Posts Tagged ‘Moon River’

Is there a better song than “Moon River”? Perhaps. Yet there’s no denying that it’s one of the greatest songs of all time. Composed by Henry Mancini and featuring lyrics by Johnny Mercer, it features prominently in the 1961 adaptation of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, where it’s first heard as an instrumental during the classic opening sequence…

…and, later, when Audrey Hepburn sings it while sitting on her apartment’s window ledge. Initially, Paramount executives considered dubbing a trained singer’s voice and, after an early screening, then cutting the scene altogether. The former was taken care of Mancini, who specifically composed something within Hepburn’s range; and Hepburn herself took care of the second threat, insisting it remain. (Good thing she did: It won the Oscar for Best Original Song at the next year’s Academy Awards.) 

In October 1961, Mancini’s re-recorded orchestral version was released as a single alongside the album Breakfast at Tiffany’s: Music From the Motion Picture. The 45 peaked at No. 11 on the charts that December, while the LP went to No. 1. Hepburn’s winsome rendition, however, could only be heard in the movie until after she passed in 1993, when Music from the Films of Audrey Hepburn was released on CD. (Mancini is quoted as saying, “‘Moon River’ was written for her. No one else has ever understood it so completely. There have been more than a thousand versions of ‘Moon River,’ but hers is unquestionably the greatest.”)

Jerry Butler’s rendition was released concurrently with Mancini’s orchestral rendition, and also reached No. 11. 

Over in the U.K., Danny Williams – aka Britain’s Johnny Mathis – scored a No. 1 hit with the tune in 1961. (His was an interesting life. Born in 1942 South Africa, he won a talent contest at age 14, joined the Golden City Dixies and, when that act visited London in 1959, was signed to EMI.) 

Back in the U.S., meanwhile, a whole host of singers began covering the song – most notably Andy Williams, who covered it on his 1962 Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes album. He also sang it at the 34th Academy Awards and, then, adopted it as his theme song…but, oddly, never released it as a single. 

One of those “whole host of singers”: Ben E. King, who infused a “Spanish Harlem”-like vibe into his version, an album track on his 1962 Ben E. King Sings for Soulful Lovers LP.  

Bobby Darin recorded it in early 1963, though it sat in the vaults until 1999, when it was included on the Unreleased Capitol Sides compilation (and again, a few years later, on the five-star Legendary Bobby Darin CD).

Here are a few – of many – memorable renditions from the 1960s:

I’ll jump forward – and skip many other worthwhile renditions – to 1987 for one of my favorite versions, which hails from the Irish singer Mary Black’s 1987 album, By the Time It Gets Dark. At the time, it wasn’t included on the LP or cassette, just the CD. 

CD bonus tracks became all the rage by the early 1990s, of course, as music companies pulled out the stops while striving to get fans to re-purchase albums for the second (or third) time – LP/cassette —> first CD release —> CD reissue. In 1992, I.R.S. did just that with R.E.M.’s early albums, including their classic sophomore set from 1984, Reckoning. It featured five bonus tracks, including their take on “Moon River.”  

Michael Stipe & Co, though initially classified as “college rock,” weren’t the only alternative-minded rockers to cover it. In 1996, the Afghan Whigs released a cover of it as a bonus track of their “Going to Town” CD single. 

I’ll skip ahead to the next decade, when former and future Belly frontwoman Tanya Donelly shared her sweet version of “Moon River” on the 2010 Sing Me to Sleep: Indie Lullabies compilation.

The next year, the retro-minded Puppini Sisters – whose close harmonies are a thing of wonder – sang it on their Hollywood album.  

The British singer-songwriter Rumer, who pretty much makes every song she sings hers, included a version of it on her 2014 B-Sides & Rarities set. 

Frank Ocean surprised fans in February 2018 with his rendition of the song…

And, finally, here’s the rendition that sent me on this journey: Melody Gardot’s. Her luminous version can be found on this year’s Sunset in the Blue.

