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Carly Simon

70s singer/songwriters don’t come more archetypal and sophisticated than CARLY SIMON, a lady known for her confessional ballads as well as her celebrity beaus. While the gossip columns debated whether her signature tune, `You’re So Vain’, was written about maverick actor Warren Beatty and/or its back-up singer MICK JAGGER, Carly established herself as one of the most glamourous members of the era’s piano-plonking jet-set, marrying fellow singer-songwriter JAMES TAYLOR in November 1972, after she split a year and a half earlier from CAT STEVENS.
Born Carly Elisabeth Simon, June 25, 1945, The Bronx, New York City, NY, the offspring of publisher Richard L. Simon (of Simon & Schuster) and civil rights activist Andrea Louise Simon, Carly had a “heinous” sexual experience as a 7 year-old, committed by a teenage family friend, that left her with a stammer. To compensate for her speech impediment that no psychiatrist could correct, she started to write and sing songs, enabling her to re-build confidence.
After time spent at Sarah Lawrence College, the 18 year-old initially performed music with her older sister, Lucy, a long way off from maturing into a bona fide singer-songwriter for the navel gazing 70s. The SIMON SISTERS recorded a few 45s (one a minor hit: `Winkin’, Blinkin’ And Nod’) and a handful of folky children’s albums for the Kapp imprint, before Carly branched out on her own in the late 60s; Lucy got married and started a family.
Having worked alongside local avant-gardists ELEPHANT’S MEMORY, signing a deal with Jac Holzman’s Elektra Records in 1970 and rendering a song (`Long Term Physical Effects’) for the role of an audition candidate in the Milos Forman cult flick/OST, Taking Off, her eponymous debut album, CARLY SIMON {*6} was ready for release early in ‘71. Opening with a sombre ballad that she’d worked on with film critic Jacob Brackman (the Top 10 `That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be’), the Eddie Kramer-produced album also showcased songs written by her session personnel: Mark “Moggy” Klingman (`Just A Sinner’) and soloist BUZZY LINHART (`The Love’s Still Growing’).
Also a Top 30 entry, ANTICIPATION (1971) {*6} was strengthened by the title hit song (penned while awaiting a date with CAT STEVENS), and her other attendant Top 50 squeeze, `Legend In Our Own Time’. Brackman co-wrote three of the cues, her backing band Jimmy Ryan (guitar) and Paul Glanz (piano) were credited on one: `Summer’s Coming Around Again’, while the finale piece was a re-tread of KRIS KRISTOFFERSON’s `I’ve Got To Have You’.
Carly went on to work with producer, Richard Perry, beefing up her sound and inspiring both her singing ability and songwriting skills; one of soft-rock’s greatest songs, the aforesaid `You’re So Vain’, topped the charts (UK Top 3) and previewed the equally triumphant NO SECRETS (1972) {*8} set. Generally regarded as her finest half-hour (released the same month as her marriage to TAYLOR), the record dealt out double-edged and sexually blunt lyrics, and included `The Right Thing To Do’ (her follow-up Top 20 hit), `We Have No Secrets’ and the JT-penned rocker, `Night Owl’.
At the height of her fame, the celebrity couple were to hook up on a Top 5 version of INEZ & CHARLIE FOXX’s `Mockingbird’; released in January ’74 to coincide with her top-selling album, HOTCAKES {*7}, and recorded when she was pregnant with her first child (“Sally”), as depicted on the glowing cover shot. Celebrating the joys of life and anticipating domestic bliss for time immemorial, `Haven’t Got Time For Pain’ (#14) and `Think I’m Gonna Have A Baby’ were in sentimental mood, in an album that was basically an autobiographical update.
Her subsequent work was in the mould of the typically slick, stellar-cast, session-friendly L.A. sound; RINGO STARR, ANDREW GOLD, RITA COOLIDGE and LEE RITENOUR just some of the names to grace 1975’s rather mixed PLAYING POSSUM {*5}. Noted for its controversial Grammy-nominated b&w sleeve shot, in which she’s shown in a black negligee and knee-high boots, DR. JOHN contributed a track and a bit of spotlight on `More And More’ (#94), while CAROLE KING and best-buddy JAMES TAYLOR, respectively added backing vox to the hits `Attitude Dancing’ (#21) and `Waterfall’ (#78).
