Last week I posted about Carly Simon’s song You’re So Vain which was the #1 single for the first couple of weeks in 1973. In that post, I mentioned that a famous rock star could be heard singing background vocals on the song. I challenged my readers to name that vocalist but no one responded so I will have to reveal who was sitting in on the song myself.
Drum Roll please…………Mick Jagger provided background vocals on the song!
Who Carly was singing about remains a mystery. As you can see from the cover of the March 1973 Circus magazine (above) this mystery was raging from the release of the song. The Circus article didn’t identify who the song was about but it did provide some insight into how Mick got involved in the recording of the song while Carly was recording at Trident Studios in London.
Jagger, an old friend of Carly’s, had heard that Carly was recording. Carly recalls, “I was right in the middle of overdubbing the vocals to ‘You’re So Vain.’ I said, ‘Mick, you want to come over and sing vocals on this song?’ And he came right up.”
He came by almost every night that Carly was there (over a week), even when he wasn’t dubbing ‘Vain.’ On some nights he would quietly watch the recording; during others he spent time teaching Carly basic rock ‘n roll licks. “He told me that I really was a rock ‘n roll singer”, recalls Carly, “and not just a folk singer, and I shouldn’t be afraid to admit it. Yet it never feels natural to me.”
Exactly who Carly was singing about remains a mystery. Some of the speculation on this topic is provided below in an extract from the Wikipedia article about the song.
Before the song became a hit single in 1972 she told an interviewer that the song was about “men,” not a specific “man.”
In 1983, she told the Washington Post that it is not about Mick Jagger, who contributed uncredited backing vocals to the song. However, in a 1993 book Backstage Passes, Angela Bowie claimed to be the “wife of a close friend” mentioned in “You’re So Vain,” and that Jagger, for a time, had been “obsessed” with her. 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.” About the song, Simon said, “The apricot scarf was worn by Nick (Nick Nolte). Nothing in the words were referred to Mick.”
In a 1989 interview, Simon acknowledged that the song is a little bit about Warren Beatty but said the subject of the song is a composite of three men from her L.A. days. In a 2007 interview, Beatty said, “Let’s be honest. That song was about me.” Simon has said that Beatty had called and thanked her for the song.
Over the years, Simon has divulged “letter clues”, and has claimed that the subject’s name contains the letters A, E, and R.
Shortly before the writing of the song, Simon was married to James Taylor; she has said that he was “definitely not” the subject of the song. David Bowie, David Cassidy and Cat Stevens have all been cited by the press as speculative candidates. In 2005, Simon’s ex-husband Jim Hart said he was sure that the song was not about anyone famous.
A great song and a great long-running mystery. What a great way to start 1973!