The Whole of the Moon

"The Whole of the Moon" is a song by the Waterboys which was released as a single from their album This Is the Sea in 1985. It is a classic of the band's repertoire and has been consistently played at live shows ever since its release. Written and produced by Mike Scott, the subject of the song has inspired some speculation.[2]

"The Whole of the Moon"
Single by The Waterboys
from the album This Is the Sea
  • "Medicine Jack" (7")
  • "The Girl in the Swing"/"Spirit"/"Medicine Jack" (12")
ReleasedOctober 14, 1985 (UK)
November 21, 1985 (US)
April 2, 1991 (Re-issue)
RecordedMay 1985, Livingstone Studios (London) and Amazon Studios (Liverpool)
GenreNew wave[1]
LabelEnsign Records
Songwriter(s)Mike Scott
Producer(s)Mike Scott
The Waterboys singles chronology
"The Big Music"
"The Whole of the Moon"
"Don't Bang the Drum"
Audio sample
The Whole of the Moon

The single was not a big success when initially released in 1985, only making the lower ends of the chart, although it reached number 12 on the Australian chart. Subsequently, it became one of the Waterboys' best-known songs and their most commercially successful. It is arguably the band's signature song and was the Ivor Novello Award winner "Best Song Musically and Lyrically" in 1991.[3][4] Upon its re-release in 1991, it reached No. 3 in the United Kingdom.


The subject of the lyrics has inspired speculation, some of which has been rebutted by the writer. The song began as a "scribble on the back of an envelope on a wintry New York street",[5] after Scott's girlfriend asked him if it was difficult to write a song.[6] Scott added further lyrics to the song upon returning to his hotel and after his return to London.[7]

Like The Waterboys' first single "A Girl Called Johnny", the song is a tribute to an inspirational figure or figures. In each line, the singer describes his own perspective and immediately contrasts it with that of the song's subject, summarizing the difference with the line "I saw the crescent / You saw the whole of the moon".

AllMusic instead suggests that its subject is a number of people who inspired Scott, including writer C. S. Lewis and the musician Prince.[8] Scott himself says that he "couldn't have written" the song without having read Mark Helprin's novel Winter's Tale, but goes on to state that the song is not about Helprin.[5] The official Waterboys website's Frequently Asked Questions clarifies that Scott has said that the song's subject is "a composite of many people", including C. S. Lewis, but explicitly states that it is not about Prince.[9] Musician Nikki Sudden, with whom Scott had collaborated before forming the Waterboys, has claimed that the song was written about himself.[10] In a 2020 interview, Scott specifically rejected claims that it was about Sudden or Prince: he said that he wrote a message "on the record’s label saying, 'For Prince, U saw the whole of the moon'" as a reference to discussions between himself and Karl Wallinger about creating a Prince-inspired sound when they were recording the song.[7] He explained:

The Whole of the Moon is about someone like CS Lewis, who seemed to see so much and explore issues much more deeply than most people, or it could be about a Jimi Hendrix-type person who comes “like a comet, blazing your trail” and is gone too soon, but it’s not specifically about anyone.[7]


The band members at the time were Mike Scott, Anthony Thistlethwaite, Karl Wallinger, and Roddy Lorimer. Drummer Kevin Wilkinson had left the band by the time "The Whole of the Moon" was recorded and drums were played by session player, Chris Whitten. Demoed but not finished at the beginning of the recording sessions, the song was eventually completed in May 1985.[5]

Scott composed the song's piano part, which he described as "a self-taught rhythm with one finger doing one pattern and three fingers doing another", upon returning to the UK from New York.[7]

1991 alternative sleeve

A feature of "The Whole of the Moon" is the trumpet work on the recording, courtesy of the classically trained Lorimer. Scott has said that he wanted the trumpets to have a similar impact to the flugelhorns on the Beatles' "Penny Lane": "like sunlight bursting through clouds".[7] Lorimer spent three days with Scott working on the song's arrangement and "went home with a tape of the song and thought about a more classical approach. After a while sitting at the piano I came up with the idea of antiphonal trumpets. A piccolo trumpet on the left answered a piccolo on the right and then the same again, growing by adding a B trumpet below each side of the stereo picture. Mike loved it, except the slightly jazzy chords I had used on the run down at the very end, which he simplified. I used the same classical approach later in the song, mixing two classical-type trumpets behind a later verse."[11]

