You’re So Vain: Striking a Vocal Chord

The Rolling Stones have a new album out, Hackney Diamonds. Haven’t heard it yet, but what I do know is they’ve made a heck of a dent in the music landscape over the past 61 years. Another full-lipped and stunningly talented performer made her own ripple in music history. How about Carly Simon, writer and singer of the classic “You’re So Vain?” What do these two have to do with each other? Read on…

Stones Roll

The Stones spent the first three years of their career playing mostly other people’s music, focusing on interpretations of 1950s Chicago blues. Eventually, the rebellious street-fighting men from Dartford and other English locales figured out that long-term viability as a profitable rock band would require original material. It didn’t take long for the duo of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ fledgling songwriting career to produce gold.

When 1965 happened, everything changed, and the band got all the Sympathy (for the Devil) they could ever ask for. If you’re going to start writing your own music, you might as well produce a hit likely to remain popular for a century or so.

We could spend the night together talking Stones lore, but the fun and interesting bit is where this story intersects with rock icon Carly Simon. Some girls have all the luck, hobnobbing with one of the most iconic rock bands ever.

Carly’s Career

Born just 31 days before Mick Jagger, singer, songwriter, and children’s author Carly Simon was making waves of her own. OK, conspiracy theorists, among the hard-core trivia PhDs, some believe Simon was born in 1945, but we’re not gonna settle that here. Most trust the ’43 date, so we’re sticking with that. Besides, it makes for a better story.

Anyway, she hadn’t got time for the pain and cranked out a slew of stuff you might just know by heart: “Anticipation,” “You Belong to Me,” “Mockingbird,” “Nobody Does It Better,” “The Spy Who Loved Me” (a Bond theme from the movie of the same name), “Jesse” and many more.

I didn’t mention the one notable tune, but I promise we’ll get back to it in a hot second.

One quick aside about Carly. In addition to arguably being kind of the spitting image of that Jagger facial profile (my opinion only; your mileage may vary), she was also born with publishing in her blood. Her father, also not surprisingly named “Simon,” was “that” Simon—co-founder of the Simon and Schuster publishing megalopoly.

You’re So Vain Meeting of the Mouths

Here’s one of those fun facts you either know or not, but if you don’t, you end up smacking your forehead and saying, “How did I not realize that before?” Whatever your answer, I ask this question nearly every time the song comes on, and to date, only a handful of folks have known this precious morsel of rock and roll trivia. First, the background…

Carly Simon released her big, big , big hit, “You’re So Vain,” in November of 1972 on the album “No Secrets.” The song was huge, driving the album to a number-one spot on the Billboard 200 for five straight weeks.

Leading up to that time, Mick and the Stones would have been working on what many believe to be their finest album, “Exile on Main Street.” But somehow, during that busy time between the release of 1971’s “Sticky Fingers” and recording Exile, he found time for an undocumented side hustle with Carly Simon. No, not that kind. At least that we know of.

Whether the duo used any “Mother’s Little Helper” or not, Jagger was certainly Carly’s little helper on the “No Secrets” album. What did he do?

Carly’s secret and uncredited backup singer on her chart-busting hit, “You’re So Vain,” was none other than … rock and roll bad boy Mick Jagger.

As you listen to the song, Mr. Epic Lips comes in gently on the chorus about halfway through, perhaps at 25 percent of Carly’s vocal intensity. With each subsequent chorus, Jagger’s voice grows louder and stronger while Carly’s fades into the background. By the end of the song, it’s nearly all classic Jagger, and it is glorious. Not only do these two share more than a passing resemblance, but their voices meld like peanut butter and chocolate. Now, there’s an idea; someone should market that.

Anyway, Jagger’s uncredited appearance on the record was not some strategic thing designed as a PR coup. According to Simon, he just happened to call the studio where she was working on “No Secrets,” and she asked on a whim, “We’re doing some backup vocals on a song of mine; why don’t you come down and sing with us?” And such is the way great moments are born.

Who’s So Vain?

People often wonder … who “probably thought this song was about them?”

Some point to Mick Jagger. Others Warren Beatty. Carly was mum about the lyrical target for most of her life, but in 2003, for a charity auction, she “sold” the knowledge to a lucky bidder for $50,000. That person? TV sports broadcasting mogul Dick Ebersol. But even he couldn’t say as part of the condition of the sale was he couldn’t share the info publicly.

In 2015, Simon came clean with part of the answer. The second verse of “You’re So Vain” was about Warren Beatty, but the other verses were about two different men. The rumor mill says she’s told a couple of folks—Howard Stern and Taylor Swift—but they’re not talking.

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