1976’s ANOTHER PASSENGER {*6} did not fare so well as its Top 10 predecessor, while the decision to release her version of attendant hit, `It Keeps You Running’, a few months ahead of The DOOBIE BROTHERS original was mystifying to say the least, especially as the song’s composer Michael McDonald and the said group had featured on SIMON’s Top 50 take; incidentally, both acts were produced by Ted Templeman. LITTLE FEAT were also present and correct on their `One Love Stand’, while other collaborations with Zach Weisner and the stalwart Brackman, were afforded half the playing time.
Commissioned by the producers of the Lewis Gilbert’s widescreen James Bond flick, The Spy Who Loved Me, to sing the Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager-penned theme, `Nobody Does It Better’, 1977 was not a total write off musically when the memorable and languidly sassy song nearly topped the charts (UK Top 10); her second child, Ben, had been born that January.
As the new wave scene swamped lesser-known soft-rock artists, the seductive Top 10 BOYS IN THE TREES (1978) {*6} set benefitted from her Bond affiliation, as did breezy hits such as `You Belong To Me’ (authored with MICHAEL McDONALD) and `Devoted To You’ (a cover of an EVERLY BROTHERS nugget sang with her hubby TAYLOR). Disco had duly swept up the dancefloors, so the inclusion of `Tranquillo (Melt My Heart)’ and faux Caribbean `De Bat (Fly In Me Face)’ on the Arif Mardin-produced set, was hardly a shock.
It was the latter guru and his Big Apple jazz session players that also garnished her final LP for Elektra: SPY (1979) {*5}. Entitling the Top 50 record after Anais Nin’s book of erotic fiction, A Spy In The House Of Love, her intimate concept was to keep the fires burning in relationships; a profound and poignant ideology as it turned out later; as only `Vengeance’ (a modest hit), the mirror-ball title track and the explorative `Memorial Day’ (clocking in at over 8 minutes!), stirred up any passions.
Moving along the corporate stairwell to Warner Brothers, the Top 40-performing COME UPSTAIRS (1980) {*5}, switched from one gallery to the next to find a niche best suited to her voice. Described as the closest to new wave or power pop she’d ever been (examples `Them’ and `Take Me As I Am’), producer/co-writer Mike Mainieri tried in vain to give her “street-rock” cred in among the baying sharks of the media. And while, `Jesse’, just about reunited her with the Top 10, `James’ and `In Pain’ were almost too personal and embarrassingly intrusive.
It was around this period that her showcase marriage began to hit the rocks. Having separated after her jazz standards set, TORCH (1981) {*6}, Carly and JAMES TAYLOR were officially divorced between albums. Defiantly a break from the pop world, she would put heart and soul into overboard re-arrangements of works by Stephen Sondheim, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington and Rodgers-Hart; her only solo-scribed pieces, `Blue Of Blue’ and `From The Heart’ sounded as if they’d been written back in the day.
A second hit from the world of movies came via `Why’, an exclusive double-header with Messrs Nile Rodgers & Bernard Edwards (aka CHIC) from 1982’s Soup For One. Not an immediate hit with Americans but a Top 10 success in Britain, it paved the way for her 11th studio set, HELLO BIG MAN (1983) {*6}. A commercial disaster, with its touches of reggae by way of BOB MARLEY’s `Is This Love?’ and co-writer Robbie Shakespeare’s sly tinkering on `Such A Good Boy’, only the safe-sounding `You Know What To Do’ gave her Top 100 status.