Lorimer also contributes falsetto background vocals to the song, while Thistlethwaite, another brass section member, performs a saxophone solo near the end, commencing after an explosion-like sound achieved by adding echo to a sound effect of a firework.[7] Percussion was added by Martin Ditcham, who played what Scott described as "a bag of weird stuff that he rubbed together or shook".[7] Wallinger provided synthesizer, synth bass and backing vocals: Scott has said that he asked Wallinger to play a synth line like the one on the Prince song "1999", and that another four-note melody used was inspired by another Prince song, "Paisley Park". Additional backing vocals were provided by Max Edie.[7]


It was first released as a seven and 12-inch single, which reached number 26 on the United Kingdom singles chart. The single also contained a live recording of "The Girl in the Swing", from The Waterboys, the band's first album, an extended mix of "Spirit", and a song titled "Medicine Jack". Following various sell-out tours by the band from 1986-90 the song appeared on the group's greatest hits package The Best of the Waterboys 81–90 in 1991.[2] That year, this song was re-released as a single (7", 12" and CD) from the album and was a big hit, peaking at number three on the UK Singles Chart and receiving an Ivor Novello Award as "Best Song Musically and Lyrically" in 1991.[3] The second single release had different B sides from the 1985 version. "Golden Age" was on the 7" B side and the 12" had "The Golden Age Medley", which included "A Golden Age", "Higher In Time" (fast), "High Far Soon" and "Soon As I Get Home".

Including the 2004 remastered album, the song has been officially released four times and appears on the following Waterboys albums:

"The Whole of the Moon" remains one of the Waterboys' most famous and most financially successful songs.[12] Scott said of the song's durability, "I guess it has timelessness in its sound and I know the lyrics mean a lot to people. If a lyric was true when it was written, it'll be true today. 'The Whole of the Moon' still means a lot to me and it's one of my old songs that I never tire of hearing or performing."[12]



"The Whole of the Moon" was covered by Jennifer Warnes on her 1992 album The Hunter, by Mandy Moore on her 2003 album Coverage, by Human Drama on the compilation New Wave Goes to Hell, by folk singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey on his 1995 album Rapture, by Terry Reid on his album The Driver and by Susan McFadden on the Celtic Woman album Destiny. Steve Hogarth of Marillion has included it in his solo "h natural" shows. It was also a hit on the Balearic dance scene in the 1980s and has appeared on numerous other compilations.[8]

Frightened Rabbit covered the song at BBC Scotland Hogmanay Show in 2012.

Prince covered the song at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club during his 2014 Hit & Run tour,[14] and again at the Paisley Park Studios during a Dance Rally for Peace in May 2015.[15] "He's so strict about people filming gigs on their phones, no one's posted it on YouTube," rued Mike Scott. "However, I understand it was a piano-and-vocal solo version. Boy, would I love to hear that."[16]

Mike Scott included a live solo version on his 1995 single "Building the City of Light".[17]

U2 used it as their walk-up song during much of The Joshua Tree Tours 2017 and 2019.[18] Scott said of U2's version "They performed it in a medley with 'Where the Streets Have No Name' on one of their tours, maybe 10 years ago, which was a very cool acknowledgement that the two songs have the same chorus melody. People keep telling me it plays just before they take the stage on their Joshua Tree tours, and that's supercool too. They must feel it sets the scene, and I can dig that."[12]

The Killers covered the song during their headline set at TRNSMT festival in Glasgow in July 2018.

Kirin J. Callinan released a cover of the song and an accompanying video clip in 2019. The track marked the first single from Callinan's third record, Return To Center.[19]

Little Caesar (electronic-house group) released an indie dance version in the UK in 1990.

