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The Mystery Man Behind Carly Simon's "You're So Vain"

Music | October 4, 2021

Simon set tongues wagging when she first sang "You're So Vain."(Joe Corrigan/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)

“You’re So Vain,” by Carly Simon inspired more questions and conspiracy theories than Area 51. The November 1972 hit took more than five weeks to reach Billboard’s number 1 but retained that spot for the opening three weeks of 1973. The vivacious Simon enjoyed the company of a variety of famous men, leading to endless debate over who exactly was “so vain.”

Since 1972 Simon has also offered a number of cagey quotes, which only produce a fresh round of speculation every time she titillates the media. So who’s “You’re So Vain,” how did Simon cajole Mick Jagger into singing on it, and what are ‘coffee clouds’? Read on to find out the answer to those questions and more!

Simon did admit that ex-husband James Taylor was not the muse for "You're So Vain."

How “You’re So Vain” Began

The gossip-generating hit actually stemmed from a song called “Bless You Ben.” As Simon told Charlie Rose in 2000, “It went 'Bless you Ben, you came in, where nobody else left off, there I was, by myself, hiding up in my loft.' ”

Later on, while yachting, a friend of Simon’s provided more creative juice. As Simon tells it, “my friend said to me 'Doesn't he look like he's just walked on to a yacht?' So, I thought to myself - hmmm, let me write that in my notebook. And then one day, when I was playing 'Bless You Ben' on the piano, I substituted 'You walked into the party like you were walking onto a yacht and the exchange was equal. And it felt natural and it felt good and then I could get into that man, I knew who I was talking about." That same man also spawned the original title of "Ballad of a Vain Man."

Jagger helped turn "You're So Vain" into a monster hit. (ew)

Bagging Mick Jagger

Originally, Harry Nilsson was set to sing backup on “You’re So Vain” but a fateful encounter with the one and only Mick Jagger changed the song’s destiny forever. Simon tells of the consequential switch.

“I was in London, it was 1972 and he happened to call at the studio while I was doing the background vocals with Harry Nilsson. Mick said 'Hey, whatcha doin'?' and I said 'We're doing some backup vocals on a song of mine... why don't you come down and sing with us?' So Mick and Harry and I stood around the mic singing 'You're So Vain' and Harry was such a gentleman - he knew the chemistry was between me and Mick; in terms of the singing, so he sort of bowed out saying, 'The two of you have a real blend - you should do it yourselves.'"

Obviously, she instantly knew what Jagger’s involvement meant for the song. “I owe more to Mick Jagger than anybody in the business — the fact that he sang on that record, brought it over the top. Richard had me do the whole lead vocal again, that he'd tortured me into singing 100 times because he thought Mick had lifted it to a new level. At the time it annoyed me, I was so heartily sick of the song. But that backing vocal was so right on."

Billboard's ranked "You're So Vain" at No. 92 on their Greatest Songs of All Time.(Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Coy Simon

As the song blew up, she remained coy about the mystery man. As she said in ‘74, "That song is about a lot of people. I mean I can think of a lot of people. The actual examples that I've used in the song are from my imagination, but the stimulus is directly from a couple of different sources. It's not just about one particular person."

However, Simon did explain what she meant by “Clouds In My Coffee.” “Clouds In My Coffee are the confusing aspects of life and love. That which you can't see through, and yet seems alluring... until. Like a mirage that turns into a dry patch. Perhaps there is something in the bottom of the coffee cup that you could read if you could (like tea leaves or coffee grinds)."

Beatty also said "I think Carly Simon is a very intelligent woman, who was extremely helpful when I was deeply involved in the McGovern campaign, and she was terribly helpful with raising money through the entertainment industry, which we did at that time

For The Love Of God, Who’s Is So Vain?

To date, Simon’s only revealed one of the men who motivated the unforgettable earworm. When promoting her memoir “Boys in the Trees” in 2015 she said the second verse, (‘You had me several years ago when I was still quite naive’…) “is about Warren Beatty, but also revealed that other verses refer to two different men, who remain nameless.” Simon reported, "Warren thinks the whole thing is about him."

Her manager Richard Perry, who worked on the album, thinks “It's about a compilation of men that Carly had known, but primarily Warren Beatty." The thirst for knowledge inspired Dick Ebersol, president of NBC Sports, to donate $50,000 to Simon’s charity for the sought-after information. He signed a nondisclosure agreement but did let slip that the name contains the letter “E.” Over the years Simon further divulged the letters “A” and “R.”

Nevertheless, the true identity of Mr.Vanity still remains a mystery.

Tags: Carly Simon | Mick Jagger | Warren Beatty

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!