Carly Simon – You’re So Vain

The rumor of who this song is about is almost as big as the song.  The rumors include Warren Beatty, Kris Kristofferson, Cat Stevens, and Mick Jagger.  In 1974, she told Modern Hi-Fi and Music: “That song is about a lot of people. I mean I can think of a lot of people. The actual examples that I’ve used in the song are from my imagination, but the stimulus is directly from a couple of different sources. It’s not just about one particular person.”

Carly has played it up through the years…but it’s a great song regardless.

The song peaked at #1 in the Billboard 100, #1 in Canada, and #3 in the UK. You can hear Mick Jagger singing in the background through the chorus.

In 2003, Simon held an auction for a charity on Martha’s Vineyard where she offered to tell the high bidder who this song is about. The winning bidder was Dick Ebersol, the president of NBC Sports, who paid $50,000. Ebersol had to sign a confidentiality agreement, but was allowed to give one hint – the man’s name contains the letter “E.” Over the next few years, Simon further revealed that there is also an “A” and an “R” in the name.


From Songfacts.

Richard Perry, who produced the album, has his own ideas about the song’s subject matter. He said in the book The Record Producers: “It’s about a compilation of men that Carly had known, but primarily Warren Beatty.”

Simon started recording this with Harry Nilsson singing backup, but Mick Jagger ended up singing on it instead (listen for him on the “don’t you” parts), although he was not credited on the album.

When asked how she was able to get him, Simon said: “I guess it was kind of chance in a way. I was in London, it was 1972 and he happened to call at the studio while I was doing the background vocals with Harry Nilsson. Mick said ‘Hey, what cha doin’?’ and I said ‘We’re doing some backup vocals on a song of mine… why don’t you come down and sing with us?’ So Mick and Harry and I stood around the mic singing ‘You’re So Vain’ and Harry was such a gentleman – he knew the chemistry was between me and Mick; in terms of the singing, so he sort of bowed out saying, ‘The two of you have a real blend – you should do it yourselves.'” >>

In a 2000 interview with Charlie Rose, Simon explained the origin of this song: “There was originally a song that had the melody of what is now ‘You’re So Vain,’ called ‘Bless You Ben.’ It went ‘Bless you Ben, you came in, where nobody else left off, there I was, by myself, hiding up in my loft.’ It never went anywhere, I could never fall in love with it. And then I was at a party and somebody walked in and my friend said to me ‘Doesn’t he look like he’s just walked on to a yacht?’ So, I thought to myself – hmmm, let me write that in my notebook. And then one day, when I was playing ‘Bless You Ben’ on the piano, I substituted ‘You walked into the party, like you were walking onto a yacht’ and the exchange was equal. And it felt natural and it felt good and then I could get into that man, I knew who I was talking about.”

Simon came up with the “Clouds in my coffee” line on a cross-country flight. She explained the meaning of the phrase, saying: “Clouds In My Coffee are the confusing aspects of life and love. That which you can’t see through, and yet seems alluring… until. Like a mirage that turns into a dry patch. Perhaps there is something in the bottom of the coffee cup that you could read if you could (like tea leaves or coffee grinds).”

The phrase came courtesy of her friend and musical collaborator Billy Mernit, who was sitting next to Simon on the flight. Carly had the window seat, and Mernit noticed the clouds from the window reflecting in her coffee. He said, “look at the clouds in your coffee,” and mentioned that it looked like a shot from the 1967 French movie 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, directed by Jean-Luc Godard. In the film, there’s a poignant shot of cream swirling in a cup of coffee. According to Mernit, he and Simon both wrote the line down in their journals, and a few weeks later, Carly called him and asked if she could use it in a song.

Glenn A. Walsh, who was Astronomical Observatory Coordinator and a Planetarium Lecturer for Pittsburgh’s original Buhl Planetarium, told us:

There actually is another part of the “You’re So Vain” mystery that few people are aware of. Most people think that most lyrics are simply creative. However, one lyric in this song is very curious:

“Then you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun.”

When I first heard this lyric in June of 1972, I immediately knew what it meant. I am sure that nearly ANY scientist who heard this lyric in 1972 knew exactly what it referred to!

In fact, one day in mid-June of 1972, a colleague and I were in the radio station when the record was played. When that particular lyric was heard, he turned to me and said, “that would be nice.” I knew he meant that it would be nice to fly to Nova Scotia and see the eclipse the next month.

There was a total eclipse of the Sun on July 10, 1972 and Nova Scotia would be one of the best places to observe this particular eclipse (see an image of the eclipse).

Even though Carly Simon wrote the lyric in past-tense, she was really writing about an actual event in the not-too-distant future!

This brings-up several questions:
– Did she write the lyric in past-tense because she did not think the record would be released until after the eclipse? Or she did not think it would become popular until after the eclipse?

– Did this guy tell her about the upcoming eclipse and his plans to see it? Or did she know about the eclipse herself or did some other friend tell her about it as she was writing the lyrics – and she knew this guy would possibly fly to Nova Scotia to see the eclipse?

– Did this guy actually fly to Nova Scotia to see the eclipse? Or, did the release of this record actually make him decide NOT to fly to Nova Scotia to see the eclipse (AND, was this Carly Simon’s purpose in writing the lyric)?

The mystery continues with these questions!

As the mystique surrounding this song grew, Simon became more evasive about its subject, but in the ’70s and ’80s she was relatively straightforward when asked about it. Here’s what she told Bob Shannon and John Javna for their Behind The Hits book, published in 1986: “There isn’t as direct an answer as you would like, or as my public would like to hear. I mean, I can’t answer and say it is about Warren Beatty, who a lot of people think it is about. Yes, it is about Warren Beatty. But it’s not only about Warren Beatty.”

You’re So Vain

You walked into the party
Like you were walking on a yacht
Your hat strategically dipped below one eye
Your scarf, it was apricot
You had one eye on the mirror
And watched yourself gavotte
And all the girls dreamed that they’d be your partner
They’d be your partner, and

You’re so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You’re so vain,
I’ll bet you think this song is about you
Don’t you?
Don’t you?

Oh, you had me several years ago
When I was still naive
Well, you said that we made such a pretty pair
And that you would never leave
But 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, and

You’re so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You’re so vain, you’re so vain
I’ll bet you think this song is about you
Don’t you?
Don’t you?

Well I hear you went to Saratoga
And your horse, naturally, won
Then you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia
To see the total eclipse of the sun
Well, you’re where you should be all the time
And when you’re not, you’re with some underworld spy
Or the wife of a close friend,
Wife of a close friend, and

You’re so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You’re so vain, you’re so vain
I’ll bet you think this song is about you
Don’t you?
Don’t you?

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

10 thoughts on “Carly Simon – You’re So Vain”

  1. Great song from a great year in music. I think I saw her interviewed a few years ago and she suggested it was mostly about Beatty but there was artistic license. She was an undeniably good-looking lady back in the day and probably had her share of suitors. Good singer too. Would have to say that I’ve seen a lot of female musicians interviewed who come across as nicer and less self-centred than Carly though.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The bit about the timing of the actual eclipse is really intriguing. I’ve loved the song since the first time I heard it. When I hear it now or read the lyrics, I clearly picture Warren and Mick. So my guess is that it’s about those two. But that’s just my gut feeling. Interesting post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes I think that is the two people. They fit really well. She also hung out with Robbie Robertson but he doesn’t fit like the others.
      I love the mystery of the song.

      Liked by 1 person

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