Published on July 15, 2016
“You’re So Vain” is a song written and performed by Carly Simon and released in November 1972. The song is a critical profile of a self-absorbed lover about whom Simon asserts “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.” The title subject’s identity has long been a matter of speculation, with Simon stating that the song refers to three men, only one of whom she has named publicly, actor Warren Beatty.
The song is ranked at #82 on Billboard’s Greatest Songs of All-Time. “You’re So Vain” was voted #216 in RIAA’s Songs of the Century. And on August 23, 2014, the U.K. Official Charts Company crowned it the ultimate song of the 1970s. It remains Simon’s biggest hit and is considered her signature song The distinctive bass guitar intro is played by Klaus Voormann and the strings were arranged and orchestrated by Paul Buckmaster.
Before the song became a hit single in 1972, Simon told an interviewer that the song was about “men,” not a specific “man”.
In 1983, she said it is not about Mick Jagger, who contributed uncredited backing vocals to the song. In a 1993 book 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”. Simon said about the song, “The apricot scarf was worn by Nick (Delbanco). Nothing in the words were referred to Mick.”
In a 2007 interview Warren Beatty said, “Let’s be honest. That song was about me.” Simon in 1983 said Beatty “certainly thought it was about him — he called me and said thanks 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 August 2003 Simon agreed to reveal the name of the song’s subject to the highest bidder of the Martha’s Vineyard Possible Dreams charity auction. With the top bid of $50,000, Dick Ebersol, president of NBC Sports and a friend of Simon, won the right to know the name of the subject of “You’re So Vain”. A condition of the prize was that Ebersol not reveal the name. Ebersol said Simon allowed him to divulge a clue about the person’s name: “Carly told me that I could offer up to the entire world a clue as to what she’ll tell me when we have this night in about two weeks. And the clue is: The letter ‘E’ is in the person’s name.”
In 2004 Simon told Regis Philbin, “If I tell it, it’s going to come out in dribs and drabs. And I’ve given out two letters already, an ‘A’ and an ‘E.’ But I’m going to add one to it. I’m going to add an ‘R,’ in honor of you.”
In 2005 Simon’s ex-husband Jim Hart said he was sure that the song was not about anyone famous.
On June 19, 2008 Howard Stern claimed that Simon had privately revealed to him about whom the song was written after her interview on his popular radio show on Sirius Satellite Radio. Stern commented, “There is an odd aspect to it … he’s not that vain.” On March 17, 2009, Stern claimed that she had said it was a “composite of three people”. Stern repeated this on May 5, 2014 claiming, “she takes me aside, pulls me close, whispers in my ear.. three names. She goes, it wasn’t one person, it was three people.” Stern thought that one of the names was Warren Beatty and another might be David Geffen, but said that he “forgot.”
In her 2008 book Girls Like Us, author Sheila Weller includes a detailed account of Simon’s love affair with musician Dan Armstrong, and suggests that he was the inspiration for “You’re So Vain.” Her heartbreak over eventually losing him inspired the song “Dan, My Fling,” which appears on her first album. Armstrong’s full name, Daniel Kent Armstrong, contains all three letters of Simon’s clue.
On November 4, 2009, Simon said she had hidden the name of the subject in a certain version of the song. The next day, the program’s crew revealed the name concealed in a back-played whisper: David. Simon denied that the whisper was “David”, saying she has spoken “Ovid” both forwards and backwards, and that sounded like David. In February 2010, Simon reiterated that the name of the subject was whispered in a re-recording of “You’re So Vain”: “There’s a little whisper — and it’s the answer to the puzzle.” A representative for Simon confirmed that the name whispered during the song is “David”. Multiple media outlets then speculated that the subject was Simon’s former boss at Elektra, David Geffen, The following day Jim Hart, Simon’s ex-husband and close friend, denied that the song was about Geffen. Simon said that when she wrote the song in 1971, she had not yet met Geffen. Simon’s publicist also confirmed the song was not about Geffen, but that there was indeed “a David who is connected to the song in some way, shape, or form,”Vanity Fair noted that in addition to “David”, “Warren” and an unintelligible name are whispered during the recording.
After her live performance of the song with Simon in July 2013, Taylor Swift stated that Simon had revealed the identity of the song’s subject to her in confidence.
In November 2015, Simon, promoting her about-to-be-published memoir, said, “I have confirmed that the second verse is Warren (Beatty),” and added that while “Warren thinks the whole thing is about him,” he is the subject only of that verse, with the remainder of the song referring to two other, still-unnamed men.