January 1973: Carly Simon Hits #1 on the Hot 100 with YOU'RE SO VAIN
It's the song that launched a question for the ages: who is the self-obsessed narcissist that inspired Carly Simon's "You're So Vain"?
The song started, innocently enough, as a different song Simon was working on that went on an evolutionary journey: "There was originally a song that had the melody of what is now 'You're So Vain,' called 'Bless You Ben,' Simon explained to Charlie Rose in 2000 (via Songfacts). "It went, 'Bless you Ben, you came in, where nobody else left off, there I was, by myself, hiding up in my loft.' It never went anywhere, I could never fall in love with it.
"And then I was at a party and somebody walked in, and 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," Simon continued. "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."
The tune's ongoing evolution including the line about clouds and coffee coming up during a cross-country flight with musical collaborator, Billy Mernit. During the flight, Mernit motioned Simon to "look at the clouds in your coffee," comparing it to a famous scene from Jean-Luc Godard's 1967 film, 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her. While they both noted the moment, Simon later asked Mernit if she could use the imagery in a song, and he concurred.
As for the song's notorious subject matter, Simon has been coy about the identity of the self-obsessed narcissist that inspired the lyric. While it was famously deduced to be actor Warren Beatty, Simon revealed that Beatty was among the men mentioned in the tune.
“I have confirmed that the second verse is Warren,” Simon told People in 2015. “Warren thinks the whole thing is about him!” The singer has shared that each of the song's three verses is about a different man.
Released in November 1972 as the lead single from the ironically titled third studio album, No Secrets, "You're So Vain" burned up radio station playlists across various genres. The widespread attention sent the song hurtling up the charts, peaking at #1 on the Hot 100 for the week of January 6, 1973. It held the top spot for three weeks in a row.
Over on the Adult Contemporary chart, "You're So Vain" hit #1 for the week of January 20, 1973, holding the spot for two weeks.
FUN FACT: The voice singing background vocals on the track is none less than Rolling Stones icon Mick Jagger. "I guess it was kind of chance in a way," Simon later explained about the superstar singing on the song. "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, what cha 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.'" If you listen closely, Jagger can be clearly heard on the "don't you" portion of the chorus.