It’s difficult to imagine the singer-songwriter movement of the ’70s without Carly Simon, one of the era’s most confessional, candid and passionate artists.
Simon was born in New York City in 1945, daughter of Richard Simon, who co-founded the famed Simon & Schuster book publishing company. Her musical career began when she started singing with sibling Lucy as the Simon Sisters. They released three LPs together, but Simon’s first taste of success would come in 1971 with her self-titled debut solo album, which propelled her from uptown city girl to celebrity songwriter.
Simon’s best known hit arrived on her third album, No Secrets. “You’re So Vain,” one of the most satisfying profiles of a self-absorbed lover ever written, launched the rock community into a flurry of conversation over the song’s subject. Countless names have been suggested over the years, Mick Jagger, David Geffen and Warren Beatty among them, but to this day, Simon has only partially revealed her secrets.
Though her most powerful work came in the ’70s, Simon’s career spanned decades and experimented with genres, displaying her versatile voice and sturdy songwriting chops. Below, we outline 5 Reasons Carly Simon Should Be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
She Found Success Right From the Start
You don’t need to be successful on your first try out of the gate to launch a rock career, but it doesn’t hurt. The album-opening track from her solo debut solo, “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” reached No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Some of the staff at Elektra Records thought it wasn’t a smart choice for a lead single, since Simon focused on her parents’ faulty marriage, her own reservations about matrimony and general unhappiness. The honesty paid off, however, earning Simon a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. She didn’t take that award home, but a different one: Best New Artist.
She Married Intelligent Songwriting With Sheer Sensuality
In a noticeable departure from her more discreet peers like Joan Baez or Carole King, Simon was unafraid of leaning into her sensuality in her songwriting. She maintained a confessional attitude, taking after the likes of Joni Mitchell, but pushed it a step further. Take, for example, “Waited So Long,” from No Secrets: “Please tell my sweet mother, go on now tell uncle Paul / Tell all my girlfriends not to wait for me / Daddy, I’m no virgin and I’ve already waited too long.” Simon’s slinky, hip style of songwriting matched the feministic attitude of the time and proved that women, songwriters or not, could at once be sensual and self-governing in their work, art and overall lives.
She Practically Invented the Role of the Mystery Subject
Simon was, of course, not the first person to keep the identity of a song’s subject under wraps. But she certainly reveled in the mystery, enticing her audience with one of the most popular guessing games in rock: Just who is “You’re So Vain” about? Long before Taylor Swift earned her reputation for writing tracks about her exes, Simon painted a detailed portrait of a cocky ex-beau whose identity, to this day, is still widely speculated. (Simon stated that the song refers to not just one man, but three, only one of whom she has named publicly so far: actor Warren Beatty.) It’s ironic, then, that an LP titled No Secrets contains one of the biggest in all of rock history, inspiring a league of female songwriters in its wake to explore their coy sides.
Her Contributions as a Songwriter Match Her Male Counterparts
Many of Simon’s male peers have been inducted into the Rock Hall – including 2000 honoree James Taylor, her ex-husband and one of her closest collaborators. Simon’s fourth album, Hotcakes, included a highly successful duet with Taylor, “Mockingbird.” She co-wrote “Terra Nova” on his 1977 comeback album JT. (Simon also penned the smash hit James Bond theme “Nobody Does It Better” the same year JT arrived.) Her other collaborations include Paul McCartney, Lowell George and Klaus Voorman. Simon has also composed several film scores, including Heartburn, This Is My Life, Postcards From the Edge and Working Girl. Her song “Let the River Run” from Working Girl earned a Grammy, a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar, as Simon become the first artist to win all three major awards for a track composed, written and performed by a single artist. (The only other person to have accomplished this is 1999 Rock Hall inductee Bruce Springsteen.)
Her 1987 Comeback Album Was Massively Successful
Simon slowed down for a time in the early ’80s, citing exhaustion, but she was never one to stand still for long. Simon signed with a new label then shot back to fame when “Coming Around Again” served as the movie theme for Heartburn. Her album of the same name later reached No. 18 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, making it Simon’s 12th Top 40 hit in the states, then was certified platinum by early 1988. The title song summed things up perfectly: “I know nothing stays the same,” Simon sang. “But if you’re willing to play the game, it’s coming around again.“
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