In the 1961 classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Audrey Hepburn’s character Holly Golightly spends one scene feeling so down that she pulls out a guitar to sing the intensely melancholy song “Moon River” on her fire escape. The resulting scene was humanizing, charming and warm—and the song itself won an Oscar and three Grammy awards the following year. It’s been a classic ever since, and just this week the sometimes-elusive singer Frank Ocean breathed new life into the track with a cover timed for Valentine’s Day.
Ocean’s version shares a spirit with his past covers, some of which appeared on his 2016 experiment Endless (of them, his take on the Isley Brothers’ “At Your Best” is arguably the best). Here, in the first few seconds, he pitches his voice up to harmonize with himself—another hallmark of his music that fans will recognize from the track “Nikes” on his album Blonde. That finally gives way to his singularly dreamy crooning. It’s a more complex take on the song than Hepburn’s original acoustic version, and becomes almost hypnotic as it winds on.
Fans are hoping this is all just a precursor to the year Ocean seemed to promise them in an essay for i-D. After going on a festival tour, releasing a variety of tracks via his Beats One radio show, and even insinuating that he had already recorded a fifth album, he wrote in the publication: “If you liked two thousand and seventeen then you’ll love two thousand and eighteen.” To kick it off with a cover of one of the most iconic songs written for cinema seems like an apt way to do it.
The original “Moon River” was written by Henry Mancini and John Mercer specifically for Hepburn’s vocal range, but the song and scene almost got cut by studio executives. As the story goes, Hepburn put down an ultimatum saying the scene would get cut only over her dead body. And it was a good stand to take: since that first release, it’s been recorded by Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland and a litany of other talented artists. (Some put the cover tally around 500.) Still, though Hepburn sings the song on the actual film, in the soundtrack, the studio re-recorded it with a full orchestra, never releasing Hepburn’s acoustic version apart of the movie until after her death.
Fingers crossed it won’t take that long for Ocean to release those Endless vinyl orders.
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