Paul Fitzpatrick: London, October 2021
If I was to transport myself back to December 1972, and look around my bedroom wall I would be surrounded by posters of Led Zeppelin, The Faces, The Who, The Stones, Bowie, etc…. a sea of white men with long hair brandishing shiny Stratocaster’s or menacing Les Paul’s.
Ashamedly, women at this point just didn’t figure in my record collection and whilst I grew to love Tapestry by Carole King, No Secrets by Carly Simon and the glorious Court & Spark by Joni Mitchell, the first step to those feminine treasures was a 45 rpm Single – Carly Simon’s self penned classic, ‘You’re So Vain’.
I first heard this tour de force in December 1972 at a point when the airwaves were awash with Glam Rock, Xmas singles and Novelty songs, one of which, ‘My Ding-A-ling’ by Chuck Berry was the nations current number one single.
I fell in love with ‘You’re So Vain’ the first time I heard it… Carly’s voice, the lyrics, the playing, the production and of course the ringing endorsement that was Mick Jagger on backing vocals.
Mick didn’t do guest vocals for anyone, he was Mick bleedin’ Jagger, the guvnor, but here he was singing his little heart out as an uncredited backing vocalist for this unknown hippy chick with the luscious lips.
It was 4 mins 19 secs of perfection as far as I was concerned.
I remember going Xmas shopping that year and having just enough money left to buy myself a single… the contenders were Bowie’s ‘Jean Genie’, Free’s ‘Wishing Well’ or ‘You’re so Vain’… all great songs and all newly released.
I plumped for Carly that day, probably as I was on my own, if I’d been with my pals I’d almost certainly have bought one of the others for fear of being mocked.
Sad I know, but such was the way of the world back then – how do you think Status Quo sold more records than Aretha Franklin in the UK??
In a similar vein, I can remember subsequent shopping trips where ‘Midnight at the Oasis’ by Maria Muldaur and Roberta Flack’s ‘Killing me Softly’ were covertly purchased.
Aged 14 I was used to deciphering songs about Norse Gods and ‘Deaf, Dumb & Blind kids’ but I instantly ‘got’ Carly’s lyrics and how they were aimed at a self-absorbed partner who loved himself so much that he assumed that the song could only be about him.
What I didn’t quite appreciate at the time was just how autobiographical the song was, until years later when all the speculation surfaced about who the song was actually about.
You can take your pick from – Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Kris Kristofferson, David Bowie, David Cassidy or Mick Jagger, to name but a few.
You see, our Carly was a bit of a free spirit before settling down with Sweet Baby James.
Reflecting on her list of suitors I remember thinking… it would be bizarre for Jagger to perform on a song that’s basically highlighting a major character flaw… until I realised that it was such an on-brand thing for Mick to do – he probably is that vain and as such was just doubling-down on the sentiment!
The songs protagonist was always a big secret (bit weird, as the album was called No Secrets!). However, in 2015 Simon confessed that the song is actually about three men (told you she was a bit of a gadabout!) and admitted publicly for the first time, that the second verse is about the Hollywood lothario Warren Beatty… who’s no doubt a bit pissed off that he’s having to share the honour.
I worry sometimes, probably unnecessarily, that all the speculation and noise about the songs muse (or muses) detracts from what a brilliant piece of music it is, but perhaps it helps to keep it relevant and that’s why current artists like Taylor Swift have adopted it as an anthem.
Consistently featured in most ‘Greatest Songs of all Time’ lists ‘You’re so Vain’ catapulted Simon into the public eye in 1972 and she went on to have a fantastic career on the back of her first big hit.
Looking back, in 1972 as a 14 year old with raging hormones another great attraction about Carly Simon was exactly that… the attraction of Carly Simon.
She was an absolute stunner, so whilst 14 year old girls had Donny or David or Marc up on their walls, a few of us had the album sleeve of No Secrets above our bed… of course, that was until our mates came round – then we had to get the Zep & Stones posters back up sharpish!