The Whole of the Moon

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"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")
Released 14 October 1985 (UK)
November 21, 1985 (US)
April 2, 1991 (Re-issue)
Format 7"/12"

May 1985

Livingstone Studios, London and Amazon Studios, Liverpool
Genre Rock
Length 4:58
Label Ensign
Writer(s) Mike Scott
Producer(s) Mike Scott
The Waterboys singles chronology
"The Big Music"
"The Whole of the Moon"
"Fisherman's Blues"
Music sample

"The Whole of the Moon" is a 1985 single taken from The Waterboys' album This Is the Sea. 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.[1] The single was not a big success when initially released in 1985, only making the lower ends of the 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.[2][3]


The subject of the lyrics has inspired speculation, some of which has been rebutted by the writer. The song apparently began as a "scribble on the back of an envelope on a wintry New York street",[4] after Scott's girlfriend asked him if it was difficult to write a song.[5]

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.[6] 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.[4] 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.[7] Musician Nikki Sudden, with whom Scott had collaborated before forming The Waterboys, has claimed that the song was written about himself.[8]


The band members at the time were Mike Scott himself, 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. Demo'd but not finished at the beginning of the recording sessions, the song was eventually completed in May 1985.[4]

1991 alternate sleeve

A feature of "The Whole of the Moon" is the trumpet work on the recording, courtesy of the classically trained Lorimer. 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 Bb 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."[9]

Lorimer also contributes falsetto background vocals to the song, while Thistlethwaite, another brass section member, performs a saxophone solo near the end. Wallinger provided synthesizer, synth bass and backing vocals.


Cover of 1985 European release

It was first released as a seven and twelve-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.[1] 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.[2] 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" was covered by Jennifer Warnes on her 1992 album The Hunter, by Mandy Moore on her 2003 album Coverage, by the band Human Drama on the compilation album New Wave Goes to Hell and by folk singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey on his 1995 release Rapture. Other covers were made by Terry Reid on his album The Driver, Tom Baxter, Celtic Pride, Boys Of A New Age,[10] Little Caesar, Paddy Casey, Cousin Leonard, DJ Marco, The Frames, and 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.[6]

The song was also performed in an episode of Father Ted by Father Noel Furlong (played by Graham Norton).

Prince covered the song during his London stint of the 'Hit & Run' tour. It was performed at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Cafe.[11]

Prince once again covered the song during a performance at his Paisley Park Studios during a Dance Rally for Peace on Saturday May 2, 2015. [12]


  1. ^ a b "Discography" Retrieved 17 November 2008.
  2. ^ a b Mick Fitzsimmons. "Must Have Waterboys". BBC: Critical List. Retrieved October 22, 2005. [dead link]
  3. ^ "The Waterboys" Retrieved 17 November 2008.
  4. ^ a b c Scott, Mike (2004). "Recording Notes". This Is the Sea. EMI. p. 5. 
  5. ^ Dodd, Philip (2005). The Book of Rock: From the 1950s to Today. Thunder's Mouth Press. p. 480. 
  6. ^ a b "Review of The Whole of the Moon". Allmusic. Retrieved October 24, 2005. 
  7. ^ "FAQ". mikescottwaterboys. Retrieved October 23, 2005. 
  8. ^ Nikki Sudden. "A Few Mike Scott stories". Excerpts from Nikki Sudden's Autobiography. Retrieved October 23, 2005. 
  9. ^ "Roddy Lorimer". Kick Horns Line Up. Retrieved October 31, 2005. 
  10. ^ "Whole of the Moon"[dead link] Retrieved 17 November 2008.
  11. ^
  12. ^

External links[edit]

  • 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.