Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Moon River

First recorded and performed (in Breakfast at Tiffany’s) by Audrey Hepburn (1961, released 1993).
Hit versions by co-writer Henry Mancini (US#11/MOR #3/UK #44 Oct 1961), Jerry Butler (US #11/MOR #3/R&B #14 Oct 1961), Danny Williams (UK #1 Nov 1961).
Also recorded by Andy Williams (1961).

From the wiki: “‘Moon River’ was written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, and was used as Audrey Hepburn’s theme song in the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Hepburn sings the song in the movie, but the version used on the soundtrack was an instrumental by Henry Mancini and his orchestra. Mancini’s instrumental version was released as a single, the first to chart in the US and UK. Hepburn’s version, even though recorded first, was not released until after her death in 1993. It then appeared on the album Music From The Films of Audrey Hepburn.

“Although the instrumental version is played over the film’s opening titles, the lyrics are first heard in a scene where Paul ‘Fred’ Varjak (George Peppard) discovers Holly Golightly (Hepburn) singing them, accompanied by her guitar, on the fire escape outside their apartments. There was an eruption of much behind-the-scenes consternation when a Paramount Pictures executive, Martin Rackin, suggested deleting the song from the film immediately after a very successful San Francisco preview. Hepburn’s reaction was described by Mancini and others in degrees varying from her saying ‘over my dead body’ to her using somewhat more colorful language to make the same point.

“‘Moon River’ is now a real river in Savannah, Georgia, where Mercer grew up. His home overlooked the Back River and he had fond memories of the place. After ‘Moon River’ (the song) proved to be such a popular hit, Mercer’s hometown renamed the Back River in honor of the song; Mercer’s childhood home along the river became known as the Moon River House. The line ‘My huckleberry friend’ is often thought to be a reference to Huckleberry Finn, a character in Mark Twain’s book Tom Sawyer. However, in his autobiography, lyricist Mercer said it was instead a reference to a childhood friend of his with whom he used to pick huckleberries down by the lazy Back River in Savannah.

“A vocal version of ‘Moon River’ by Jerry Butler was released concurrently with Mancini’s instrumental version. Butler’s recording also went to #11 in the US (plus, made the US R&B chart) in October 1961. South African singer Danny Williams (no relation to Andy) took ‘Moon River’ to #1 in the UK in late 1961. D. Williams originally refused to record ‘Moon River’, saying that Mercer’s lyrics were nonsensical. But, then, Williams saw the film and was so moved by it that he relented. His recording topped the UK Singles chart in late 1961.

“Andy Williams’ 1961 recording was never released as a single. Nonetheless, he was asked to sing it on the 1962 Academy Awards broadcast and his recording became Williams’ ‘signature song’ and, perhaps, the most imitated version of the song. Its opening bars were used as the theme for his weekly TV variety show, The Andy Williams Show (1962-1971). Williams also named his theater in Branson, Missouri, the Moon River Theatre.”

Henry Mancini, “Moon River” (1961):

Jerry Butler, “Moon River” (1961):

Danny Williams, “Moon River” (1961):

Andy Williams, “Moon River” (1961):