Showing posts with label Songs With Whistling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Songs With Whistling. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Whistling A Different Tune

Several years ago, I published a blog post on songs that feature whistling. At the time, I wrote about the many significations of whistling: contentment (“Don't Worry, Be Happy”), solitary, melancholy contemplation (“(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay”), self-absorbed autoeroticism (“Centerfold”), pleasant, relaxing idleness (the theme from The Andy Griffith Show), or simply to pass the time, to avoid monotony when speech is either impossible or forbidden (“Colonel Bogey March”; “Whistle While You Work” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). Whistling can also simply represent an individual’s joie de vivre ("Daydream").

But there's another aspect of whistling that I ignored when I wrote the earlier post, that whistling can bring bad luck. A popular superstition holds that whistling at night is dangerous and may bring unwanted attention from creatures that stalk the night, or perhaps may attract evil spirits. There are some world cultures that believe whistling is a means to summon supernatural beings.

Perhaps because of the association of whistling with certain morbid superstitions, movies have used whistling as means to establish an ominous mood or atmosphere. Each of  the films in Columbia's 8-film Whistler series (1944-1948) begins with the slightly sinister narrator whistling an eerie tune, soon to introduce himself as The Whistler: “I am the Whistler and I know many things, for I walk by night. I know many strange tales hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes, I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak.” A few years prior to the debut of the Whistler series, in Fritz Lang’s M (1931), throughout the film the child murderer, Hans Beckert, identifies himself off-screen by whistling Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” An inspired cinematic use of whistling is Bernard Herrmann’s haunting score for the psycho-thriller Twisted Nerve (1968), widely known as the “Kill Bill whistle song,” having been appropriated by Quentin Tarantino for a sequence in Kill Bill Vol. I (2003). Tarantino follows Fritz Lang’s lead in having the whistler introduced off-screen prior to the character’s actual appearance. The “whistle song” was again used by Tarantino as a phone’s ringtone in Death Proof (2007).

I find Herrmann’s melodic theme for Twisted Nerve powerful and haunting because, to use a linguistic analogy, it is like an antonym: it is both tranquil and foreboding at the same time. It is the sonic equivalent of M’s Hans Beckert, whose jolly smile and jaunty whistle cloaks his murderous intent. I hear Twisted Nerve’s whistle in many songs that use whistling but are musically much different. I hear it in Roy Orbison’s “Here Comes the Rain, Baby,” the beginning of Billy Joel’s “The Stranger” (1977), the whistling that closes Peter Gabriel's masterful “Intruder,” Roxy Music's cover of “Jealous Guy,” and Scorpions’ “Wind of Change," among others. 

Here are a few songs to listen to and think about in the way they use whistling:


A Fistful of Dollars (Main Title) – Ennio Morricone (1964) (Alessandro Alessandroni, whistler)

Here Comes The Rain, Baby – Roy Orbison (1967) (Mickey Newbury)

One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong – Leonard Cohen (1967) (Features Cohen using a hand whistle)

Twisted Nerve (Main Title) – Bernard Herrmann (1968) (Gareth Williams, whistler)

Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life – Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) (Eric Idle)

Intruder – Peter Gabriel (1980)

Generals and Majors – XTC (1980)

Roxy Music – Jealous Guy (1981) (John Lennon tribute)

Patience – Guns N' Roses (1988) 

Wind of Change – Scorpions (1990)

The Big Bang – Rock Mafia featuring Miley Cyrus (Video, 2010)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Whistle While You Read

Whistle [OE. hwistle] An act of whistling; a clear shrill sound produced by forcing the breath through the narrow opening made by contracting the lips; esp. as a call or signal to a person or animal; also as an expression of surprise or astonishment; rarely, the action of whistling a tune. [OED]

TCM's screening a few months ago of several films in Columbia's Whistler series (eight films 1944-48, seven of them starring Richard Dix) prompted me to think about how whistling is used in movies and in music, the way it is employed and what it signifies when it is used. I've always very much enjoyed the Whistler series--several installments of which, incidentally, were directed by William Castle. The Whistler began as a CBS radio series in 1942 and ran until 1955 (during which time, additionally, were made the eight films mentioned above). Each episode began with the haunting opening theme--whistled, of course--while the slightly sinister narrator introduced himself, saying to the listener, "I am the Whistler and I know many things, for I walk by night. I know many strange tales hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes, I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak."

The god-like omniscience of the Whistler has always vaguely suggested to me the mechanism of Fate or Destiny itself, since He (the voice was male) knows the secret desires (what is "hidden in the hearts") of men and women, what obsessive, overwhelming desire drives them and has distorted or deformed them--and hence will destroy them ("character is fate"). Although I haven't researched this topic in depth, the figure of the Whistler is most likely distantly related to the figure of the Pied Piper (a pipe is form of whistle), the mysterious musician dressed in many colors whose piping hypnotically lures the children of Hameln off to their doom (the Grimm Brothers' version). It is this association we have with whistling that Peter Gabriel, for instance, invokes in "Intruder" (Peter Gabriel, 1980).

In movies whistling is often associated with surprise (just about every World War II movie) but also a signal of attraction, a culturally symbolic gesture made by an American male to proclaim (without the use of speech) his approval, erotically speaking, of a particular dame. In music, whistling can also signify contentment or happiness ("Don't Worry, Be Happy"), solitary, melancholy contemplation ("(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay"), self-absorbed autoeroticism ("Centerfold"), pleasant, relaxing idleness ("I Love to Whistle"; also, the theme from The Andy Griffith Show), or even merely a way to pass the time, to avoid monotony when speech is either impossible or forbidden ("Colonel Bogey March"; "Whistle While You Work" from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), but it is always is associated with a solitary individual alone with his thoughts, even if that individual is within a crowd. A popular "crooner" such as Bing Crosby frequently whistled in his songs, an act often signifying self-contentment but also an unrestrained joie de vivre.

Ten Representative Recordings Featuring Whistling:

“Colonel Bogey March”—A song popularized by British soldiers during World War I. In the game of golf, a “bogey” is, of course, a designation for being one stroke over par. Legend has it that the tune was inspired by two golfers, known to the song’s composer, who preferred to whistle two descending notes rather than shouting “Fore!” Although written in 1914, “Colonel Bogey March” later became, famously, the theme song to the highly successful World War II movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). Widely known as an avid golfer, Bing Crosby may have been inspired to adopt his frequent practice of whistling because of this song (long before the 1957 film, of course).
The Bangles, “Walk Like an Egyptian”
Bobby Bloom, “Montego Bay”
Bing Crosby, “Moonlight Becomes You”
Peter Gabriel, “Intruder”
Peter Gabriel, “Games Without Frontiers”
J. Geils Band, “Centerfold”
Kay Kyser and His Orchestra, “I Love to Whistle” (Sully Mason, vocal)
Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”
Otis Redding, "(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay"

Virtually all of these songs were huge hits, incidentally. Is the fact that they all contain whistling simply coincidental, or do most people enjoy songs with whistling as much as I do?