*This one is dedicated to my daughter, Mary, celebrating her 27th birthday today, who in her formative years showed dogged determination in teaching herself to whistle, exhibiting a trait that would become a trademark*

The creation of a song is a series of choices. Progression to a major chord or minor. Another verse or into the chorus. A solo break taken on guitar, sax or piano. Adding harmony and background singers. The possibility of percussion elements on tambourine or maracas. Infinite options, with no “correct” answers.

And then there are the song accents, often not central to the structure but, when done memorably, inseparable from the ultimate formation of a great tune. Think of the strings woven through ‘The Long and Winding Road,’ the punchy horn parts in Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Wish,’ or, of course, the addition of cowbell (or, more cowbell) to ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.’

But there’s one alternative that, whenever introduced to a song mix, always makes me wonder most: the whistle. With all the instrumentation and technology available to song makers, a humble blow through pursed lips has somehow become the possibility utilized in popular music well more than you might realize.

Seems like as good of a reason as any for a new So Much Great Music list: let’s count down the Top 10 greatest songs of all time that include whistling.

Before we get started, two quick clarifications:

  • Songs with whistles appearing in any part are eligible. You’ll see (and hopefully hear) inclusions used as intros, outros, interludes, and taking actual solos – always the most intriguing of choices.
  • Whistles utilized essentially as exclamation points – famously done in Molly Hatchet’s ‘Flirtin’ with Disaster’ and tons of Lynyrd Skynyrd tunes – are not included. No disrespect to Ronnie Van Zant, but there aren’t any discernible notes there.

Alright, as is customary on SMGM, our Top 10 will indeed number far more than just that. To get us started here’s a sampling of ten, let’s cite them as #’s 21-30, to, um, whet your whistle – not ‘wet’ your whistle, by the way, which, when you think about it, surprisingly means about the opposite. Among this grouping, John Lennon has an absolutely lovely whistle solo in the midst of a deceptively creepy song. And we granted Guster (one of Mary’s all-time favorite bands) a double entry to squeeze in both of their deserving whistle tunes, well…just before the final whistle. (and to assist your future whistle-listening – don’t worry, the complete “Bestle of Whistle” playlist follows at the end – the time of the whistle appearance(s) within the song are in parentheses):

  • Kacey Musgraves – ‘High Time’ (0:07, 0:23, 1:11, 1:27, 2:17, 2:33, 2:49)
  • Foster The People – ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ (2:48, 3:19)
  • Fitz and The Tantrums – ‘The Walker’ (0:00, 0:58, 3:18)
  • Black Keys – ‘Tighten Up’ (0:04)
  • John Lennon – ‘Jealous Guy’ (2:07)
  • Peter Bjorn and John – ‘Young Folks’ (0:09, 2:00, 3:50)
  • Beatles – ‘The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill’ (2:45)
  • Focus – ‘Hocus Pocus’ (5:00)
  • Scorpions – ‘Wind of Change’ (0:00, 0:50, 4:46)
  • Guster – ‘Never Coming Down’ (1:19); Guster – ‘Red Oyster Cult’ (1:52)

On to the middle ten (of what’s now established as our top 30). Here, Maroon 5 has the most distinct whistle iterations, so many that it might be considered a whistle-stop tour, and artists as disparate as Guns N’ Roses to James Taylor still manage to faithfully whistle a different tune.

  • J. Geils Band – ‘Centerfold’ (3:22)
  • Pat Benatar – ‘Love Is A Battlefield’ (3:54)
  • Simon & Garfunkel – ‘The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)’ (1:17)
  • Guns N’ Roses – ‘Patience’ (0:09, 4:02)
  • Bobby McFerrin – ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ (0:00)
  • Clash – ‘Jimmy Jazz’ (0:18)
  • David Bowie – ‘Golden Years’ (3:04)
  • Maroon 5 – ‘Moves Like Jagger’ (0:00, 0:25, 0:57, 1:12, 1:26, 1:56, 2:12, 2:26, 2:41, 2:58, 3:13, 3:17)
  • Peter Gabriel – ‘Games Without Frontiers’ (0:56, 2:20)
  • James Taylor – ‘Walking My Baby Back Home’ (1:21)

Before we get to our clean-as-a-whistle Top 10 greatest-ever whistle tunes, let’s blow the whistle for a couple quick side categories. First, the best whistling from movies and TV, featuring the one and only Harlem Globetrotters theme song.

  • Roger Miller – ‘Whistle Stop’ (0:03, 0:48)
  • Andy Griffith – ‘The Andy Griffith Theme’ (0:00, 1:24)
  • Ennio Morricone – ‘The Good, The Bad And The Ugly’ (0:28)
  • Brother Bones & His Shadows – ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ (0:00, 1:44)
  • Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs – ‘Whistle While You Work’ (0:00, 0:09, 3:07)

And, keeping with the initial family theme, one slick as a whistle selection from my son Max’s long-time and beloved former band.

  • Tundrastomper – ‘Half Bumbled’ (0:02)

Finally, with no more bells and whistles, we’re set to unveil the top 10. Nothing but world-class whistling entries remain. Here are the ten greatest songs with whistling of all time (in countdown format):

10. Billy Joel – ‘The Stranger’ (0:26, 4:13)
9. Bangles – ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ (1:57)
8. Professor Longhair – ‘Mardi Gras in New Orleans’ (0:25, 2:26)
7. Supertramp – ‘Goodbye Stranger’ (3:04)
6. Bruce Springsteen – ‘Working On a Dream’ (1:44)
5. Beatles – ‘Two Of Us’ (3:14)
4. Lovin’ Spoonful – ‘Daydream’ (1:14, 2:06)
3. Steve Miller Band – ‘Jungle Love’ (0:10, 2:45)
2. Paul Simon – ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’ (1:12)
1. Otis Redding – ‘(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay’ (2:18)

Otis, my man, with a mellow masterpiece that wasn’t released until after his tragic death in a plane crash, is our deserving list topper. Redding is the top whistleblower. And that’s no whistling dixie.

*Happy whistling birthday, Marybird, from Whistler’s Father – why should Whistler’s Mother be the only one that ever gets any attention!*