On January 6, 1973, “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In her signature tune, she scathingly teases a narcissistic former lover. He is so vain that he even thinks the song is about him. Since its release, speculation has run rampant about who inspired the self-involved protagonist in “You’re So Vain.” The song went on to garner Grammy nominations for Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance. In 2004, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Simon’s songwriting swagger in “You’re So Vain” inspired generations of other female artists like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood to use their own music to call out ex-lovers who did them wrong.
Simon’s gift for music helped to rescue her from a challenging childhood. She was born on June 25, 1945, in New York City to Richard Simon, the co-founder of the Simon & Schuster book publishing company, and Andrea Simon, a civil rights activist and singer. Her parents’ marriage was rocky and a family friend sexually abused Simon when she was seven years old. By age eight, she had developed a stutter in response to the trauma. Singing and songwriting allowed Simon to ultimately cure herself of her speech impediment. After a brief stint at Sarah Lawrence College, she sang folk music with her sister in their duo, The Simon Sisters. She launched her successful solo career after signing a record deal with Elektra in 1970. Her self-titled debut album included her first top-ten hit “That’s The Way I Always Heard It To Be,” and won her a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. Her second album, “Anticipation,” was also a hit, but her third album, “No Secrets,” would win her worldwide acclaim.
“You’re So Vain” from her third album became a career and decade-defining hit song. Simon’s description of a self-absorbed ex-lover, and the ensuing emotional heartbreak that he caused appealed to the growing emotional vapidity of the era. Simon has long been coy about his identity, only sharing decades later that he was a composite character of three men from her LA days. Since she had a string of romantic partners, many different names were conjectured. Aside from her famous marriage to James Taylor, Simon had been linked to Mick Jagger, who sang uncredited backup vocals on “You’re So Vain,” Warren Beatty, Kris Kristofferson, David Bowie, Jack Nicholson, and Cat Stevens. Beatty thought the entire song was about him. He even called Simon in 1983 and thanked her for writing it about him.
However, in 2015, while promoting her book, “Boys In Trees,” she revealed that Beatty was the inspiration for only the second verse: “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.” She shared that there were two other, unnamed men who inspired other parts of the song. So, even though Beatty thinks “the song is about him,” he is only partially correct. Simon recently shared that she won’t reveal the others, saying, “At least until they know it’s about them.”
While we keep wondering about Mr. Vain’s identity, Simon recently premiered a “lost” verse from the song in a 2017 BBC interview, including the lines: “A friend of yours revealed to me that you’d loved me all the time/Kept it secret from your wives/You believed it was no crime.” While the mystery only deepens, “You’re So Vain” is still a timeless and empowering song. If you’ve ever been let down by a narcissistic love interest, there is nothing more gratifying than turning up this song and singing along.