Whistle down the wind: The Aussie attempting to save whistling from the cultural dustbin

Molly Lewis
(Image credit: Molly Lewis)

When was the last time you heard whistling on a pop or rock track? Or even in everyday life? The postman or milkman who gave a merry whistle on his way to your door was once an established cultural trope. 

But it’s hard to imagine their modern equivalents - Amazon or Deliveroo drivers on zero hours contracts – summoning up enough cheer to pucker up their lips in a similar fashion.

It’s not just in music that whistling is endangered. Whistling languages from the Canary Islands to Papua New Guinea are in danger of dying out, through modernization, technology and loss of folk memory. These remain wonders of human culture, allowing communication between valleys and mountain tops where the human voice is not powerful enough.

However there are a few souls who are keeping this long tradition alive. The latest Orville Peck track, Midnight Ride, a collaboration with Kylie Minogue that is all over Radio 2 at the moment, features some prominent whistling. Then there is Molly Lewis.

Molly Lewis - Lounge Lizard (Official Video) - YouTube Molly Lewis - Lounge Lizard (Official Video) - YouTube
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If anyone can rescue whistling from long suppressed memories of Roger Whitaker and Whistling Jack Smith (ask your grandad), it’s this glamorous Australian whistler who treads a fine line between the tastefully vintage and tongue-in-cheek kitsch. You can imagine Tarantino synching her music and indeed she was featured on the Barbie soundtrack, whistling her version of Billie Eilish’s What Was I Made For. 

Her debut album On The Lips was released this Spring and you can easily imagine it becoming a sleeper hit in the same way that say Nouvelle Vague was a few years back.

At the moment Lewis is fighting a lonely fight. We need more like her. So to encourage others to take the plunge and pucker up (and just cos we feel like it) here are five of the best whistling songs of all time.

For more info head to the Molly Lewis website.


The J. Geils Band - Centerfold (Official Music Video) - YouTube The J. Geils Band - Centerfold (Official Music Video) - YouTube
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We’ll kick things off with this 1982 hit with features something you don’t hear very often: a whistling coda. The video might be a bit, well, dated, but the tune is still irresistible. J Geils Band’s frontman was called Peter Wolf, making this an example of a Wolf-whistle (groan).


Peter Bjorn and John - Young Folks (4K Remastered) - YouTube Peter Bjorn and John - Young Folks (4K Remastered) - YouTube
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You’d have to have a heart of granite to resist this 2006 indie hit with its prominent whistled top line. The animated video is even sweeter with ‘Peter’ character teaching guest vocalist Victoria Bergsman how to whistle.


Oh go on then! Here the whistling to supposed to evoke the wind. Of change, you know.


Roxy Music - Jealous Guy - YouTube Roxy Music - Jealous Guy - YouTube
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John Lennon’s whistling efforts were puny compared to Bryan Ferry’s on this 1981 Number One. Indeed it’s the whistling that transforms this cover. Whilst Lennon begged for forgiveness, Bryan knows the relationship is over and, slinging his jacket over his shoulder, starts whistling to himself, before walking off into the long dark night.


The daddy of all whistling tracks. Whistling can evoke joy, good cheer or nonchalance, but here it’s loneliness and pain. Otis’s whistling isn’t the most technically proficient, but it’s a perfect fit for the everyman character he portrays here.

Will Simpson
News and features writer

Will Simpson is a freelance music expert whose work has appeared in Classic Rock, Classic Pop, Guitarist and Total Guitar magazine. He is the author of 'Freedom Through Football: Inside Britain's Most Intrepid Sports Club' and his second book 'An American Cricket Odyssey' is due out in 2025