“You’re So Vain”
Do not be fooled by this song. It sounds all soft and airy, with its strummy acoustic guitar and piano. With its catchy, clever chorus, “I’ll bet you think this song is about you.” Carly Simon is the Alanis Morissette of 70s SoCal soft rock. This is one pissed off tune.
Even though it begins a little ominously, with a bass riff and Simon whispering “Son of a gun,” the full impact of the anger here doesn’t quite hit you until the second verse. That’s when the intensity of her fury hits you in the solar plexus, leaving you gasping for air: “But you gave away the things you love, and one of them was me. I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee.” By the third verse, she’s not even pretending for the sake of the tune to hide her bitterness. The veneer does disguise it to some extent, but not enough.
Carly Simon wrote this about a man in her life, but she has never publicly revealed who it was. In 2003, she auctioned off the secret for charity; television executive Dick Ebersol paid $50,000 for the knowledge. In 2010, she told a newspaper that the identity of the song’s subject was “whispered backwards in a re-recording” of the song. There were reports that it was (very gay) David Geffen, but that was denied by Simon’s camp. Other possible candidates for Vain Jerk include Warren Beatty and Mick Jagger (although Mick is pretty unlikely, since he sang back-up on the song . . . unless he really is that vain). Chances are, it’s a composite of several men she had relationships with up to that point. It was written in 1971, and released in 1972 (the only famous man pretty much in the clear is ex-husband James Taylor, whom she married the same year).
I love not knowing exactly who it’s about; the mystery is fun. Plus, it might take some of the sting out of the song if the real subject was revealed. As it stands, this is one of the angriest, nastiest break-up songs you’ll ever hear on an easy listening radio station.