Carly Simon Biography - Mid 1971 to 1973 (Chapter 12)

Page 343 - Carly Simon joins Elektra Records

In the spring of 1970, Carly's friend Jake Brackman had an idea: he would find Carly a manager.  He introduced her to Jerry Brandt who said "I'd love to manage you and I'd love to put up money for you to do a demo,"  Carly accepted on the spot.  She recorded Please Take Me Home (to bed) With You (never released), and Brandt took it to Jac Holzman, founder and president of Elektra Records.  The tart strains of Carly's demo made him sit up straight. He thought: She's wonderful.  Her voice had a "a toughness and sinewyness."  Holzman wanted Carly to record the songs of Tim Buckley, Tim Hardin and Donovan.  He didn't see her as a writer. 

Carly set out to prove Holzman wrong.  "I wanted to be a writer more than anything else."  By now she was "already in love with James Taylor from a distance - that whole sound," she's said.  James's drummer on Sweet Baby James, Russ Kunkel, was "a kind of demigod to me," and "in my mind I fashioned myself like a Carole King.  So I just went about my business, writing my own songs," ultimately convincing Holzman that they were worth recording.


 

Page 344 - Carly Simon becomes a singer-songwriter

The songs she was writing reflected her playfulness, vulnerability, and romanticism.  In Alone- she's reassuring a love, "It's not to leave you that I'm goin'"; rather, she wants to revel in the "ache" of solitude and memory, an odd need that her sensual voice makes believable, with asymmetrical phrasing and unexpected harmony.

Reunions, with its stately Broadway-revue-like melody, is one of the most undiluted of those upper-middle-class slices of life that would become her trademark.  Her elegant lyrics about the tension between a group of old friends - "wind blows through thin smiles / Someone made a wrong turn / missed a joke by miles" - redeems if for even the staunchest reverse-snobs.  Another wistful art song, The Best Thing, regretfully mulls the loss of a man of a different background: "I was his foreigner and he was mine."

But of those songs Carly brought to Jac, the one he was most riveted by was That's The Way I Always It Should Be, which she'd written with Jake.  "Everyone at Elektra argued that is was too complex, blah, blah, blah...'it's' not going to be played on Top 40 radio,' and all that was true at the time," Holzman says.  "Still, that didn't mean it couldn't be a first."  Jac knew this was the single; it was a signature song: it conveyed who Carly was.


 

Page 349 - Carly Simon records her 1st album

Holzman decided that Jimi Hendrix's record producer, Eddie Kramer, was the tough producer Carly's tough voice required.  "Eddie was skilled at creating a rich, fat sound, each instrument or voice being heard with its proper weight," and that's what he wanted for Carly's debut.  The began recording in late fall.  Carly and Kramer fought over the arrangements of the album; Holzman stayed away for a while - "Let them duke it out" was his philosophy.  He entered the studio only when he had to, to make sure the production was "full and clean; you had to hear all the nuances.  With Carly, that was the critical part."

The album added three non-Carly-written songs: Dan, My Fling, a Jake Brackman-Fred Gardner collaboration (based on Gardner's civil rights song, Ruth My Truth), which Carly used as a vessel for her aching regret over breaking up with Danny Armstrong; Mark Klingman's Just A Sinner, which presented Carly at peak belting form; and Buzzy Linhart's The Love's Still Growing, whose plaintive toughness matched her voice.

Holzman had designer Bill Harvey give the album cover "a soft, matte finish, a mark of substance and quality."  The photo showed Carly is a tight-bodiced, antique lace dress with lace curtains behind her - her head, to use how own later words, "strategically dipped" on one palm; her legs, as Holzman pointedly put it, "gloriously akimbo".  The implication of wide-open thighs under a decorous dress was the first of a sex-teasing leitmotif in every one of Carly's early albums.




 

Page 351 -  Carly Simon opens for Cat Stevens

The single and the album could not languish; both had to be promoted.  Jac insisted that Carly commit to a performance engagement.  This prospect terrified her.  She'd wanted to be a songwriter more than a singer so that wouldn't have to perform.  Holzman's A&R man, Steve Harris, took over and booked her for three nights, starting April 6, opening for Cat Stevens at L.A.'s Troubadour.

Cat Stevens had become an adulated star by way of the catchy but patronizing ( a young man is telling his ex-girlfriend to be careful ) Wild World, from his Tea For The Tillerman.  He would eventually have a second hit in the exquisite Morning Has Broken.