CARLY SIMON, like most artists of her generation, was slowly but surely losing her way in the unforgiving mid 80s. As an active anti-nuclear campaigner (“No Nukes” et al), she was subsequently featured in the 1984 documentary, In Our Hands, alongside ex-hubby J.T. and a raft of Hollywood stars, whilst it was back to the day-job for her only album on Epic Records: SPOILED GIRL (1985) {*4}. Spoiled in the fact that it was weighed down by several top-notch producers (Arthur Baker, Phil Ramone, Paul Samwell-Smith, Don Was, Russ Kunkel, among others), it reached an unhealthier chart position once again; as did attendant 45, `Tired Of Being Blonde’; the EURYTHMICS-esque `My New Boyfriend’ stretched her move under the strobe lights a bit too far.
1986 would be the year that CARLY SIMON would branch into film soundtracks/scores, although for Heartburn – starring a Meryl Streep-Jack Nicholson head-to-head – there was no official album release, just another transatlantic (Top 20) hit with the airy title theme, `Coming Around Again’. Nevertheless, the following spring saw her Arista Records debut, er… COMING AROUND AGAIN (1987) {*6}, a set that included movie ditty, `Itsy Bitsy Spider’ (yes, the nursery rhyme), minor hits `Give Me All Night’ and `All I Want Is You’, a BRYAN ADAMS/Jim Vallance number, `It Should Have Been Me’ and the Herman Hupfeld staple, `As Time Goes By’.
After the predictable GREATEST HITS LIVE (1988) {*6} – recorded a year earlier at Gay Head in Martha’s Vineyard – a full OST “featuring music by CARLY SIMON” from the 1988 rom-com-drama WORKING GIRL {*5} was released the following summer. Its main theme, `Let The River Run’, wasn’t a massive Top 50 hit, but it finally won her an Oscar (the peerless `Nobody Does It Better’ was only nominated), and it was not difficult to see why Hollywood fawned over its torch-y melody. Here, the choral breast-beating and pseudo-religious imagery sounded way out of time, like much of this album (shared with various artists). The rest of Carly’s score was generally competent, big-budget movie music, tasteful to the point of distraction. Her piano-playing dominated the elegiac `In Love’, and she at least varied the mood with some muzak and wordless vocalising on `Carlotta’s Heart’ and `Looking Through Katherine’s House’. But this one was strictly for 80s diehards only.
1990 found her once again teaming up with director Mike Nichols for the film, Postcards From The Edge, sharing the composition credits with HOWARD SHORE. A move further into the adult/contemporary bracket saw SIMON shift gently from her second “Torch” standards/covers album MY ROMANCE {*4} – `My Funny Valentine’, `In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning’, et al – and the other end-of-the- spectrum by way of contemporary-pop set HAVE YOU SEEN ME LATELY? {*5}; both spent a week in the Top 60.
THIS IS MY LIFE (1992) {*3} was her first complete solo OST album. With a Carly set, one knew what to expect: romantic love ballads, smooth, relaxing AOR tunes and a handful of the finest session people around (on this occasion, guitarist Jimmy Ryan, on synths/piano Teese Gohl, drummer Andy Newmark and bassist Will Lee, plus the odd contribution from Russ Kunkel, Randy Brecker and Toots Thielemans). Opening number, `Love Of My Life’, namechecked Woody Allen, although it was basically a mother-to-daughter love song; it’s reprised a further few times via Toots’ harmonica version and the finale instrumental. Another track to display both sides of the movie’s light-hearted domestic unrest was `Back The Way’, suffixed respectively as it was by the scatty “(Dottie’s Point Of View)” and “(Girls’ Point Of View)”. The first of several short-ish instrumental cues came by way of `Moving Day’, whilst others of that ilk such as `Walking And Kissing’, `Little Troupers’ and the longer `This Is My Life Suite’, basically fill time and space. It was no surprise that nothing was picked for release as a single, other songs such as `Easy On The Eyes’ (penned with Andy Goldberg), `The Show Must Go On’ and the festive `The Night Before Christmas’ were too twee and sentimental for even the hardened contemporary pop fan to take.
