You’re So Vain – Carly Simon
Number one in New Zealand 23 February – 23 March, 1973
I was born on Friday 9 March, 1973. I can’t tell you much about it. Bombs had gone off through London the previous day, and permission had just been granted for a second television channel in New Zealand (in colour). The Festival of Wellington was coming up and being heavily promoted with the intriguing tag line: Go Gay the Festival Way! Presumably gay had not yet shifted its meaning in 1973. The letters to the editor were mainly complaining about American English creeping into New Zealand. One writer objected to the word “guy”, the phrase “figure out”, and saying you “called” someone rather than you telephoned them. Carly Simon’s most famous song was also entering its third week at number one on the New Zealand charts.
Carly Simon is famously coy about who the target of this song is although a long-time front runner has been Warren Beatty. The real answer, according to the latest book to vet Carly’s career (Girls Like Us), is that there isn’t so much a specific man in mind, but a type of man, of which Beatty and Jack Nicholson were examples in the circle of people Carly Simon knew at the time. This sounds plausible, but it’s just so much easier and more impressive at parties to say the song is about Warren Beatty.
Two years earlier the zeitgeist had declared 1971 the Year of the Woman, and it was that year that saw Carole King release Tapestry and Joni Mitchell release Blue. Carly Simon’s debut album also came out that year featuring the single That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard it Should Be. Because I came to these albums thirty odd years after they were released I have no notion of them being groundbreaking, but it seems that they were because they featured female singer songwriters talking about love in a way that significantly departed from the usual heartbroken-ex type, or the I want him to love me type. In fact, some commentators see these albums as reflections of the upsurge in the women’s lib, or feminism movements of the early 1970s.
Feminism makes its way awkwardly into the pages of the Evening Post on the day I was born. Very awkwardly in the case of the letter to the editor complaining that men with long hair are turning into women, and women are turning into men. The cause of women’s liberation is further undercut by the fact of the Fantastic James Bond Festival playing at the Majestic, and Liza Minelli’s tagline for the movie The Sterile Cuckoo (“I’m 19. I want to be loved… hurt me”), but the entertainment page also advertises the film Stand Up and Be Counted (“From Adam’s Rib to Women’s Lib… We’ve Come Along Way”).
There is very little information available about the film Stand Up and Be Counted although I did find this historic review:
The audience reaction is amazing. You can see men shrinking in their seats at certain scenes, and getting really hostile at others. And then there are points where all the women clap and you can feel the unity among the women in the audience.
Probably not a good date movie then.
The film mainly dealt with women’s liberation and how it relates to our relationships with men – fathers, boyfriends and husbands.
Which is what I suppose Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon were dealing with in their songs, although Carly’s song You’re So Vain is probably the funniest description of a relationship with a man.
You walked into the party
Like you were walking onto a yacht
Your hat strategically dipped below one eye
Your scarf it was apricot
You had one eye in the mirror
As you watched yourself gavotte
Some people object to the rhyme of yacht, (apri)cot and gavotte, but this seems harsh when compared with:
My hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, my hump,
My hump, my hump, my hump, my lovely little lumps (Check it out)
Others object to gavotte for the sounder reason that they don’t know what the f-ing hell a gavotte is. Neither did I. Aparently it’s a kind of 18th century dance where you slowly turn around.
There are some nice lyrical touches in this song which has just enough melancholy in it to be a warmly human response to a jerk rather than a strident, caricature.
… you gave away the things you loved
And one of them was me
I had some dreams
They were clouds in my coffee
Clouds in my coffee…
Incidentally, the man on back up vocals in the chorus saying “you – you – you” just a beat behind Carly is Mick Jagger. Bianca Jagger wasn’t pleased to hear that Mick had been working with Ms. Simon and suspected a fling which both parties denied fairly unconvincingly. In November of 1972, shortly after recording this song, Carly Simon married the ubiquitous James Taylor (who is also on Blue and Tapestry), and her album No Secrets featuring You’re So Vain was released.
The author of Girls Like Us, Sheila Welller, calls the No Secrets album cover the epitome of the 1970s educated woman:
Long, layered hair streaming out of the bottom of her wide-brimmed, high-topped hat, she is in an errand-doing, lunch-date-going motion in velour jeans, tote bag swinging. Under her long-sleeved tight jersey, her nipples are discreetly visible.
So, to recap, educated 1970s woman = hair, errands, lunch date, velour, nipples.
For me, what doesn’t work about this album cover is the fact that I keep thinking I’m looking at Steven Tyler from Aerosmith in drag. On better photo shoot days though Carly Simon was clearly a very beautiful woman.
I think it might be because Carly Simon is so good looking, and that her biggest song was so much bigger than her other hits that she tends to be thought of as a one hit wonder nowadays. To be perfectly honest I had no idea until quite recently that she (a) wrote her own songs, or (b) had had other hits that are actually pretty good. It probably didn’t help that she was also from a wealthy, literary family from New York (her Dad was the Simon in Simon and Schuster). I know that I always want people who are wealthy and good looking to at least have the decency to be stupid and without talents. No wonder some of the people who review her songs and albums seem so bitchy, but no matter how you look at it You’re So Vain is a clever, well-written song, and those reviewers are just going to have to suck it up and let her have beauty and wealth as well.