The single was now at #25.  "I was completely flustered", Carly remembers.  "It had never occurred to me that the record was going to take off."  In a sheepish effort to nix the gig, Carly said she wanted a drummer who sounded "exactly" like Russ Kunkel (she knew he was touring with James Taylor and wouldn't be available).  Steve outwitted her.  He called Kunkel and booked him on April 6, for $500.  After a long pause, Carly whispered, "Now, I guess I have to do it."





 

Page 353 - Carly Simon shines on stage

The Cat Stevens - Carly Simon shows were sold out; "all of rock aristocracy was coming," Steve Harris learned from Doug Weston.  All day, Arlyne Rothberg and Steve Harris were enmeshed in "high drama," Arlyne recalls.  Was the stage-terrorized Carly "going to make it" onto the stage?  "Steve was calling every few minutes" with updates on how he was staving off her meltdown.  Carly trembled and stuttered through the day, but sailed through the performance, and then met James Taylor backstage.  But tonight was not yet their time.

The Troubadour shows helped catapult That's The Way I Always Heard It Should Be into the Top 10; it would stay in the Top 40 ten weeks.  Carly Simon would end up selling 400,000 copies.


 

Page 353 - Carly Simon's late date

Cat Stevens and Carly SimonWhen Carly flew back to New York, Cat Stevens did too, and he asked Carly out.  On the appointed night, she waited and waited, as she had for Robbie Robertson. Cat, who had recently been involved with actress Patti D'Arbanville, was late.  When he finally did arrive, "I was sitting on my bed and really nervous, because we hadn't officially had a date yet.  And I picked up my guitar and I tuned the low E string down a whole step to D, and I wrote a song for him, because I was so excited and nervous to see him, and I'd been wasting so much time" on those feelings.  Echoing the rhythms of Cat's own songs, she wrote "An-ti-ci-pa-tion / An-ti-ci-pa-tion / is making me late / is keeping me wai-ai-ai-ting."  I wrote the whole song in fifteen minutes," she says.


 

Page 354 - Carly Simon interviews Mick Jagger

Carly Simon and Mick JaggerMeanwhile, people had been talking about Carly's physical resemblance to Mick Jagger, so she thought it would be fun to interview him.  Seymour Peck, the editor of The New York Times's Arts & Leisure section, encouraged the idea.

Carly called Jagger in the south of France, just before his May 12 marriage to his pregnant fiance'e, Nicaraguan beauty, Bianca Perez-Mora Marcias.  Carly recalls that she and Mick casually flirted through the interview, each saying they'd "really love to meet" the other.  The Stones' Sticky Fingers had just shot to # 1 in Billboard, and here was Mick Jagger, the sexiest rock star in the world, ingratiating himself to her.  It was a little heady.  "Carly was trying to figure out her place in all this," says Jake Brackman.  "Was she in this celebrity world?  It wasn't long ago that she was in the Letters department of Newsweek.


 

Page 355 - Carly Simon opens for Kris Kristofferson

The headiness continued.  On May 21st, Carly opened for Kris Kristofferson at New York's Bitter End.  "And this was when Kris was the most beautiful man," says Ellen Questel, who was in the audience, "with that curly hair, and wearing that deep-V-necked semi-sheer white Indian shirt."  Kristofferson was smitten with Carly when he glimpsed her as they'd both exited their adjacent dressing rooms.  "So I went out front to watch her, and I was just knocked out," Kristofferson says.  "She was beautiful.  She had this off-the-shoulder kind of peasant blouse on, and she was playin' the guitar and singing her heart out.  Her songs were great, and she seemed totally confident.  She was pretty hard to resist."  Jake, who was standing next to Kris at the time, heard him mutter a remark about his lust for Carly "which," Jake says, "is definitely not for publication."

Carly Simon and Kris Kristofferson

Kristofferson, thirty-five - Rhodes scholar, ex-army pilot - had been hailed by The New York Times as "the hottest thing in Nashville."  He had been having, as he puts it, a "roller coaster" of a year.  Johnny Cash had a hit with his Sunday Morning Coming Down, Sammy Smith a hit with Help Me Make It Through The Night, and his close friend Janis Joplin a # 1 hit with Me and Bobby McGee, among others.

After Carly's set, Kris brought Carly out to sing duets with him.  Everyone in the audience witnessed their chemistry.  After they took their bows, they went back to his suite at the Grammercy Park Hotel. He began writing a growling, lusty song for her, I've Got To Have You, and they embarked on what would be a summer-long love affair.