Melody Gardot’s Sunset in the Blue finds the soft hues of the chanteuse’s heart lilting like a leaf lifted from the ground by a gentle breeze on an autumn afternoon. In many respects, it conjures her 2009 breakthrough, the classic My One and Only Thrill, in sound and style, with deft orchestral touches underscoring her emotive vocals. The main reason for the similarity: she’s again working with that set’s production team – Grammy Award-winning producer Larry Klein, arranger/composer Vince Mendoza and engineer Al Schmitt. Yet Sunset in the Blue is no mere retread; the album incorporates the life and musical lessons she’s learned in the years since.

As evidenced by “If You Love Me,” the leadoff track, the space between notes is on full display throughout; she never rushes a phrase, preferring to hang back and, a la that leaf I mentioned above, ride the wind. Actually, now that I think about it, that metaphor is off: Her vocals are akin to a hawk gliding high in the sky until it spots prey, when it swoops low, talons out. She plucks us from the ground again and again, in other words, though we’re never left bloody. (Maybe that’s not the best metaphor, either.) Anyway, “C’est Magnifique,” which features Portuguese singer António Zambujo, is another example of what I mean.

The languid pace of the album is accented by similar, sumptuous melodies and rhythms; it’s like listening to a lush dreamscape, just about, and one you won’t want to wake from. Nine of the 13 tracks are originals co-written by Melody, though one of those – the duet with Sting, “Little Something” – is only available on the physical release, though it can be streamed from the usual suspects, including YouTube. (Which means, since my vinyl isn’t slated to be delivered until January, I’m stuck without it for the time being.)

Of the four covers: “Love Song,” written by Lesley Duncan, hails from Elton John’s 1970 Tumbleweed Connection LP, “You Won’t Forget Me,” by Richard Spielman and Kermit Goell, was first performed by Helen Merrill in 1956 (though it’s probably best known, these days, for Carly Simon’s rendition from her underrated 1997 Film Noir album); “Moon River” is, of course, the classic Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer song from Breakfast at Tiffany’s; and “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” by Sammy Cahn and Julie Styne, was first sung by Frank Sinatra in the 1945 musical Anchors Aweigh. Each, as one might expect, is luscious and wondrous in Melody’s hands. 

I’ll sidestep everything else I planned to write, as – honestly – words alone can’t quantify the beauty inherent in Sunset in the Blue. My wife says she hears hints of Billie Holiday within some songs; that may be so, but most of all I hear Melody, her heart and her soul. The music stops time for me in a way few other releases have this year.

The track list:

 

Earlier today, I watched (for the umpteenth time) one of my favorite films: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which was released in 1962. It’s a whimsical love letter to eccentricity, escape and the human-feline bond, and Holly Golightly may well be Audrey Hepburn’s most iconic role. The movie is also notable, of course, for introducing the Henry Mancini-Johnny Mercer song “Moon River” to the world.

Here’s some food for thought, though: In 1962, Holly’s opportunities were extremely limited because of her gender. She would have been disqualified from many jobs; and, even if an employer made an exception and hired her, she could expect to be paid much less than a guy doing the same work. She also wouldn’t be able to get a prescription for the birth-control pill, as it was only given to married women (and only in some states); and, regardless of her marriage status, she could be fired if she became pregnant. And if a male colleague or superior grabbed her ass? She had no recourse. Sexual harassment, as a concept, didn’t exist. Oh, and even if she had graduated as the valedictorian of her high school, she couldn’t apply to Harvard, Yale or Princeton, as women weren’t accepted as students. She’d also have difficulty getting a credit card.

fullsizeoutput_10a5Which is why Good Girls Revolt, a fictionalized account of the experiences of women at Newsweek during late 1969 and early 1970, is such an important series. On the surface, of course, it’s about women fighting for the right to pursue their dreams – in this case, reporting and writing. But it’s more than that. It’s about an era when change was spreading through society writ large. And while the America of 1969-70 was different than it was in 1962, it was not as different as, at first blush, it may seem – within the counterculture? Yes. Within the wider culture? Not so much. In 1970, for instance, CBS nixed the idea that Mary Tyler Moore would portray a divorcée in her eponymous sitcom because executives feared it would offend viewers. Instead, her character (Mary Richards) moved to Minneapolis after breaking off a long engagement.

