On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…
Carly Simon – You’re So Vain (1972)
We’re leaving the UK and flying back across the Atlantic to the US and landing in New York, dear reader. Today’s guest is both a musician and an author. Her debut album was released in 1971 but we pick up the story of Carly Simon in 1972 when her third album, No Secrets, has been released. On that record is a song that is arguably her biggest hit and certainly one that she is best known for. To add a bit of glamour to the post today, it’s also a bit of a mystery in the form of You’re So Vain.
A real puzzling track to this day, You’re So Vain was believed to be Carly Simon writing about one man she had known or potentially been in a relationship with in the past. Warren Beatty was adamant the song is about him. Truth be told, the second verse is about Beatty with Simon saying the other two verses are about two other individuals. Each verse describes the lifestyle of these men, all celebrity excess with jet planes and yachts, but the chorus is united with the same theme. With brilliantly memorable lyrics, Simon tells each man in turn that they are “vain” so much so that they “probably think this song is about” them. Amen, sister, those are icy words indeed. The song is very much a composite of Simon’s experiences with individual imagery for each man often taken from little anecdotes from her own life. Combined it’s an angry song that cuts to the bone with its lyrics.
Carly Simon would see You’re So Vain top the charts in the US and deservedly so. It contains an uncredited Mick Jagger on backing vocals and if you listen carefully you can make him out, giving it his all. The story goes that Jagger just happened to be around the studio when the song was being recorded and Simon asked if he fancied doing some backing vocals to which he agreed. Talk about good fortune. There has been no such good fortune for the majority of us in the revelation of the identities of the three men Simon sings about. Warren Beatty is one, with a handful of individuals including Howard Stern and Taylor Swift revealing they have allegedly been told by Simon who the three men are. Those that do know are sworn to secrecy and have kept their word. Now into her 70s, Carly Simon has revealed little clues as the years have passed but the final answers remain elusive and that’s one of the many reasons this is such a great song.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
The Kinks – Days (1968)
Derek & The Dominos – Layla (1970)
David Bowie – Life on Mars? (1971)
Rod Stewart – Maggie May (1971)
Carly Simon – You’re So Vain (1972)