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.”