Bryan Ewald (of Starbelly, Jarflys...) released a version in 2021. Performing all of the instruments himself. [20]

Fiona Apple covered the song for The Affair series finale. Scott said Apple's version was "beautifully performed and arranged."

Two of the characters in the Netflix original film Let It Snow improvise a duet of the song on a church organ while taking shelter during a snowstorm.

In the Father Ted episode "Hell", Father Noel Furlong (Graham Norton) sings a very aggressive version with his youth group members in a caravan.[21]



Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[30] Gold 400,000 

  Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ "Mandy Says". Spin. Vol. 19 no. 11. November 2003. p. 28. ISSN 0006-2510.
  2. ^ a b "Discography" Retrieved 17 November 2008.
  3. ^ a b Mick Fitzsimmons. "Must Have Waterboys". BBC: Critical List. Archived from the original on January 15, 2005. Retrieved October 22, 2005.
  4. ^ "The Waterboys" Retrieved 17 November 2008.
  5. ^ a b c Scott, Mike (2004). "Recording Notes". This Is the Sea. EMI. p. 5.
  6. ^ Dodd, Philip (2005). The Book of Rock: From the 1950s to Today. Thunder's Mouth Press. p. 480.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Simpson, Dave (27 July 2020). "Mike Scott of the Waterboys: how we made The Whole of the Moon". Retrieved 27 July 2020.
  8. ^ a b "Review of The Whole of the Moon". Allmusic. Retrieved October 24, 2005.
  9. ^ "FAQ". mikescottwaterboys. Archived from the original on April 11, 2008. Retrieved October 23, 2005.
  10. ^ Nikki Sudden. "A Few Mike Scott stories". Excerpts from Nikki Sudden's Autobiography. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved October 23, 2005.
  11. ^ "Roddy Lorimer". Kick Horns Line Up. Archived from the original on October 24, 2005. Retrieved October 31, 2005.
  12. ^ a b c Ehrlich, Brenna. "The Waterboys' 'Whole of the Moon' Is Having a Moment". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  13. ^ "Discogs". Retrieved 2016-11-28.
  14. ^ "Prince watch: his Hit and Run tour stops by at Ronnie Scott's | Music". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
  15. ^ "Paisley Park DANCE RALLY 4 PEACE. Saturday May 2, 2015. Starts at NINE THIRTY". 2015-05-02. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
  16. ^ Moody, Paul (February 2015). "Welcome back: The Waterboys". Classic Rock #206. p. 24.
  17. ^ "Mike Scott – Building The City Of Light". Discogs. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  18. ^ Kantas, Harry (10 June 2017). "No Ordinary 30 Year Old Record". Retrieved 5 March 2019.
  19. ^ "Kirin J Callinan - The Whole Of The Moon". YouTube. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  20. ^ youtube video link Bryan Ewald (The Whole of The Moon cover)
  21. ^ Hell | Father Ted | Season 2 Episode 1 | Full Episode, singing begins at 17:05
  22. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 333. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  23. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 0640." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 5 June 2020.
  24. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – The Waterboys" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40. Retrieved 27 June 2020.
  25. ^ " – The Waterboys – The Whole of the Moon" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 5 June 2020.
  26. ^ " – The Waterboys – The Whole of the Moon". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 5 June 2020.
  27. ^ a b "The Waterboys: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 5 June 2020.
  28. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – The Whole of the Moon". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 5 June 2020.
  29. ^ "1991 Top 100 Singles". Music Week. 11 January 1992. p. 20.
  30. ^ "British single certifications – Waterboys – The Whole of the Moon". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 12 June 2020.

External linksEdit

  • Video directed by Irish filmmaker Meiert Avis, and shot at the Lyceum Theatre, London in November 1985. Mike Scott sings live over an amended version of the record, on which fiddle and acoustic guitar were added at Wessex Studios, London. Lu Edmonds of Public Image Ltd. mimes the bass in the video.