Rewinding the Charts: 43 Years Ago, Carly Simon Wouldn't Reveal Who Was 'So Vain'

Carly Simon
Peter Simon

Carly Simon

The singer-songwriter's 1973 hit topped the Billboard Hot 100, spurred her first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 No. 1 and kicked off a four-decade mystery.

THE 1970s WERE A GOOD TIME FOR musical mysteries that have since been solved. Despite rumors fueled by playing The Beatles' "Revolution 9" backward, Paul McCartney wasn't really dead. And, Dark Side of the Moon was not intended as an alternate soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz.

It's only recently, however, that one much-debated question – who inspired Carly Simon's 1973 kiss-off song, "You're So Vain"? – was partially answered by its writer. In November, just ahead of the publication of her memoir Boys in the Trees, Simon, 70, confirmed to People magazine that actor Warren Beatty, long rumored to have inspired the tune, was the culprit behind its second verse, in which the singer realizes her dreams are just "clouds in my coffee."

The song's memorable and mysterious lyrics gave Simon, then 27, her first and only No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100. Beginning with the chart dated Jan. 6, 1973, the hit reigned for three weeks and, a week later (Jan. 13), helped push its ironically titled parent LP, No Secrets, to the top of the Billboard 200 for five weeks. Simon has scaled the album tally 22 more times through 2009 (rising as high as No. 3).

During her interview with People, Simon told the magazine that "[Beatty] thinks the whole thing is about him!" – a nod to the song's chorus – but he is actually just one of three men who inspired the track. (She has denied that singer-songwriter ex-husband James Taylor is one of them.) Simon has not publicly divulged the identities of the other two, but Taylor Swift reportedly learned them after Simon joined her onstage to sing "You're So Vain" during a 2013 stop in Foxborough, Mass., on Swift's Red Tour. In a video produced for the show, Swift thanked Simon for inspiring her own trademark lyrical digs at exes and said of "Vain": "That is the most direct way anyone has ever addressed a breakup."

A version of this article first appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of Billboard magazine.


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