds his own weirdness to it. Pretty much the peak of what the band would do – the following album Yes Please! saw the band in the Barbados to record it, with drugs and injuries dragging the band down – here they were effortlessly crossing the lines between indie rock and dance in ways few other bands did as well, and the whistling is just another surreal element that works so well I couldn’t imagine the song without it now.
Roxette are one of those bands who were so enormously successful that it’s easy to forget that their phase of chart dominance lasted a surprisingly short time. The last of their four US number ones was this outstanding single, the title track to their third album. It has a monstrous, glam stomp to it, and initially appears to be a Per Gessle song, before Marie Fredriksson crashes in with a whistled refrain, that leads into a skyscraping chorus of such perfection that I’ve still got it as an earworm days after I first thought about including it.
Sadly Marie Fredriksson died in late 2019, after 17 years of dealing with cancer.
As with much of the remarkable collaboration between The Dust Brothers and Beck that was Odelay, significant elements of many of the songs are samples of long-forgotten songs, and it turns out that the whistling that opens Sissyneck was sampled entirely from The Moog and Me by pianist and early Moog user Dick Hyman. Likewise other significant elements of the song come from other sources, but the genius of creation here was to use those samples as jump-off, and here the whistling heralds a song that somehow switches effortlessly between lo-fi hip-hop and drowsy Americana to glorious effect.
/Father John Misty
/God’s Favorite Customer
A song that was rather played to death on BBC 6 Music when it was released, I don’t think I’d paid too much attention to the lyrics before, which appear to broadly be a litany of comments and complaints about the eponymous character (basically Misty himself) from hotel staff (what a bundle of fun they must be for the staff, too). As for the whistling? That’s the entire thirty-second coda that closes the song, and it’s…well, a way to close the song off, I guess.
/Eric Idle & Monty Python
/Always Look On The Bright Side of Life
/Monty Python’s Life of Brian soundtrack
We close this week with the frankly obvious song to be featured, and was always going to be included. The extraordinary closer to the film Monty Python’s Life of Brian – which poked fun at religion in ways that saw it banned in a number of countries for some time, and the song itself is sung by Eric Idle as one of the other people being crucified, trying to cheer up Brian as he awaits his fate (!). In one of those funny ironies, the song quickly gained a life of it’s own, becoming a regular song at funerals and commemorations, and gloriously featured in the 2012 Olympics Closing Ceremony, with an entire stadium (and probably all the viewers too) singing – and whistling – along. The whistling, by the way, was provided by Neil Innes of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band…
Go on, you know it. Get whistling: “Always look on the bright side of life…”“