So apparently Taylor Swift got Carly Simon to come on stage with her and do a duet of “You’re So Vain” this weekend. That would mean a whole lot more to you if you knew a bit more about “You’re So Vain”.
What more is there to know about “You’re So Vain”?
I’m glad you asked. Take a seat. Actually, hit play on this YouTube video, skip through the ad if they let you, then scroll down and follow along as we unpack this thing.
Everybody and their brother knows that Carly Simon wrote this song about a guy – maybe more than one guy, even – and she won’t tell anyone who it is. But Simon has said that the song is more of a composite about three men.
The first thing to know is that Mick Jagger sings background vocals on the song. The second thing to know is that the song is not about Mick, contrary to some rumors. Simon said that in 1983, in a Washington Post interview.
Simon has also revealed that some of the lines were never really about one guy.
“You’re So Vain was just a series of lines in a notebook for a long time. There was ‘you’re so vain you probably think this song is about you,’ and ‘you walked into a party like you were walking onto a yacht.’ And then one day I figured out ‘Hey, these two lines could be about the same person.'”
The lyrics are reprinted below for reference, but here are a few things Simon has revealed or explained about the song.
The “apricot” scarf referenced in the song was worn by Nick Nolte. Apparently before his mugshot days.
A “gavotte” is a French folk dance, but in this context simply means that the man is pretentious and likes to watch himself dance in the mirror, especially around other people.
The overmuch rhymes of “yacht”, “apricot” and “gavotte” are meant to highlight just how full of himself this guy is.
“I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee’ came from an airplane flight that I took with Billy Mernit, who was my friend and piano player at the time. As I got my coffee, there were clouds outside the window of the airplane and you could see the reflection in the cup of coffee. Billy said to me, ‘Look at the clouds in your coffee’.”
The phrase basically means that her “dreams” of a relationship with the man in the song were no more real than the clouds reflected in that coffee.
The “Saratoga … your horse naturally won” business is about the Saratoga Race Course, in Saratoga Springs, New York. It is a ritzy affair. Think: the Ascot horse races in “My Fair Lady”. Another jab at the pretentiousness of this guy.
The “total eclipse of the sun” visible in Nova Scotia happened on March 7, 1970.
The “wife of a close friend” has never been officially revealed by Simon, though Angela Bowie, former wife of David Bowie, says it is about her, which would make the song about Mick Jagger. But we already know that is not the case.
Simon has teased the answers to this, but never revealed them, over and over. She has milked a career out of that song, though she does have several others that are quite good. Once she even auctioned off the answers about the song for charity, but made the winner sign a confidentiality agreement.
Now you know more than Taylor Swift. Here are the lyrics.
“You’re So Vain”, by Carly Simon (1972)
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 probably think this song is about you
You’re so vain
I’ll 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….
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 of 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….