Whistling is often viewed as a novelty in pop music. Yet, the few pop songs that dare to employ the technique are some of the most memorable of the last 40 years.
Whistling can accentuate hummable tunes like “Walk Like an Egyptian.” Or it can prove that even tough guys like Guns N Roses have a sensitive side.
Here’s a list of the top ten songs with whistling parts in music history over the years. My rankings are based on the quality of the song, as well as how prominent the whistling section is in each tune.
The Top 10 Whistling Songs in Pop-Rock History
10 A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left, Andrew Bird
No modern singer utilizes whistling as much as folkie Andrew Bird. While Bird sometimes takes his whistling obsession a little too far, he finds the perfect balance on “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left.” The whistling adds a haunting, dramatic effect to the track.
9 Don’t Worry, Be Happy, Bobby McFerrin
Bobby McFerrin’s a capella “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” remains one of the most recognizable whistling songs in history. The song’s lightweight message made some cringe, but its success was a testament to the power of the human voice. The song won the 1989 Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
8 Me & Julio Down by the Schoolyard, Paul Simon
This lively tune from Paul Simon’s first post-Garfunkel album became one of his first solo hits. A few more takes might’ve improved the whistling part, but the slight imperfections just add to the laid-back feel of the song.
The song’s popularity led to a memorable honor for Simon – the chance to perform the song on Sesame Street.
7 Walk Like an Egyptian, The Bangles
Whistling works best when it accentuates an already catchy pop song, and that’s the case with the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian.” The quirky song with lyrics about gold crocodiles and hookah pipes is enhanced when the ladies whistle a couple of lines before the final verse. The song went all the way to #1 on Billboard in 1986.
6 The Stranger, Billy Joel
The title track from Billy Joel’s breakthrough 1977 album begins and ends with a melancholy whistling section, setting the tone for an introspective song about self-reflection and the different sides of one’s personality.
The whistling part was originally meant for an instrument, but Joel’s producer Phil Ramone liked the whistling and convinced Joel to leave it in.
5 Centerfold, J. Geils Band
“Centerfold” is an ’80s classic, a witty tale of a dude who becomes incredulous when he sees a former high school crush years later in a nudie magazine. So he writes an infectious tune about it. The whistling part comes during the song’s final chorus and carries it to its climax.
4 Wind of Change, Scorpions
No longer interested in rocking us like a hurricane, the Scorpions got political on “Wind of Change,” which will forever be associated with the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Power ballads are sometimes cheesy, but this one was full of genuine optimism about the future of the world. The signature whistling part almost didn’t happen – band members had to fight their producers to keep the whistling on the track.
3 Patience, Guns N Roses
Axl Rose freaked everybody out by going sappy and sentimental on “Patience.” The entire first verse of this 1988 rock ballad is Axl whistling, and it goes on for nearly 45 seconds, making it one of the longest whistling solos in pop music history. And the band’s heavy metal fans never held it against them.
2 (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay, Otis Redding
Recorded just before Otis Redding’s passing in 1967, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” has gone on to become a classic, thanks to its mournful lyrics and Redding’s soulful delivery. The whistling at the end is the icing on the cake of an all-time pop music masterpiece.
1 Young Folks, Peter Bjorn & John
In 2006, Swedish indie band Peter Bjorn & John recorded “Young Folks,” aka the song you couldn’t get out of your head all summer. “Young Folks” is noteworthy because the whistling is more than just complementary – it’s actually one of the prominent musical elements of the track.
The irresistible tune and repetition throughout the song make it the best whistling song in pop music history.
Other Songs With Whistling Parts
There are numerous other songs which feature whistling which did not make my top 10 list.
Maroon 5 & Christina Aguilera, Moves Like Jagger
Peter Gabriel, Games Without Frontiers
The Clash, Jimmy Jazz
David Bowie, Golden Years
John Lennon, Jealous Guy
The Beatles, Two of Us
Flo Rida, Whistle
What are your favorite whistling songs?