Opinion: The Evolution of Whistling

For most of us, the evolution of whistling first came to light when Otis Redding charmed us with the timeless classic, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” in 1968. Strangely enough, his intentions were to change the whistling in favour of words around the time of his death but it never came to be. After the track was released, it went on to become one of the most popular songs of the modern era.

Fast forward to the last decade and we’ve been introduced to unacquainted acts and their rising popularity in the form of Peter Bjorn and John with their mesmerising tune, “Young Folks”, The Drums with their debut single, “Let’s Go Surfing” and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros’ catchy single “Home,” as whistling was typically associated with musicians from the independent music realm (e.g. Andrew Bird).

However, a stereotypical shift has seen a rising trend of tracks featuring whistling in Top 40 songs over the last year, such as:

– Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera – “Moves Like Jagger”
– Foster the People – “Pumped Up Kicks”
– 360 featuring Gossling – “Boys Like You”
– Jason Derulo – “IT Girl”
– Bruno Mars – “The Lazy Song”
– Simple Plan – “Summer Paradise”

In popular music, previous fads (namely auto-tune) did not help the credibility of those who chose to use it and as a result, the short lifespan of auto-tune was put into place in the late ’00s after the ‘pitch-perfect altering process’ was highly criticised to the point of rapper Jay-Z even releasing a single titled “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” in 2009 although good friend, Kanye West, extensively used auto-tune the year before in his experimental album, “808s & Heartbreak”.

Although mainstream media and public alike are becoming more critical in the way they perceive anything less than perfect from musicians, live or studio recorded, whistling provides melodic structure to a tune and enhances the artist’s ability to be remembered with a catchy hook, which in turn can have the effect of making the listener have a song stuck in their head for days. Serial lip-synchers and auto-tuners should take note!

In September 2011, Rolling Stone Magazine released their list of “The 15 Best Whistling Songs of All Time”. Most tracks featured on the countdown include soundtracks, themes from TV shows, Christmas carols, ‘80s hits and indie-folk anthems.

With the amount of competition lacking to feature in the prestigious title, it just goes to show that thinking outside the box and trying out different techniques can work in the artists’ favour. Only if it’s done effectively though.