Just put your lips to­gether and blow – the re­turn of whistling

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion - Brian Boyd on mu­sic

When Peter, Björn and John first re­leased the sin­gle Young Folks in May of 2006, it shuf­fled into the charts at num­ber 33 and then promptly shuf­fled back out again. On its re-re­lease in Septem­ber of this year, though, it went straight into the top 20 and is still hang­ing around with steady weekly sales. The in­ter­ven­ing year or so saw Young Folks pick­ing up many Best Song Of 2006 awards, and be­ing remixed into more than 60 ver­sions – rang­ing from bad Ger­man techno to blue­grass.

More sur­pris­ing still was the mot­ley crew of mu­sos who be­gan to do cover ver­sions of it. Kanye West was so en­am­oured of the song he rapped over it for his latest mix tape and got Peter, Björn and John to ac­com­pany him on the song when he played a show in Swe­den. A Ja­panese singer, Shugo Toku­maru, cov­ered the song for a pod­cast and it be­came one of the most played songs on Ja­panese ra­dio. James Blunt has taken to cov­er­ing it in con­certs and even Ger­man singer Nena (of 99 Red Bal­loons fame) re-emerged to trans­late it into Ger­man as Ick Kann Nix Da­fur for a film sound­track.

What was it about this song from an oth­er­wise un­re­mark­able Swedish indie band that fos­tered such in­ter­est. The lyrics are ro­bust enough – de­tail­ing a cou­ple chat­ting each other up as a night in a bar comes to an end – and the melody line has an easy bounce to it, but it’s over to pro­fes­sional whistler Linda Parker Hamil­ton for the real rea­son be­hind the song’s suc­cess. “ Young Folks has cre­ated more buzz around whistling than any other song in the last 50 years or since The Bridge on the River Kwai with a demo of Young Folks ask­ing her to sing on it. “When they first played me the song, I just thought how bril­liant it was,” says Bergs­man. “Our fin­ished ver­sion turned out re­ally well, but re­ally, it hasn’t any­thing to do with me. It’s their song.”

For many though, it’s Bergs­man’s vo­cal per­for­mance, and not the whistling, that makes the song. Her oddly dead­pan de­liv­ery is the per­fect coun­ter­point to the chirpy whistling. Bergs­man went on to re­lease her own solo album, Open Fields un­der the name Taken By Trees. It is one of this year’s most ne­glected but very best re­leases.

Bergs­man doesn’t tour much be­cause of chronic stage fright, so the band first ex­per­i­mented with Morén do­ing both vo­cal parts, but that wasn’t work­ing so now they pre- ar­range for a lo­cal fe­male vo­cal­ist to join them on stage in what­ever city they’re play­ing in.

Ei­ther mashed up with Amy Wine­house’s Re­hab, rapped up by Kanye West or tech­noed out of all shape, Young Folks looks set to be the sin­gle of the year – for the sec­ond year run­ning. bboyd@ir­ish-times.ie in 1957,” she says.

The last time whistling trou­bled the charts must have been when Ger­man met­allers Scor­pi­ons took their power bal­lad Winds Of Change to the top of the charts in 1990 – but the whistling on that song sounded very heav­ily treated by stu­dio trick­ery. When play­ing live, I be­lieve, the band used a synth sam­ple to re­cre­ate the ef­fect.

Bravely though, Peter, Björn and John in­sist on live whistling ev­ery time they per­form. This may not seem a big deal. But it is. For proof, look at the YouTube footage of the band per­form­ing the song on Fri­day Night with Jonathan Ross. Half-way through, vo­cal­ist and whistler Peter Morén is re­ally strug­gling.

This though is not the most in­ter­est­ing as­pect of the Ross per­for­mance. Mak­ing a very rare live ap­pear­ance with the band is the orig­i­nal fe­male vo­cal­ist on Young Folks, Vic­to­ria Bergs­man. The last time Bergs­man was due on the Jonathan Ross show with her band, The Con­cretes, a few months pre­vi­ously, she had dra­mat­i­cally walked out of the band min­utes be­fore they were due to per­form.

And that is how the song came about: know­ing Bergs­man was at a low ebb fol­low­ing her sud­den de­par­ture from The Con­cretes, her old friends, Peter, Björn and John called around to her

Björn, Peter and John, in that or­der

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