 

Page 357 - Carly Simon records 2nd album - Anticipation

Throughout the romantic whirlwind, Carly continued to write new songs - not just Anticipation about Cat but Three Days about Kris.  The intensity of her feeling for him is reflected in the first lines, "If I have known you only three days, then how will I remember you in ten?" and in the image of two shining stars crisscrossing the heavens on their way to opposite bookings - one to L.A., the other to London.

Carly was now off to London to record her second album, Anticipation.  Jac Holzman chose Cat's own producer, Paul Samwell-Smith, to produce it with a "softer but solid" sound.  "Carly is one of those artists who incandescence burns brightest with a new producer for each album," Holzman has said.  "After they have squeezed the juice out of each other, it's on to the next, rather like a holiday romance, which in some cases I'm sure it was."  It was, with Samwell-Smith; he and Carly became lovers.

Along with her songs to Cat and Kris, Carly interpreted Kris's song to her, I've Got To Have You, to end the album.  Anticipation was a more confident effort than Carly Simon.  In it are the beginnings of what would be trademark Carly touches - her lusty belting on Anticipation (its reviewer-dubbed "dazzling, can't-put-down refrain" has an all-out, drum-heavy rock arrangement, with suspended time between drumbeats that perfectly mirror the suspended time she was singing about); her sarcastic take-down of an arrogant man in Legend In Your Time; her tremulous vulnerability Our First Day Together and the operatic emotion in Share The End.

Anticipation was released in November 1971. The title song remained in the Top 40 three months; the album sold 400,000 copies in the first four months, stayed in Billboard's Hot 100 for thirty-one weeks, eventually selling over a half a million copies.


 

Page 365 - Carly Simon and James Taylor fall in love

James Taylor and Carly SimonCarly Simon was flying high after the success of Anticipation and romantically too.  On November 9, 1971 she'd attended James Taylor's concert at Carnegie Hall.  Joni and James were no longer a couple, and James's lawyer, Nat Weiss, offered to take Carly backstage to say hello to James.  Carly offered, "If you ever want a home-cooked meal..." and James replied, "Tonight."  "From that night on, we never spent a night apart from each other," Carly says - at least when they were in the same geographical location, which now was most of the time.  "All that" romantic activity of Carly's "kind of stopped on a dime, with James," says Jake Brackman, "with a little bit of overlap." (See book for overlap details that include Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson and more about Carly and James' romance).  Carly and James traveled to Martha's Vineyard to be together in the house he was  building, where things turned very serious, very quickly between them.

Carly was now writing songs for her third album, No SecretsThe Right Thing To Do, with its fetching melody, is explicity about James.  In it, Carly is both the romantic, stubbornly looking past her man's serious drug problem, and the realist, shrewdly assessing her fading value in the sex-and-love marketplace: "And it used to be for a while / That the river flowed right to my door / Making me just a little too free / But now the river doesn't seem to stop here anymore." 


 

Page 366 - Carly Simon writes You're So Vain

Jac Holzman arranged for Carly Simon's third album to be produced by Richard Perry, who had most recently produced Harry Nilsson.  Carly came to see Richard at his Laurel Canyon house in May of 1972, bearing a song she had just written, the gentle, somewhat folkie Ballad Of A Vain Man (she'd loved Dylan's Ballad Of A Thin Man). 

The song had come together in four separate parts.  First, she'd sketched out in her journal the beginning of a song called Bless You, Ben (using the same melody as You're So Vain).  Then, on a flight from L.A. to  Palm Springs, she'd added another, totally unrelated line to her journal when her seat mate, musician Billy Mernit, looked into the cup on his tray and said, "Doesn't that shape look like clouds in my coffee?"  Thirdly, at one point when she was feeling vengeful about the men who'd emotionally laid her low, she'd scribbled another: "you're so vain, I bet you think this song is about you."   Finally, everything came together at a party in L.A.  A man she knew walked in, with a certain attitude, "and I said to myself, This is exactly the person that you're so vain is about.

The song reflected her belle-of-the-ball year and a half, which had negatively affected her self-esteem more than it seemed on the surface.  Carly had belt-notched all those coveted hotties - Cat Stevens, Kris Kristofferson, Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Mick Jagger, not to mention the unfamous ones (and her truly loved James Taylor) - and with her "extreme intelligence and worldy wit," Ellen observed, she had enjoyed the party.  Yet, Ellen adds, "I don't think she knew how to do it from her heart."  Jake agrees, "Those were all wrenching emotional affairs for her."  Sexual revolution or not, she'd felt used.  "And this thing that Nicholson and Beatty had, where they find a new girl and then they want to share her as a male bonding thing, that passed-on feeling [translated to]: "You gave away the things you loved, and one of them was me..."  (See 2010 article by Sheila Weller about  the invalid rumor that David Geffen was the subject of You're So Vain). and Carly's direct response denying the Geffen rumor.

