One Track Minded | Inside Carly Simon’s Broken Heart on You’re So Vain

“You gave away the things you loved, and of them was me..”

Listening to Carly Simon’s colossal 1972 hit, ‘You’re So Vain’, you realise very quickly that whoever wounded this woman will be reminded for eternity. Every time they hear it tumble across the airwaves, they will hear the broken-hearted vibrations.

It is within that thought, that the intention of Carly Simon becomes very clear. Revenge through melody and catchy hooks. With lyrics that perhaps only the subjects themselves can interpret fully. It’s a beautiful song built around the theme of emotional, aching pain. Carly Simon is getting her heart ripped out and handed back to her. However, she delivers the track with focused, confident precision.

The raked bass intro is a haunting lesson in misdirection of how the song will eventually play out. The whispered and barely audible line, “son of a gun”, just as the song is about to lift, gives an eerie quality. You know instantly she is intent on regaining control. As it lifts with the drum kick, a perfect song springs from the themes of imperfect relationships.

When asked who the subject of “You’re So Vain” was? Simon has always denied it is about Mick Jagger, Cat Stevens, Warren Beatty, Kris Kristofferson. The reason why she has denied unequivocally which person it is about, is perhaps because it is not about one person, but three individuals.

This may sound slightly over-the-top but in reality it makes perfect sense. What Simon is doing is fencing off the lovers who trampled on her affections, capturing them together, dealing with it through her art and closing the door on that chapter of her life.

The three who are most likely to fit the bill are listed below, with a verse which is relatable or even dedicated to each.

Nicholas Delbanco

The subject of the first verse is the lesser-known of the three, American writer Nicholas Delbanco. The pair did have an affair in the south of France in the mid-sixties, but little else is known. Apparently a clue lies is in the lines:

“Your hat strategically dipped below one eye. Your scarf, it was apricot”

This tends to be seen as a direct description of his trademark style back in those French summer days. It is the inclusion, however, of the word ‘gavotte’ which gives the game away. Where Carly Simon could have used another phrase such as ‘a lot’, she instead uses a word describing a French dance:

“And watched yourself gavotte”

Warren Beatty

The ultimate Hollywood player of the sixties and seventies, the man supposedly had the stamina of a stampeding pack of horses, although more recently he is famous for fluffing up Oscar award presentations.

Back in the early seventies, as Carly Simon was coming into her own, Beatty met her at the Troubadour club in Los Angeles, where she was opening for Cat Stevens. Although not leaving together, Beatty did arrive at her apartment a few hours later and a night of passion followed.

“You are not my first patient of the day who spent the night with Warren Beatty last night.”

What makes all this interesting is the aftermath. The next day she attended her psychiatrist as usual, divulging all the secrets of the night before, to which the psychiatrist allegedly replied, “You are not my first patient of the day who spent the night with Warren Beatty last night.” Obviously the phrase ,”clouds in my coffee”, refers to the ocean of tears she cried after.

Mick Jagger

The walking hormone of rock since the early-sixties was apparently obsessed with Carly Simon. The extent of a romantic affair is not widely known, but apparently Simon simply rejected Jagger’s advances at the time. Allegedly an affair did happen eventually, but it was well after ‘You’re So Vain’ was a hit.

What is known however is linked within the lines; “And when you’re not, you’re with some underworld spy, Or the wife of a close friend”. The wife is Angie Bowie and the close friend is the late David Bowie. But here’s the interesting bit, if you listen to the chorus you can hear the drawl of Mick Jagger singing the backing vocals. The sweet irony of Jagger singing on a track, albeit uncredited, which is partly about him.

“I’ll bet you think this song is about you,
don’t you?”

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