"You're So Vain
" is a song written and performed by Carly Simon
released in December 1972.
The song is a critical profile of a self-absorbed lover. The song was a number-one hit (it topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in early 1973, and also spent two weeks at the top of the Adult Contemporary chart, her first #1 song on either chart), and spawned what many fans consider to be the biggest musical mystery of the era. There has been much debate over whom exactly the song is about. Popular guesses on the subject include Mick Jagger (who sang uncredited backing vocals on the song), Cat Stevens, Warren Beatty, Kris Kristofferson (with whom she had had brief relationships), the unfaithful fiancé William Donaldson, Simon's ex-husband, James Taylor, and even Simon's all time favorite cartoon character Daffy Duck.
The song listed at #72 on Billboard's Greatest Songs of all time.
Subject of the song
Carly Simon has never publicly acknowledged in full who the song is about. She commented in an interview that it was about "many vain men I've known in my life."
In a 1989 interview, Simon acknowledged that the song is a little bit about Beatty but said that the subject of the song is a composite of three men from her L.A. days.
Simon made another comment about the subject's identity as a guest artist on Janet Jackson's 2001 single, "Son of a Gun (I Betcha Think This Song Is About You)," which sampled "You're So Vain." In the song, Simon says "The apricot scarf was worn by Nick/there's nothing in the words that refer to Mick."
Dick Ebersol, president of NBC Sports and a friend of Simon, was the highest bidder for a Martha's Vineyard Possible Dreams charity auction offering in which the prize was the revelation of the person that "You're So Vain" was about. After making the winning bid of $50,000, Ebersol was given a private performance of the song at Simon's home. After a lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and vodka on the rocks, Simon whispered the subject into his ear. A condition of that prize is that Ebersol would not reveal to anyone the actual subject. Later, Ebersol revealed that he was allowed by Simon to divulge a clue about the person's name:
"Carly told me that I could offer up to the entire world, a clue as to what she'll tell me when we have this night in about two weeks. And the clue is: The letter 'E' is in the person's name.
In 2004, Simon told Regis Philbin, "If I tell it, it's going to come out in dribs and drabs. And I've given out two letters already, an "A" and an "E." But I'm going to add one to it. I'm going to add an "R," in honor of you." (If Simon was not being flip, then of the above guesses, Jagger, Beatty, and Taylor would remain as potential candidates; Stevens, Kristofferson, and Donaldson are all missing one or more of the requisite letters. If she is referring to the first name, then Warren Beatty is the only potential candidate).
Shortly before the writing of the song, Simon was married to James Taylor. She later admitted that he was not the subject of the song. Several days after the identity of Watergate-era press source Deep Throat was revealed during the summer of 2005, a USA Today reporter asked Simon to name the subject of her song. Simon exclaimed with a laugh that it was "about Mark Felt!", who revealed himself as the legendary Watergate source.
During a 2006 interview for the Sunday Life Magazine insert, Simon was asked what music she would pack for a long, presumably secluded vacation. Her response was that it would be something by The Rolling Stones; "I'd want something like 'Angie'." In Backstage Passes (1993), Angela Bowie claims to be the subject of the song "Angie" as well as the 'wife of a close friend' in "You're So Vain," that the two had been very close and Mick had, for a time, been 'obsessed' with her.
Recently, Beatty admitted that he in fact believes he is the subject of the song, saying: "Let's be honest. That song was about me."
However, the speculation continues, with many fans considering it more of a general, rather than specific, indictment of vanity. In 2005, Simon's husband Jim Hart said that the song was not about anyone famous.
On Thursday, June 19, 2008, Howard Stern claimed Carly privately revealed who the song was written about to him after her interview on his popular radio show heard on Sirius Satellite Radio. Stern commented "There is an odd aspect to it". "He's not that vain."
"You're So Vain" was voted #216 in RIAA's Songs of the Century.
References in the song
- Two solar eclipses ("Then you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun") were visible from Nova Scotia in the early 1970s. The first eclipse, on March 7 1970 , was visible in the USA, but the second one, on July 10, 1972, was not . Warren Beatty's mother was born and raised in Nova Scotia.
- The line "I hear you went up to Saratoga and your horse naturally won," refers to the Saratoga Race Course meeting held in late July, August and early September in Saratoga Springs, New York. The meeting is known to be frequented by the rich and famous of New York and other places on the East Coast.
Covers and adaptations
- The song has been covered by Chocolate Starfish, David Axelrod, John Barrowman, Liza Minnelli, Jack Klugman and Tony Randall (as "The Odd Couple"), Chimira, Venice, Jann Arden, Janet Jackson (who sampled the song in "Son of a Gun (I Betcha Think This Song is About You)", with Simon providing featured vocals), Anna Waronker, Faster Pussycat, Romantic Guitar, Dres, and Smokie among others.
- The now defunct Dutch indie pop band Daryll-Ann covered the song on their album Seaborne West.
- A cover by The Mountain Goats, which appears on Hail and Farewell, Gothenburg, features vocalist John Darnielle only singing the verses—the famous chorus goes unsung throughout the entire recording.
- The line "You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you" was used in the Ned's Atomic Dustbin song "You."
- A variation on the song's central line was used in the Nine Inch Nails song "Starfuckers, Inc." ("You're so vain / I bet you think this song is about you").
- In 1990, composer John Oswald produced an early mashup, entitled "Vane," which digitally merged Simon's original with the cover version by Faster Pussycat.
- The mash-up group The Illuminoids produced a mash-up of "You're So Vain" with two Rolling Stones songs "Brown Sugar" and "Bitch", referencing the roles of Carly Simon and Mick Jagger in creating the song.
- Les Savy Fav adapted the song's chorus in their song, "One Way Widow." However, they reversed the song's accusation, singing, "You're so vain / You probably don't think this song is about you."
- Queens of the Stone Age released as a B-side on their single "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" a song called "You're So Vague," the hook line of which is "You're so vague, That you probably think this song ain't about you."
- "You're So Vain" was Simon's breakthrough hit in the United Kingdom market, reaching #3 on the UK chart on its original release in 1973. The song was re-released there in the spring of 1991 to cash in on its inclusion in a commercial for Dunlop Tyres, and came very close to making the UK top 40 a second time, peaking at #41.
- The Treepeople song "Flies in My Coffee" (from their 1992 EP "Outside in") takes a "misheard lyric" from the song and intentionally turns it into a revised song title.
- This song was featured in the movie How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.
- In 2007, as part of BBC Radio 1's 40th Anniversary events, The Feeling covered the song; available on "Radio 1: Established 1967."
- John Barrowman released a cover of the song on Another Side album on November 12, 2007.
- "You're So Vain" was featured as the closing song of the 1999 film Dick, starring Kirsten Dunst, a film satirizing the identity of Deep Throat. Richard Nixon leaves the White House and flies away in his helicopter as this song plays.
- The end of Andrew Bird's song "Lull" features the lyrics, "I'm so lame, I probably think this song is about me, don't I?"
- The song was sung by Brooke White on the seventh season of American Idol. After the performance, judge Simon Cowell could be overheard saying, "I didn't like the way she was looking at me as she sang the song."
- Swedish singer Ann-Lena Löfgren recorded the song in Swedish translation "Moln i mitt kaffe" (Clouds in my Coffee) as a single in 1973.
- Italian singer Ivana Spagna sang this song in 2006, performing at "Music Farm"