Originally appearing on his stellar 2011 mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, Frank Ocean’s romantically fatalistic R&B groove “Swim Good” qualifies as a bit of a modern day classic. It’s a vivid pop epitaph, describing his last ride in a Lincoln Town Car, with endless heartbreak as both his driver and passenger – with a little Tyler the Creator thrown in for good measure. It somehow manages to be both dramatically dark and empowering, a song perfectly built for solo listening.
Today we continue the tradition we started way back one month ago. Since we’re still new at this, I’ll reiterate that our picks are unranked and semi-impulsive. Even the un-blurbed “Honorable Mentions” at the bottom aren’t necessarily worse than the rest; in many cases, we’ve just already written about them at length and have little else to say.
Okay, disclaimers behind us, let’s dive in.
The 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s has a complicated legacy rivaling that of Gone with the Wind. The images of Audrey Hepburn standing in front of the famed Manhattan jewelry store are some of the most memorable of the 20th century. Yet, Mickey Rooney’s yellowface portrayal of the Japanese landlord I. Y. Yunioshi renders the film almost unwatchable today.
The movie’s Oscar-winning theme song “Moon River,” with music by Henry Mancini and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, has long transcended the era in which it was written. The song’s instantly recognizable melody has made it a standard through the ages, with versions by a wide range of artists from Frank Sinatra to The Killers. On Mancini’s Spotify page, Hepburn’s original from the movie and the main-title instrumental rendition are his top two tracks, beating out the equally iconic “Pink Panther Theme.” Frank Ocean recently added to “Moon River’s” exhaustive legacy by releasing a cover.
Ocean has made a name for himself as a musical trailblazer with his hypnotic blend of R&B and hip hop. Ocean sings most of the song in a raspy, almost bluesy voice. The accompaniment itself is rather sparse: one note simply repeating itself again and again, almost like a heartbeat. Ocean, singing lead and backup, uses his voice to carry the melody. He inverts the lyrics, shifting emphasis away from the words “moon river” and placing them squarely on the words “two drifters,” singing them with a heavy dose of sadness in his voice. The song fades out with soft electronic effects, sounding like it would be at home on Ocean’s other albums. With an artist of Ocean’s caliber taking on the tune, it’s clear that Mancini and Mercer’s iconic song from the early ‘60s is in no danger of fading away.
Click here to listen to our five favorite covers of “Moon River.”
You may have heard rising British star Jorja Smith on a couple of tracks on Drake’s latest album. And just last month, she recorded a soulful version of “Lost” by Frank Ocean; not in (to quote the lyrics) “Miami, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Spain…Los Angeles, India…[or] on a train”– but in London’s Metropolis Studios, for Spotify Sessions.
Smith’s rendition is what one imagines the writers’ original version sounded like pre-production: soulful, stripped-down, and emotional. With lyrics about a woman who’s lost her way, this cover aims right for the heartstrings while Ocean’s version – written and produced by Malay (who has also produced Sam Smith, Lorde, and John Legend) – is upbeat and contradictory to the lyrical journey.
Fans were on pins and needles at last weekend’s FYF in Los Angeles, fearing the elusive Frank Ocean may not show up again.
Ocean is a rare talent catalogers and writers have a hell of a time classifying. In fact, any one of his albums can fit into multiple musical genres: contemporary pop, hip-hop, psychedelic pop, R&B, alt-R&B, soul, avant-garde, etc. There are multiple Reddit threads dedicated solely to debating how to categorize his music.
Given his range, when this ultra-versatile musician and music lover, whose playlists show a wide-ranging taste, covered a 1984 hit from the Nigerian disco star, Steve Monite, the sound felt natural and fit right into Oceanic soundscapes.
Frank Ocean’s “Godspeed”, from his Blonde album, has been a popular song to cover, with a great recent take from Stormzy. But it’s even more special that James Blake would cover the song that samples his own “Always”.
Blake, who’s been a mastermind and contributor to a lot of other great artists, including Kendrick Lamar, produced, arranged and made keyboard contributions to Ocean’s original “Godspeed”. It is safe to assume the performance on May 14th in Arizona was not Blake’s first time playing the song. In a solo piano set, Blake performed an even mellower, more somber version of Ocean’s song.