Good Girls Revolt, for those who’ve yet to see it, opens after the concert fiasco at Altamont Speedway near San Francisco in December 1969. As I said here, the dialogue’s occasionally clunky in the first few episodes and the characters sometimes teeter near stereotypical – but it’s well-acted. Let me add an adverb: It’s extremely well-acted. (Genevieve Angelson, who plays lead character Patti, deserves an Emmy Award.) While glimpses of greatness are seen in the early going, it’s not until midway through the 10-episode run – the New Year’s Eve episode, to be specific – that the series hits its stride. (That’s not a criticism; most new shows take a while to find their groove.) By the last episode, when the employees take a public stand, you’ll be left wanting more. Much more.

However, last week, Amazon nixed a second season despite the show doing well in every available metric. According to Hollywood Reporter, Sony Pictures Television, which produces the show, is currently shopping it to other networks – ABC, Freeform, USA Network, Bravo and Hulu are all said to be interested – but they won’t take it on if they don’t think there’s an audience. So head over to Care2 and sign the petition.

The women themselves let their voices be heard on March 16, 1970, the same day that Newsweek published a cover story on the nascent women’s movement. The issue is actually dated March 23rd; like most magazines, then and now, Newsweek pre-dated its issues so that it retained newsstand appeal. For the purposes of today’s Top 5, I’m sticking to the 23rd – well, actually the 21st. The charts over at Weekly Top 40 are two days off.

Anyway, here’s today’s Top 5: Good Girls Revolt, Take 2 – March 23, 1970. These are the songs by female artists that, according to Weekly Top 40, were in the Top 40 that week.

1) Aretha Franklin – “Call Me.” The top 18 hits this week are by men; the highest-charting 45 by a woman is this, at No. 19. It was the lead single from Aretha’s 1970 This Girl’s in Love With You album.

2) The Supremes – “Up the Ladder to the Roof.” The next female act, the Supremes, comes in at No. 25. It’s notable as the first post-Diana Ross single by the Motown stalwarts; Jean Terrell handles lead vocals.

3) Lulu – “Oh Me, Oh My (I’m a Fool for You Baby).” This gem from Lulu (one of my favorites by her) ranks at No. 31.

4) Bobbie Gentry and Glen Campbell – “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” Of this week’s Top 40, exactly three and a half songs are by women. (Let that sink in for a moment.) This, a cover of the Everly Brothers’ classic, ranks No. 34.

5) The Five Stairsteps – “O-o-h Child.” This was a newly ranked single within the Top 100; along with its flipside, “Dear Prudence,” it was No. 85. (The Stairsteps were five siblings – four brothers and one sister – and they all take a turn singing lead here.)

And one bonus…

6) Gladys Knight & the Pips – “You Need Love Like I Do (Don’t You).” Another new entry this week, coming in at No. 87.

And that, believe it or not, is the extent of women in the chart, which covers Numbers 1 through 50 and adds 14 additional “new this week” entries for the Top 100 as a whole.

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By the end of the month, I will be immersed in my Album of the Year: Rumer’s This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach and David Songbook. I say that without equivocation or hesitation because, well, it’s Rumer; and, as the YouTube sampler she released a few weeks back demonstrates, that voice and these songs equal unadulterated bliss.

This past week, she released her spin on the classic “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” which was a No. 7 hit for Jackie DeShannon in the year of my birth, 1965.

Rumer has a knack for choosing the perfect song to cover so, for today’s Top 5: Rumer Has It. These aren’t necessarily my all-time favorite covers by her, just a collection of cool songs she chose to perform in concert, on TV or in the recording studio. (Her second album, Boys Don’t Cry, is an all-covers affair, of course; and her B-Sides compilation includes more.)

1) “Rocket Man” – Elton John’s classic.

2) “American Dove” – the Laura Nyro song. (This is my video, by the way; and is from Rumer’s American soil debut, which occurred months prior to Seasons of My Soul being released in the U.S.).

3) “Sara Smile” – The Hall & Oates’ classic.

4) “Arthur’s Theme (The Best You Can Do)” – the Oscar-winning title tune to Arthur.

 

5) “Moon River” – One of my favorite songs of all-time. This comes close to Audrey Hepburn’s original, which can be found in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

And one bonus: “Goodbye Girl” – from the classic movie of the same name; and the perfect end to Rumer’s 2010 debut.