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The Lawrence Arms made a whistled hook the best part of a punk song

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.

It feels a little like cheating to pick “The YMCA Down The Street From The Clinic” as my whistling song—after all, whistling is only a small flourish in the otherwise gritty punk song—but it speaks to a problem that feels increasingly common this time of year. As numerous pop-culture publications begin constructing their year-end lists (and I begin playing catch-up on all the things I missed) it feels like releases from early in the calendar year are but a distant memory. With so much music to be consumed just in order to stay on top of what’s new, it often feels like those albums from the year’s first third are removed from the discussion, removed from the ongoing conversation by having a time stamp that feels a bit older than it actually is.


When The Lawrence Arms released its sixth album after an eight year break this January, it was easy to insert it into my regular rotation. With there being only a few new releases each week it was easy to give Metropole repeat listens, letting the songs slowly seep into my subconscious. As the year went on, and the record got pushed further down in my listening queue, parts of the album that became imprinted in my mind back in January began to rise up and demand attention. And it was that small section of whistling in “YMCA” that arose the most often, a circumstance I’d have found annoying if it wasn’t so damn catchy.

It’s uncharacteristic of The Lawrence Arms to leave enough room in a song for something like whistling, as even the slowest songs in the band’s catalog often bleed with a certain level of intensity. That energy manifests itself at the band’s live shows, as fans spill over one another near the front of the stage, mashing themselves into a massive blob of spirited finger-pointing. It’s not that “YMCA” lacks that kind of energy, but it allows itself enough room for these strange decorations to be hung around the song, none stranger than that whistled version of Chris McCaughan’s lead guitar line right before the song’s final pounding chorus. Every time “YMCA” pops into my head it serves as a reminder to stop worrying about playing catch-up and instead allow myself to indulge in the simple pleasures a few seconds of whistling can afford.

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