In one of this year’s better holiday movies, Netflix’s Let It Snow, two teens belt out the Waterboys’ “Whole of the Moon” in an empty church, their voices unskilled but sincere. Tobin (Mitchell Hope) plays the organ while “The Duke” (Kiernan Shipka) sings along — you don’t need to know much else beyond the fact that Tobin has been hopelessly in love with Angie, a.k.a. the Duke, for years — and the lyrics of this 34-year-old song are the only words that do when expressing that.
The Waterboys’ classic song, off 1985’s This Is the Sea, has been having a moment lately. Not only has it cropped up in more than one TV show and movie, it’s also U2’s go-to track for warming up the crowd before shows. “I guess it has timelessness in its sound and I know the lyrics mean a lot to people,” frontman Mike Scott tells Rolling Stone. “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.”
The track is also one of Scott’s biggest compositions financially — it’s even been covered by Prince. Recently, it appeared in Let It Snow, as well as twice on the series finale of The Affair — first with the 1985 Waterboys version, then a Fiona Apple cover at the end of the episode. The former version accompanies Noah Solloway (Dominic West) teaching his family a dance routine for his daughter Whitney’s wedding. “I loved the flash mob dance scene and thought Fiona Apple’s cover was beautifully performed and arranged,” Scott said.
In Let It Snow — a film about a group of teenagers who find themselves snowed in to comedic and romantic effect — the song follows Tobin and the Duke as they go from friends (spoiler) to a couple. “We wanted something that felt bittersweet, melancholic and yet uplifting and iconic,” director Luke Snellin tells Rolling Stone. “I listened to it in the car, in the office, everywhere for like a week. It kept deepening, both lyrically and tonally I kept hearing new corners of it — it quickly became my only choice for the duet in the church, which was initially the only place we were going to use it, I just hoped the band would be into the idea of us using it.”
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As it turns out, Scott was game. “I usually approve [syncs], yes,” he says. “The rare occasions when I don’t are ads that don’t feel right or a film usage that doesn’t feel ethically okay.”
As for U2’s use of the song — most currently on their recently launched Joshua Tree tour — Scott approves. “U2 has history with ‘The Whole of the Moon,’” he says. “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.”