You Want Me to Do What With Your Whistle?!

What I’m playing on the ukulele right now:

For You a Lei by Johnny Noble

 I’ve been posting videos of me playing songs on the ukulele since my very first post, and if you look back on what I’ve done you’ll see that I have a love of Tin Pan Alley songs from the 1920s and 1930s. Until recently I was never sure why those songs have taken hold of me more than the songs written during my own lifetime. Now I think I know.

Let’s see if I can explain.

Here is a sample of lyrics from the numbers 1,2 and 3 on the Billboard Top 100 for the week of September 14, 2012:

#1—Taylor Swift—We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

We are never ever ever getting back together

We are never ever ever getting back together

You go talk to your friends, talk to my friends, talk to me

But we are never ever ever ever getting back together

Like, ever…

I’m really gonna miss you picking fights

And me, falling for it screaming that I’m right

And you, would hide away and find your peace of mind

With some indie record that’s much cooler than mine

#2—Maroon 5—One More Night

You and I go hard

At each other like we going to war

You and I go rough

We keep throwing things and slamming the doors

You and I get so

Damn dysfunctional we stuck keeping score

You and I get sick

Yeah I know that we can’t do this no more

#3—Flo Rida—Whistle

Can you blow my whistle baby, whistle baby?

Let me know

Girl I’m gonna show you how to do it

And we start real slow

You just put your lips together

And you come real close

Can you blow my whistle baby, whistle baby?

Here we go

(Look) I’m betting you like people

And I’m betting you love creep mode

And I’m betting you like girls that give love to girls

And stroke your little ego

Compare that to the top 3 songs of 1922:

#1—Al Jolson—April Showers


Life is not a highway strewn with flowers,

Still it holds a goodly share of bliss,

When the sun gives way to April showers,

Here is the point you should never miss.

Though April showers may come your way,

They bring the flowers that bloom in May.

So if it’s raining, have no regrets,

Because it isn’t raining rain, you know, (It’s raining violets,)

And where you see clouds upon the hills,

You soon will see crowds of daffodils,

So keep on looking for a blue bird, And list’ning for his song,

Whenever April showers come along.

#2—Paul Whiteman—Three O’Clock in the Morning


It’s three o’clock in the morning

We’ve danced the whole night through

And daylight soon will be dawning

Just one more waltz with you

That melody so entrancing

Seems to be made for us two

I could just keep on dancing forever dear with you

There goes the three o’clock chime, chiming, rhyming

My heart keeps beating in time

Sounds like an old sweet love tune

Say that there soon will be a honeymoon

#3—Paul Whiteman—Stumbling


“Tention folks, speak of jokes

This is one on me

Took my gal to a dance

At the armory

Music played, dancers swayed

Then we joined the crowd

I can’t dance, took a chance

And right then we started

Stumbling all around, stumbling all around

Stumbling all around so funny

Stumbling here and there, stumbling everywhere

And I must declare, I stepped right on her toes

And when she bumped my nose

I fell and when I rose

 I felt ashamed and told her

That’s the latest step, that’s the latest step

That’s’ the latest step, my honey

So for those of you playing the at-home game, here’s the scorecard:



April Showers—Endurance and keeping a positive attitude in the face of adversity We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together—Attitude. Well that and being really pissed off at Jake Gyllenhaal 
Three O’Clock in the Morning—Love, marriage and dancing  One More Night—Violent relationships
Stumbling—Love, marriage and bad dancing Whistle—Criminy! Do I really have to explain it to you? 

Why, then, do the lyrics from 1922 sound sweetly naïve and a bit corny? Or rather, what does that say about our time that flipping attitude, violence and..uh..whistling speaks to us more clearly than love, dancing and a positive outlook? Human feeling and expressions—and whistling, for that matter—have been with us since the beginning of time, and songwriters have expressed these emotions throughout history. But in the 1920s love, marriage and dancing were very common song subjects. Have we stopped loving or marrying or dancing? Of course not! But why have these subjects been underrepresented in today’s music?

I think we as a society have a joy deficit. We have become shamed out of dancing badly with the one we love, singing and smiling. We need fewer hate-spewing politicians and pouty, spoiled pop stars and more ukuleles.

My advice? Don’t waste anymore time; grab the one you love, sing, dance and play the ukulele!

10 thoughts on “You Want Me to Do What With Your Whistle?!

  1. Interesting thoughts – I think that I’ve said before that in our club we keep harkening back to oldies – one week we determinedly brought in some songs form the ’80s to be asked to hunt out some Cole Porter (which I duly did – producing songs that were over a century old that went down a storm!).

    As I trawl through ukulele sites I often read comments about it being a happy instrument.
    Today’s that I found just before seeing your post was from – at the end of his lessons he states the following under WARNING:

    “Perhaps it’s a little late for a warning, but better late than never. You should be aware that:

    There’s no such thing as owning just one ukulele.
    The ukulele has no sustain.
    People often ask you about George Formby.
    The ukulele is irrepressibly cheerful, and sometimes you don’t want to be cheerful.”


    PS Your Scorecard table formatting has gone a little awry & need s little tweak to get it lining up.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Jeanette!

      It really is interesting to look at how song lyrics have evolved over the past 90 years. Perhaps it’s an American thing, but I’m seeing a level of aggression in our culture that is reflected in our popular songs.

      Thanks also for the ukulele warnings. I myself have fallen prey to MUS (Multiple Uke Syndrome). I’m up to 4 now and will be getting #5 when I go to Hawaii in a couple of weeks.

      I do disagree about using the uke for less-tha-cheerful songs. There are several sad songs that lend themselves quite well to the ukulele. Although they’re often performed brightly, take a look at the lyrics to “Me and My Shadow” sometime.

      I’ll soon be posting a version of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby” with the verse–“Gee, but it’s tough to be broke, kid/It’s not a joke, kid/It’s a curse./My luck is changing, it’s gotten from simply rotten to something worse.”

      Thanks also for the feedback on the table. I got it fixed! 🙂


      • Hi Tom,

        We too have a number of laments that we play – At Last, Blue Skies (a mix of both sad & jolly), Cry Me A River, Cryin’ In The Rain, Last Tears, Raining In My Heart, There’s A Tear In My Beer, What Made Milwaukee Famous etc. We enjoy having the contrast between those & the more upbeat selections.

        Often with the older numbers, it’s only when I start to learn them for the uke do I notice the depth & complexity of their lyrics. I’m finding I’m paying more attention to detail just listening to music now – both for potential strumming suitability & the actual arrangements. It’s certainly nice to look at familiar (& not so familiar) songs in a different way.

        The table is looking good, thanks!


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  3. Pingback: Tin Pan Ukuleles « People of Lewisham's Ukulele Club

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