Listen: Carly Simon and the Mystery of “You’re So Vain”
From the vault: The singer-songwriter performed her greatest hit with son Ben Taylor at Daytrotter on Oct. 27, 2009.Music Features Carly Simon
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There are some mysteries that will never be solved: What happened to Amelia Earhart? Is there really a lost city under the sea called Atlantis? Perhaps most pressing: Who is the subject of Carly Simon’s hit song, “You’re So Vain”?
The rich, the famous, and the lovers of music have argued for ages about who could be the subject of the scathing chorus: “You’re so vain / You probably think this song is about you.” Hypotheses range from Cat Stevens to Mick Jagger, who sang backup vocals on the original track. Over the years, Simon has given a few clues as to the true inspiration for the song: In 1994, she said the song is about more than one person. She revealed in 2004 that A, E and R are included in the subject’s name. In her memoir Boys in the Tree, she confirmed that the second verse is about Bonnie and Clyde star Warren Beatty. Simon has since shared the whole truth with a few famous friends, including Howard Stern and Taylor Swift. Proving that the price of honesty is high, NBC executive Dick Ebersol shelled out $50,000 to learn the true subjects of the song at a charity auction in 2003. The mystery behind the music has only fueled the song’s success. After its release in November of 1972, “You’re So Vain” skyrocketed to No. 1 on charts around the world, eventually earning Simon an induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Musicians ranging from Marilyn Manson to famed British drag queen Dame Edna Everage have covered it.
On Oct. 27, 2009, Simon, accompanied by her son Ben Taylor (her child with former husband and fellow singer-songwriter James Taylor) on guitar, sat down to play some old hits at the Daytrotter Studio in Rock Island, Ill. This live version of “You’re So Vain”—supported by Taylor’s flourishes, harmonizations and embellishments—rocks as hard as it did in the ‘70s. Check it out now. Who knows? Maybe you’ll solve the mystery that’s been teasing music fans for decades: Who is so vain?