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Updated: Jul 22, 2023

“The Whole Of The Moon” by The Waterboys:

The pop duo Bros once had a big hit singing ‘When will I, will I be famous?’ and for many up and coming artists, that remains a question that resonates when things are going okay, and can hurt when things are particularly tough.

During my childhood, one of the sayings I grew up with was ‘Delay is not denial’, but the extraordinary story we’re going to look at in this blog post stretches the idea of waiting patiently for success, almost to breaking point.

Let’s start this inspirational ride through space and time with a passionate lockdown video by two members of Take That, Gary Barlow and Mark Owen:

The respect they both show to the song they’re singing brings out one of their very best performances. They know they’re dealing with exceptional material that is considered almost sacred in songwriting circles. That song is the ‘The Whole Of The Moon’, a unique and magical composition written, sung and produced by Mike Scott for his band, The Waterboys. It was the second track on the band’s third album ‘This is The Sea’ and was released on 14 October 1985 and all the omens were good. Roger Morton of Record Mirror noted how the four tracks on the 12-inch single "draw out the drama in Scott's barnstorming pop poetry to raging effect" and "should bring water to both your eyes and your mouth". He considered Scott to sound "like a cross between Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens”. Jerry Smith of Music Week praised "The Whole of the Moon" as a "memorable number", which "should give them their first big hit”.

But, despite all the press and industry buzz about its truly outstanding lyrics and the Prince-inspired power of the production, in its year of release “The Whole of the Moon” only reached number 26 in the UK charts. So the song’s creator Mike Scott was faced with what must have been a sense of dreadful disappointment and even despair. He had exceeded his usual high poetic standards and crafted a lyrical jewel that Bob Dylan would have been very proud of:

Although people tend to say reassuring stuff like ‘Quality will out’, the reality is that for many artists, the story will normally end there, with their masterpiece lost forever because it failed commercially. But 5 (yes, five long years later), in 1990 things started to turn around for Mike Scott and “The Whole Of The Moon”. First glimmer of hope was a cover with a more current feel, by Little Caesar:

Mike Scott wished the young band good luck with their cover, and expectations were again high. But this indie dance pop version peaked at a disappointing number 68 in the Top 100. Game over, and yet more disappointment.

But in 1991, a miracle unfolded. Chrysalis Records decided to release a Waterboys ‘best of’ compilation, but were cautious about re-approaching radio with ‘The Whole of the Moon”. But little by little, radio started playing it and consumers started buying the song, which was re-released to match demand. This classic song soared up the charts to number 3, achieving Platinum sales six years after its initial release, helped by the 1985 video clip, link above.

And I know the next part of this unbelievable fairy tale is true, because I was there, vibing away and shining happily like an Oxford Street Christmas tree. Yes, in 1992, at the Grosvenor House, seven years after its first release, the song was awarded ‘Best Song Musically and Lyrically’ at the Ivor Novello Awards (Ivors). I had always loved the song and like many others at the awards ceremony, had tears in my eyes, witnessing the song’s complete resurrection, both commercially and artistically. We can only try and guess how Mike Scott felt as he went up for the statuette, making his way through the cheering crowd of well-wishers.

Upon its first release in 1985, music critic Richard Bryson described the song as "curiously appealing". He noted its commercial potential, but added "there is also something a little elusive at the core of this record". Even as a fan of the song, I understand what he meant. The lyric 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". It’s as if the singer is Salieri, praising the effortless greatness of his more successful rival, Mozart. In fact, Mike Scott says he was writing about literary figures, such as C.S. Lewis, but whomever it’s about, it’s a strange and unique subject for a pop song.

And ‘The Whole of the Moon” marches on. Covers include Prince, U2, The Killers, Fiona Apple, Jennifer Warnes and many others. The song has been used effectively in a range of synchs from Father Ted (briefly sung by Graham Norton) to this male/female version in the movie ‘Let It Snow’ from 2019:

So maybe this incredible story proves to us that sometimes ‘Delay isn’t denial’ and ‘Quality will out’ after all… good luck with your projects!

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