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The Waterboys: The Whole Of The Moon

Updated: Oct 11, 2021

Gareth Williams

There are many songs that flick a switch in your brain, some that make your feet start to dance, some that bring a tear to your eye and the odd one that makes you think. The Whole Of The Moon by The Waterboys is one that compels you to listen to the lyrics – how you interpret them is up to you alone.

You could say that it is a man singing about his lover with awe: I pictured a rainbow You held it in your hands I had flashes But you saw the plan But then there is the revelation that maybe not everything is so rosy: And you know how it feels To reach too high Too soon Has this person suffered a major failure, stretched too far in the quest for success? Then the singer plays the ‘difference between us’ card; glass half full or half empty, is he just a pessimist who hangs round with an optimist? I saw the rain dirty valley You saw Brigadoon And the hook line: I saw the crescent You saw the whole of the moon The singer, Mike Scott, introduces a strange palette of images that would not be out of place in a Salvador Dali painting: Unicorns and cannonballs Palaces and piers Trumpets, towers and tenements Wide oceans full of tears Flags, rags, ferryboats Scimitars and scarves Are these the dreams of one realised by the other? Is this a pang of envy by the singer? Though there is real admiration for the person for trying and perhaps achieving their goal: You climbed on the ladder With the wind in your sails You came like a comet Blazing your trail It is not just the words that echo through the piece; there is a repetitive five-chord sequence on a synth that heightens the poetic rhythm of the song. An unexpected addition is a trumpet fanfare halfway through in the manner of George Martin slipping in the same effect on Penny Lane. This is a composition that actually doesn’t age, for if you had not heard it before (unlikely) you would swear it was bright and new and very clever. Mike Scott, the group’s Edinburgh-born founder, wrote and sang the song in 1985 in London where The Waterboys had carte blanche to experiment. Starting off with Mike on piano and a drum machine, a synth was added, then a sax and finally trumpets. Thus, there are influences of Dylan, Bowie and the Beatles on the single from their album This Is The Sea. However, it was only when the track was re-released in 1991 that it became a worldwide hit. The Waterboys are still touring and their ‘acoustic’ version of The Whole Of The Moon is part of their set list. We need songs that have musicality, ones with deeper meaning, and sometimes you discover one with both. The Whole Of The Moon is worthy of playing over and over, leaving you to wonder if you really understood it this time. Play it again, boys.

The Waterboys - This Is The Sea

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