After scoring Nora Ephron’s aforementioned directorial debut, the composer diversified into the arts with CARLY SIMON’S ROMULUS HUNT: A FAMILY OPERA (1993) {*3}, a stage & cast commission project that was a million miles from the pop world; as was her series of children’s books. It’d been four years since her last bona fide album release, so a certain trepidation was granted 1994’s LETTERS NEVER SENT {*6}. Tinged with more than a little sadness over the recent deaths of her mother Andrea, and her close friend Jackie Onassis (respective tracks: `Like A River’ and `Touched By The Sun’), SIMON could now adapt her recent weighty experiments into soft-rock compositions. Featuring her son BEN TAYLOR on `Time Works On All The Wild Young Men’ and new age aficionado ANDREAS VOLLENWEIDER on `Davy’, Carly could’ve expected better than average sales from her efforts.
Turning 52, it was no surprise then, that the still gorgeous Carly would endeavour to turn the clock even further back with third standards set, FILM NOIR (1997) {*5}, inspired as it was by celluloid legends Cole Porter, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael, et al. The odd one out was indeed the title track, a platter co-penned and co-produced by JIMMY WEBB.
SIMON took a broader sweep for THE BEDROOM TAPES (2000) {*6}, drawing on not only Gershwin show tunes (including `In Honor Of You (George)’), but the full range of classic American music which presumably inspired her to pick up a pen and a microphone in the first place. From the melodramatic `Our Affair’ and `Scar’ to the witty `I’m Really The Kind’ and `Big Dumb Guy’, singer-songwriter Carly was finally coming around again.
On the back of a holiday/festive album, CHRISTMAS IS ALMOST HERE (2002) {*4} and a couple of soundtracks (with various artists) to Disney animations, Piglet’s Big Movie (2003) and Pooh’s Heffalump Movie (2005), the public were again ready to embrace 60-year-old Carly on the Top 10, MOONLIGHT SERENADE (2005) {*6}. Working with Richard Perry once more, and surely inspired by ROD STEWART, who’d taken the American Songbook series to a whole new level, the once confessional and now intimate CARLY SIMON delivered a dozen crooning dirges from the all the usual suspects (Porter, Gershwin, Rodgers-Hart, Hammerstein-Kern, yadda yadda yadda).
Building on her sentimental covers sets by way of INTO WHITE (2007) {*6} – named after the CAT STEVENS opener – Carly revealed another Sunday morning brunch of snooze-button songs: some traditional such as `Scarborough Fair’, `I Gave My Love A Cherry’ and `Jamaica Farewell’, and some more contemporary through LENNON-McCARTNEY’s `Blackbird’, JAMES TAYLOR’s `You Can Close Your Eyes’ (a duet with son Ben), and a Boudleaux Bryant medley of `Devoted To You’ and `All I Have To Do Is Dream’, among others.
Still a Top 20 proposition by 2008’s switch from Columbia to Starbucks affiliate Hear Music, Carly (with help from producers JIMMY WEBB and Frank Filipetti) branched out into samba and Brazilian music on THIS KIND OF LOVE {*6}. The record was intended as her retirement nest-egg, instead it was an album that led to the singer suing said Starbucks for various “concealments” and “unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices” when they allegedly drew out of a business agreement with Hear. The album itself was a slight return to form; influenced by listening to world music legends JORGE BEN, CAETANO VELOSO and LUIZ BONFA (she’d recorded the latter’s `Manha de Carnaval’ on her previous set). Complemented by an orchestra, Brazilian players and a stellar cast of guests, the highlights were `Island’, `Hold Out Your Heart’ and one penned with Carole Bayer Sager, `So Many People To Love’.
Channelling her frustrations by re-recording an acoustic set, NEVER BEEN GONE (2009) {*5}, CARLY SIMON and her stalwart band – including previous co-pensmiths David Saw, Peter Cato and her son Ben – chose to step back in her well-worn heels on the likes of `The Right Thing To Do’, `Anticipation’, `Let The River Run’ and, among others, of course, her re-vamped classic-pop signature tune, `You’re So Vain’. Sadly, it did not sell like “Hotcakes”.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD-LCS/BG/MCS // rev-up MCS Mar2016

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