Frank Ocean surprised his fans early Thursday morning by unveiling a cover of the classic, “Moon River.”
Funny thing, though. Some of his fans mistook it for an original track.
But those who know the song well quickly weighed in.
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Ocean is introducing a new generation to one of the most recognizable songs ever written for a movie, a song that won an Academy Award for Best Original Song and Grammys for Song and Record of the Year.
“Moon River” is No. 4 on the American Film Institute’s list of top film songs, right behind “Over the Rainbow,” “As Time Goes By” and “Singin’ in the Rain.”
Written for the 1961 Audrey Hepburn film, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” the song was created by musical heavyweights — music by Henri Mancini, lyrics by Johnny Mercer.
In the movie, Hepburn — who plays Holly Golightly — sings the haunting song while strumming a guitar and sitting on the fire escape of her New York City apartment.
“Moon river, wider than a mile; I’m crossing you in style some day; Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker; Wherever you’re goin’, I’m goin’ your way.”
Movie lore has it that at a post-production meeting after a screening of the film, a studio executive said: “Well, I think the first thing we can do is get rid of that stupid song.”
Hepburn stood up at the table and reportedly declared: “Over my dead body!”
(In an alternative version of that story, producer Richard Shepherd says he and co-producer, Martin Jurow, were the ones who said that to Paramount’s head of production, who wanted to cut the song out.)
Hepburn was not a trained singer and Paramount executives thought they would need to dub someone else’s voice. But Mancini wrote the song specifically for Hepburn’s limited vocal range.
“Henry was at home one night and we were watching ‘Funny Face’ in which Audrey Hepburn sings ‘How Long Has This Been Going On,’” Mancini's widow, Ginny, once told the BBC.
“He went to the piano and started playing it, and knew she could sing something in that range.
“It took him about a month and a half before he put down the first three notes. It sounded promising and in half an hour he had written the melody of ‘Moon River.’”
She said Mercer wrote three sets of lyrics. His favorite version was inspired by the full moon over a river near his childhood home of Savannah, Georgia, she said.
Even though Hepburn’s version is credited with helping the song win the Oscar, movie fans loved the way crooner Andy Williams performed it at the 1962 Oscars so much that he made it his signature theme song.
For better and worse, the song has been covered by many others before Ocean tackled it — Frank Sinatra, The Killers, Patty Griffin, and Eric Clapton with Jeff Beck.
Mancini reportedly thought Hepburn’s version was the best. After hearing Ocean’s version, some would agree.
“His version is sparse, consisting of little more than guitar, vocals, and atmospheric effects,” writes Dazed.
“Although technically uploaded to YouTube on February 15, its artwork — bearing the numbers ‘2/14’ — suggests it’s a late Valentine’s Day gift from the singer.”