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The Story Behind Carly Simon’s ‘You’re So Vain’

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Jim Corrigan/Getty Images

Jim Corrigan/Getty Images

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Carly Simon’s biggest hit, “You’re So Vain,” was released in November of 1972 and became the number one record in the country this week in 1973.  Who the song is about, however, remains a mystery.

In a recent interview, Simon discussed the lyrics:  “Somebody walked into the party and a friend of mine said, ‘Doesn’t he look like he’s walking onto a yacht?’ So I wrote that down in my notebook. And then in another part of my notebook, I had this little scribble that went, ‘You’re so vain. You probably think this song is about you.’ Which I thought, ‘Well I’ll hook that up somewhere, somewhere along the line.’ And then I hooked up that to the man who walked into the party who looked like he was walking onto a yacht.”

To this day the subject of the song remains one of the great mysteries in music history.  Before writing the song, Simon was married to James Taylor but has said the song is definitely not about him.  In fact, at the time the song was released, she claimed it was about men in general and not one man specifically.  Mick Jagger did backing vocals on the song; Simon has also has said the song is not about the Rolling Stones frontman.  It’s also been widely speculated that actor Warren Beatty was the song’s subject, and Simon has admitted that the song is a “little” bit about Beatty but says the song is actually a composite of three men from her L.A. days.  David Bowie, David Cassidy and Cat Stevens have all been cited by the press as possible candidates as well.

In 2003, Simon agreed to reveal the name of the song’s subject to the highest bidder of a charity auction. With the top bid of $50,000, Dick Ebersol, president of NBC Sports and a friend of Simon, won the right to know the name of the person “You’re So Vain” was written about. Ebersol was given a private performance of the song at Simon’s home and Simon whispered the name into his ear. A condition of the prize was that Ebersol would not reveal the person to anyone. Ebersol said that Simon allowed him to divulge a clue about the person’s name: “The letter ‘E’ is in the person’s name,” was all he was able to reveal.

In a re-recorded version of the song in 2010, Simon is said to have whispered the name of that person backwards and her publicist revealed that the whispered name was David.  New speculation that the name referred to Simon’s former boss at Elektra Records, David Geffen, and that the song had been inspired by her jealousy of the attention Geffen had lavished on label-mate Joni Mitchell.  However, at the time she wrote the song in 1971, she hadn’t even met Geffen yet.

So…..who really is the subject of “You’re So Vain”?  Apparently only Carly Simon and Dick Ebersol know for sure.

Jim Johnson, 104.3 WOMC


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