Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Otis Redding died before hearing this lovely whistle

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re picking our favorite songs with whistling.

In high school, I worked at a small pharmacy that also sold liquor, cigarettes, and the occasional knickknack. When Don The Pharmacist was on duty, the teen working the front counter could choose the music (within reason); I remember him once commenting on how true the Morrissey lyric “most people keep their brains between their legs” was. When Jeff The Pharmacist was on duty, we had to listen to the oldies station at an infuriating volume: It was too low to actively listen to, but too high to ignore completely. That said, my brain did eventually figure out a way to blank out the quiet oldies, but at least once per shift, something would break through the sonic haze: the whistling coda to Otis Redding’s absolutely masterful “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.” It was a mixed blessing, because the whistling part comes right before the fade-out, which basically inspired this reaction—again, at least once per shift—“Oh great, I love this song! Shit, it’s over.” It’s kind of fitting, considering the bittersweet story of one of pop’s greatest compositions and performances: Redding recorded it just days before he died in a plane crash, so he never got to enjoy its popularity. In fact, he never even got to hear that beautiful little whistle: It was performed by Sam Taylor after Redding’s death. But the song provides an enduring legacy for an incredible performer, and a glimpse into the mellower place his recordings might have gone if he hadn’t died in 1967, at only 26 years old.

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