Scottish Pop Song of the Day #22

The Waterboys – The Whole of the Moon (1985)

Well I’ll be damned.

I went online to double-check the release date of this brilliant song, with the intention of writing something about its supernatural power of endurance; about my after-school cafe job in the mid-nineties, wherein I must have heard it on the jukebox at least ten times a shift and still thrilled at every line; about how I am stopped in my tracks, heart in mouth, whenever it comes on the radio to this day; about how, when The Waterboys played it in Glasgow last month, it was brilliant: like hearing it for the first time.

I was going to write about how this must make it one of the pop canon’s greatest songs: how its lyrics constantly burst with ideas and images and possibilities; how its incandescent music – that trumpet! – follows suit; how there is no flaw and yet so much ragged passion in Mike Scott’s voice.

But then I discovered, during my web search, that the song’s subject matter has been something of a talking point; that debate about its meaning has raged since its release, with no definitive conclusion.

I was a child when the record came out, so didn’t give it much thought at the time, but as a teenager, and as an adult, its fundamental message has always seemed, to me, to be implicitly clear.

It is not, as myriad hypotheses have posited, about Prince, or CS Lewis, or Mark Helprin’s ‘A Winter’s Tale’ or some such inspirational hybrid thereof.

It is about the excellence of women.

Their superiority over men.

Let us look at the evidence.

I pictured a rainbow, you held it in your hands‘ – Women are more practical.

I had flashes, but you saw the plan‘ – Women are better at reading instructions.

I wandered out in the world for years, while you just stayed in your room‘ – Women have a better sense of direction.

I saw the crescent, you saw the whole of the moon‘ – Women have greater powers of perception.

And so on:

‘I spoke about wings, you just flew’ – Women have a better grasp of aerodynamics.

‘I wondered I guessed and I tried, you just knew’ – Women are better are retaining information. (NB: the way Mike Scott sings this particular line, on this particular version of the song, is utterly beautiful).

And then we reach the zenith of this glorious, bombastic aria – and indeed the climax of this lyrical argument:

‘You came like a comet’ – Women have better orgasms.

I rest my case.


(Footnote: The Whole of The Moon has an ace partner song in King Creosote’s equally exquisite Not One Bit Ashamed. KC’s is a rather more dejected offering, and it kind of inverts the standpoint, but womankind – if we maintain this thematic line of enquiry – still enjoys the upper hand: ‘I invested it all, you threw in a dime’; ‘I ran half marathons and you ran a mile’. There’s no online streaming link but you should buy it anyway).

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