The Meaning of Andy Williams’ “Moon River”
‘Moon River’ had a rich history before Andy Williams first sang it, but his rendition took on the classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s theme to a new level. The dreamy song clearly left a strong impression on the artist, as he went on to name his company, theater and autobiography in his honor.
The song impacted the world as much as it impacted Williams. Although “Moon River” has been performed by other phenomenal artists like Audrey Hepburn and Jerry Butler, Williams’ rendition of the song charted exceptionally well despite never being released as a single.
“Moon River” won numerous awards for its hopeful lyrics and smooth composition, but Andy Williams’ rich tenor voice obviously brought out the best in the song.
song writing process
“Moon River” was originally written by composer Henry Mancini and lyricist Johnny Mercer for the 1961 film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Mancini revealed in an interview that it only took him about 30 minutes to compose the song.
“It had to be in tune with the character of Holly Golightly, the star character of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and I had to keep in mind the limitations of Audrey Hepburn’s voice,” he said. “I worked the whole song around a simple guitar base, even though the guitar isn’t heard much during the track.”
Mercer wrote the lyrics to a real river near his home in Savannah, Georgia. Her window overlooked the river, and there were many fond memories. The real river was originally called Back River, but was officially renamed Moon River in honor of the song. Mercer’s house is also known as Moon River House.
When the song was performed by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it became an instant hit. Hepburn’s rendition of “Moon River” won best arrangement, record of the year and song of the year at the 1962 Grammys, as well as the Oscar for best original song.
Andy Williams performed “Moon River” for the first time at the same Academy Awards.
The lyrics of “Moon River” are simple, yet powerful. The song is a brief two minutes and 24 seconds long, and there are only three verses with no real chorus.
In the song, the river acts as a metaphor for a lover. He is described as both a dream Maker and one heart Breaker in the same line, emphasizing both the delicious and disastrous results of relationships. Even knowing it could go wrong, the narrator is still determined to follow his heart.
River of the Moon, wider than a mile
I’ll meet you in style one day
Oh, dream maker, heart breaker
Wherever you go, I go your way
The song also expresses the youthful longing for a life of adventure. The narrator wants to follow the river to the the end of the rainbow, implying that there is some kind of treasure or satisfaction that will come from seeing the world.
Two wanderers, gone to see the world
There are so many people to see
We’re after the end of the same rainbow
Line, my friend Huckleberry, was not an artistic choice of Mercer, but a nostalgic choice. Mercer revealed in his autobiography that the line was actually a reference to his childhood friend. They used to pick blueberries by the river together in the summer, and he wanted to include the image in the song.
We’re after the end of the same rainbow
my blueberry friend
Moon river, and me
Between Andy Williams
After performing “Moon River” at the 1962 Oscars, Williams named her production company and theater in Branson, Missouri, after the song. He also used it as the theme for his TV show, The Andy Williams Show, from 1962 to 1971. At the start of each episode, he sang the opening bars of the song.
Although Williams never recorded the song as a single, it appeared on his 1962 LP, Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes. The album was certified gold a year later in 1963 for selling over a million units. Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes went to No. 3 on the Billboard charts and sold over two million copies by 1967.
In 2002, Williams, 74, performed “Moon River” live on NBC’s 75th anniversary show. When Williams launched his autobiography in 2009, he titled it Moon River and me. The book was published just three years before his death in 2012.
Ten years after his death, Williams’ version of “Moon River” was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry in April 2022. Although the song had an undeniable impact on music and culture, this achievement guarantees that it will be written down in history—literally.
Listen to Andy Williams’ “Moon River” below.
Photo by David Redfern/Redferns