As Carly sat down at the piano and started playing Ballad Of A Vain Man, Richard Perry grabbed his bongos and started "banging them up to a thunderous crescendo," he recalls.  Sure enough, inside the gentle folk song was a full-blast rocker.  "Just listening to this song for the first time, I thought, Oh, my God - what a hit this is! he says.




 

Page 368 - The making of You're So Vain

Carly Simon flew to London in the middle of the summer to record No Secrets.  James Taylor joined her after finishing a round of political fund-raisers with Carole King for George McGovern's presidential bid. Warren Beatty organized the concerts and James's participation came as a favor from Carly to Warren.

Over the course of their week working on the track for You're So Vain, Richard Perry says, "anyone who heard that record would giggle, because you knew it would be a massive hit. Of the several providential touches that made people feel that way, the first was Mick Jagger's walking into the studio one day, at Carly's behest, to sing backup vocals on the chorus.  Perry was delighted and stunned.  "It was the peak of the Rolling Stones' success and Jagger never did anything like that" - but there he was, adding his unmistakable cracking voice to Carly's sarcastic "Don't you, don't you, don't you?"s.

Musicians on You're So Vain, Mick Jagger, Klaus Voormann, Jim Gordon

The next key moment in the making of the record was when bassist Klaus Voormann, warming up his fingers by doing a fast brush of the strings - Perry seized on that ominous-sounding, minor-mode accidental lick and had Voormann repeat it for the song's introduction, over which Carly whispers, "Son of a gun."  Finally, when everyone thought they had the track nailed, Perry still felt "it wasn't 100 percent"; so he brought in drummer Jim Gordon at the last minute.  Perry knew - "This is the one.  This is the record we've been dreaming about."


 

Page 372 - Carly Simon and James Taylor marry

After recording No Secrets, Carly returned to New York with James.  "Mick and I had spent time together" in London, she says (while denying there was an affair between them), "but I really didn't want to be with anybody but James."  On November 1, the phone rang in Carly's apartment.  It was Bianca Jagger "and she said to James, 'You know my husband and your fiancee' are having an affair',Carly recalls, "and James said, 'That's not true'; he defended my integrity so beautifully,"  Carly says that she and James had, some days before the phone call, planned to marry quickly, but she also says, "There's nothing that gets men so crazy as other men pursuing their women.  Boy, did we decide fast!"

Carly Simon and James Taylor at thieir marriageOn November 3, 1972, hours before James was to appear at Radio City Music Hall - an extremely minimalist wedding ceremony was held in Carly's apartment.  The only guests were Andrea Simon, Trudy Taylor and Jake Brackman, who served as best man to bride and groom.

Later that night, James told his Radio City Music Hall audience that he had just married Carly Simon.  Cheers went up.  A midnight party followed.  Radio deejays announced the marriage - the first between two rock stars - as if it were a union of royalty. 

Two months later, Carly and James were the subject of a ten-page Rolling Stone interview, in its January 4, 1973, issue.  James Taylor was remarkably open, declaring "Carly and I are in love with each other" and revealed that they'd already named what he called their "hypothetical children" Sarah and Ben.  (Admissions like this, by the hard-drugging James was startling.  Male rock stars weren't supposed to be romantic and domestic; this was girl stuff).  Carly expressed her concerns about gender politics, and expressed anxiety about 'What if she surpassed him?'  The much-buzzed-about No Secrets and the meteoric You're So Vain were about to be released.  So were James's less promising One Man Dog and it's single Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight.





 

Page 373 - You're So Vain is released

You're So Vain struck like a brick through a window.  The star power that early listeners had heard in the song came through to critics and fans alike.  Ellen Willis wrote in The New Yorker, that this was "a great rock 'n' roll song."  Willis likened the lyrics "inspired sloppiness" to Dylan's, and she loved the "good-natured nastiness" of Carly's delivery.  The song's humor made its feminism an easily swallowed pill, but in the long run it was that aspect of the song that would endure: fifteen years later Stephen Holden would credit the "magnificently vulgar pop masterpiece" with "asserting a new balance of power in male-female relationships."

You're So Vain hit # 1 as soon after it's release as a single could.  The Right Thing To Do and We Have No Secrets also became hits.  The album No Secrets also hit # 1, a rare double jackpot.  Carly now had the success that no one would have predicted for her three years earlier.  Now, as she neared thirty, it was time to have that little Ben or Sarah.

James Taylor and Carly Simon