Number Ones - Flo Rida 'Whistle'
Who's saying what
Flo Rida's 'Whistle' is the new #1 single in Australia this week; Carly Rae Jepsen's 'Call Me Maybe', which just spent 5 weeks at #1, has dropped to #2.
'Whistle' is Flo Rida's 4th #1 single in Australia, after 'Wild Ones' with Sia, 'Right Round' with Ke$ha, and 'Low' with T-Pain. Flo Rida has also been a regular recent visitor to the charts in general; he's had sixteen top 20 singles in Australia since 2008, including the likes of 'Good Feeling', 'Club Can't Handle Me', and 'Hangover' (with Taio Cruz). Flo Rida is probably the single most representative exponent of that kind of dance music that's all about The Club. 'Whistle' was co-written by Flo Rida, and a couple of professional songwriters, David Glass, and Marcus Killian. It was produced by Justin Franks, who also has credits on 'Right Round', 'Airplanes' by B.o.B. and Hayley Williams, 'Yeah X3' by Chris Brown, 'Tonight (I'm Loving You)' by Enrique Iglesias, and 'I Just Had Sex' by the Lonely Island.
Flo Rida, of course, is all about subtlety. One of the more subtle things about 'Whistle' is that the main hook of the song is - wait for it - whistled. Presumably Flo Rida and Justin Franks noticed a bit of whistling on the charts recently - for example, 'Moves Like Jagger' by Maroon 5 or 'Pumped Up Kicks' by Foster The People - and thought, hmm, that's a good idea. What kind of song would could we write around a whistle?
Personally, I'm no good at whistling. Sure, I can make whistle sounds come out of my mouth, but my whistles are not tuneful. So if I had to record a song, I probably wouldn't think of a whistle solo. But plenty of pop musicians have gone down that road. So, why whistle? What does it add? Why do people want songs with whistles?
One thing a whistle can do is give the impression of happiness. People whistle to themselves when they're overjoyed, when they're expecting — or in the moment of — something that makes them happy. Perhaps the perfect distillation of this kind of happy whistle is Bobby McFerrin's 'Don't Worry Be Happy'; of course a song with such a title would have a whistle solo. Elsewhere, the Monty Python song 'Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life', gets at the same feeling. In both songs, the whistle represents an unshakable optimism. (Considering that (*spoilers*) the scene in Monty Python's The Life Of Brian where the song is sung involves several crucifixions - a resolutely awful and painful death, by all accounts - the whistling in 'Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life' is deliberately ironic.) Monty Python are illustrating the extremes of the 'don't worry, be happy' philosophy that McFerrin takes seriously. (Other songs which use some form of whistling to represent happiness include Augie March's 'Pennywhistle' and Roxette's 'Joyride'). Flo Rida's whistles in 'Whistle' are likely meant to sound joyful in this sort of respect too.
Elsewhere, however, whistling suggests solitude and loneliness. If you're by yourself, you're not bothering anybody else when you whistle. These kinds of whistles are usually slower-paced, less 'jaunty' sounding. John Lennon's 'Jealous Guy', for example, is a song about Lennon being sorry for his actions - "I didn't mean to hurt you / I'm sorry that I made you cry" - which feels like Lennon musing to himself. The whistle solo in this context comes across as either Lennon feeling lonely, or Lennon being unable to express himself in words, and so resorting to whistle. Guns N' Roses' 'Patience' famously starts with a whistle solo, and - in a song encouraging patience in a girlfriend while the band are on the road - the whistle solo gives a sense of the loneliness of the road, of the emotional strain of the situation. In contrast, the whistling in Bruno Mars' 'The Lazy Song' seemingly represents Mars' joy at having a day to himself where he can masturbate for as long as he likes.
A similar solitude comes across in the whistling in Foster The People's 'Pumped Up Kicks', a song about fantasising about murdering classmates. If you don't know the song's lyrics, it just sounds like happy whistling, but otherwise the whistling signals a certain creepiness. Either that or Mark Foster had 'Young Folks' by Peter, Bjorn, & John on his mind, another song which uses whistling to get across a feeling of (strangely danceable) loneliness. Elsewhere, Otis Redding, in 'Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay', appears to have conflicting feelings about his solitude; 'loneliness' won't leave him alone, but he seems to be finding strength watching the tide roll away, wasting time. In this context, something about the whistle solo comes across as happy or content rather than sad.
Sometimes a whistle solo represents the wind, most obviously in the Scorpions' 'Winds Of Change'. Which, well, is called 'Winds of Change', and features quite a lot of whistling. In that song, which appears to echo 1990 Europe's mix of hope and fear of the unknown in response to the falling of the Berlin Wall, the whistling wind is a metaphor for the old being blown away, replaced with the new. And perhaps, in many of these songs, whistling works better than lyrics at times, because the whistling expresses emotions that the singers and songwriters are having trouble expressing otherwise.
Finally, country music and the blues is full of references to the 'lonesome whistle' of a train; in these genres, the train going past often represents a reminder that there are other, much better, places that you could be. Johnny Cash sings of hearing 'that lonesome whistle' stuck in his prison cell in 'Folsom Prison Blues', and this line is probably a reference to Hank Williams' song '(I Hear That) Lonesome Whistle'. Bluesman Freddie King also had a 'Lonesome Whistle Blues', where his vocals occasionally sound like a train's whistle, singing long, keening rising notes.
In Flo Rida's 'Whistle', however, the whistling doesn't really express happiness. It doesn't express solitude or loneliness, either. There's no mention of the country music/blues mythology of the train. Instead, Flo Rida's song is all about encouraging girls to blow his whistle. By which he means his penis.
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