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You're So Vain: The Real Story Behind Carly Simon's Mysterious Lyrics

Music | November 16, 2017

LONDON, UK - MARCH 15: Singer Songwriter Carly Simon poses for a portrait on March 15, 1971 in London, England. (Photo by Ed Caraeff/Getty Images)

For years, "You're So Vain" by Carly Simon provided one of the great mysteries in pop music -- just who was being addressed? "You probably think this song is about you" say the lyrics to this 1973 Billboard chart-topper -- with the intentional irony that yes, the song is, indeed about this person. But who?

In the '70s, Carly Simon was famous as a singer, songwriter and sex symbol. Not only was she born into a notable family, she was remarkably talented in her own right. Simon has enjoyed mega success throughout her career as a classical pianist and singer/songwriter. It wasn’t until years later, when she shared her memoir with the world, that we really had any insight into the real Carly Simon.  

Carly Simon Was One Of The Most Desirable Women In Music

Carly Simon always had a reputation for being funny, talented and well connected. She had a distinct look that was thought to be both exotic and erotic. All of these qualities, together, made her extremely appealing and that was OK with her. She enjoyed plenty of love affairs, trysts and indiscretions with many men, including other celebrities; some she regrets. What we couldn’t have known was that early on, she suffered some unfortunate circumstances.

Beneath The Glamorous Exterior, There Was A Dark Secret

When Simon was 7 years old she was sexually abused by a teenaged family friend. She described it as, “heinous,” adding, “It changed my view about sex for a long time.” It wasn’t long before she started severely stuttering; most likely a result of the abuse. In order to work through the stuttering, she began writing songs and singing. She realized, not only, that she could express her innermost feelings through writing, but she was able to sing without stuttering. Music was her therapy.  

'You're So Vain' Was Her Biggest Hit

Simon, early on, had teamed up with her sister, Lucy, to form a singing duo. They called themselves The Simon Sisters. What she is best remembered for, though, is her solo career. Over the course of her career, Carly Simon has had countless hits on the song charts, including "Nobody Does It Better" and "Anticipation." But none was bigger than "You’re So Vain." The song soared to the top as No. 1 on the U.S. Pop and Adult Contemporary charts. It sold over a million copies in the U.S. alone. And it left all of us talking and wondering.

The Song Caused Widespread Speculation

Carly Simon had been involved with the likes of several big-name musical artists. She was even married to James Taylor for a time. The buzz though, was which one the song, “You’re So Vain”, was referring to with the lyrics, “I bet you think this song is about you”. It was a mystery for years. Everyone speculated, and the list of suspects included Warren Beatty, Michael Crichton, David Geffen, Kris Kristofferson, Terrence Malick, Jack Nicholson, Cat Stevens, John Travolta, and even Mick Jagger (who sang backup vocals on the song), but that’s all it was… speculation.

Simon Revealed Who 'You' Was... Well, Partly

Over 40 years after the song was released, Simon opened up about the famous mystery. She reportedly had three different men in mind while composing the song. She revealed that Warren Beatty was the lover she'd written about regarding that famous second verse. Beatty reportedly thought the entire song was about himself, but she stated that was not the case. She never revealed the identity of the other two men; only partially solving the mystery. Beatty never accepted that, still believing that he was the subject of the entire song -- seems she was right about him being vain

Who Else Was The Song About? Carly Isn't Saying

Apparently, Carly Simon had fallen hook, line and sinker for Beatty. She revealed that he was more than competent in the bedroom and she just couldn’t get enough of him. Before long, she realized that she was only one of many. She was happy to be at the top of the short list for a bit but crushed that there were so many others. She was conflicted and turned to her songwriting to cope, just as she had done so many other times. We may never know who the other verses of the song referred to but it is interesting to think about all of the possibilities. In her own words, she was “gently passed around.” 

The Lyrics To 'You're So Vain'

Son of a gun

You walked into the party like you were walking onto a yacht
Your hat strategically dipped below one eye
Your scarf it was apricot
You had one eye in the mirror, as you watched yourself gavotte
And all the girls dreamed that they'd be your partner
They'd be your partner and

You're so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You're so vain (you're so vain)
I bet you think this song is about you
Don't you don't you?

You had me several years ago when I was still quite naive
Well you said that we made such a pretty pair and that you would never leave
But you gave away the things you loved
And one of them was me
I had some dreams they were clouds in my coffee clouds in my coffee and

You're so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You're so vain (you're so vain)
I bet you think this song is about you
Don't you don't you don't you?

I had some dreams they were clouds in my coffee clouds in my coffee and

You're so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You're so vain (you're so vain)
I bet you think this song is about you
Don't you don't you?

Well I hear you went up to Saratoga
And your horse naturally won
Then you flew your lear jet up to Nova Scotia
To see the total eclipse of the sun
Well you're where you should be all the time
And when you're not, you're with some underworld spy
Or the wife of a close friend wife of a close friend and

You're so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You're so vain (so vain)
I bet you think this song is about you
Don't you don't you don't you?

You're so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You're so vain
Probably think this song about you
You're so vain

Tags: 1972 | Carly Simon | Mick Jagger | Song Meanings, Lyrics, And Facts | The 1970s | Warren Beatty | Youre So Vain

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.