Long before Taylor Swift became a star with her heartbreak anthems, Carly Simon laid the groundwork with “You’re So Vain.” The hit propelled Carly into stardom and is still one of her most recognizable songs. Part of its enticement is the mystery around who exactly she was singing about. Fans have speculated for years, but Carly finally starting leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to the truth. Read on to see all the possible subjects of the song, and which one Carly finally admitted was her source of inspiration.
She Started Out As A Duo With Her Sister
Though many of us know Carly Simon as a solo artist, she first hit the music scene as part of a duo. It consisted of herself and her sister, Lucy Simon, and they called themselves The Simon Sisters.
The pair were first signed in 1964 and they went on to put out three albums over the course of the next five years. In 1969, Lucy decided to take a break from recording to start a family, leading Carly to embark on a solo career.
Making It Big With “You’re So Vain”
The very next year after The Simon Sisters split, Carly was signed to Elektra Records. Her first album as a solo artist featured “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” which was her first top ten hit.
Carly’s second album had the hit “Anticipation,” but it wasn’t until her third album that came out in 1972 that she became a star. The song “You’re So Vain” hit number one, as did the album. They even earned Carly multiple Grammy nominations!
Mick Jagger Sang Backup On “You’re So Vain”
Deep in the background of “You’re So Vain” are vocals lent by none other than Mick Jagger! The Rolling Stones lead singer didn’t even get credits for his vocals being in the song, but it didn’t escape the attention of fans.
Since Mick was in the song, some wondered if Carly might be singing it about him. We’re not sure why someone would want to be a part of a song that depicts them in a negative light, but rumors still swirled anyway.
Carly Admitted That She Had Major Chemistry With Mick
Though Carly put the rumors about Mick to rest in 1983, she did have something else to reveal about him in her 2015 memoir, Boys in the Trees. The singer admitted that she and Mick had crazy chemistry while recording “You’re So Vain.”
It didn’t help when Mick’s wife at the time, Bianca, called Carly’s fiancé the night before the wedding to say that the musicians were having an affair. Carly denied the accusation, but one thing’s for sure: the song was far from being about Mick.
Carly Married James Taylor The Same Year Her Hit Came Out
You know that fiancé we just mentioned that Mick Jagger’s former wife called? He was musician James Taylor, who Carly was married to for more than a decade. The pair tied the knot the same year that “You’re So Vain” propelled Carly into stardom.
Some fans speculated that the song might be about the very man she betrothed herself to. Though it seems a little odd, we’d imagine sharing the spotlight with someone in your same field could be tough at times.
Rolling Stone Magazine Confirmed It Wasn’t James
After the song came out, Rolling Stone magazine had an interview with Carly where they set the record straight. Though she didn’t reveal who the song was about, she did say, “It’s definitely not James.”
One reason fans were so sure it might be him is because of the line, “Then you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia.” The year the song came out, James did take a jet to Nova Scotia! Carly pointed out in the interview that it wasn’t a Lear, though.
A Music Video Suggested In Might Be David Bowie
Rumors began to swirl when a newer music video for “You’re So Vain” came out in 2010. Fans thought they heard a clue a couple of minutes into the song, when the name David is whispered backwards.
Fans began speculating that it was David Bowie who the song was about this entire time. After all, the song did come out the very same year that David emerged as Ziggy Stardust. Perhaps Carly thought his theatrics were a little bit much.
Carly Confirmed That “David” Held Significance
Anyone trying to solve the mystery became even more obsessed when Carly admitted that the whisper did refer to the subject of the song. However, that didn’t necessarily mean it was David Bowie.
There were many Davids in Carly’s life, both in and out of the music industry. For all her fans knew, the person could be someone who isn’t even in the spotlight. However, there was another famous David that came to the fan’s minds.
Another Clue Pointed To David Cassidy
The whispered “David” wasn’t the first clue that Carly gave about the mystery man. In a previous interview, she said that the person’s name included the letters A, E, and R.
Clearly, Carly was a big fan of puzzles and loved teasing her audience. Fans concluded that it must be singer and actor David Cassidy. Though his first and last name doesn’t include E or R, his middle name, Bruce, does! He was definitely a possibility.
Carly Hasn’t Revealed Who The Real David Is
Since Carly has yet to confirm or deny that the mystery David is Bowie or Cassidy, the only way to know is through the process of elimination. David Cassidy’s early rise to fame suggests he could be the guy.
The actor landed a spot on Broadway shortly after finishing high school early. He was discovered while performing and landed a contract with Universal Studios. It wasn’t long after that the young man became a teen idol on The Partridge Family.
Another Suspect Was Carly’s Ex, Cat Stevens
Before Carly Simon a household name, she dated a fellow musician named Cat Stevens. The two met while getting ready for a show at the Troubador, which was Cat’s first performance in the states.
The star rose to prominence in the United Kingdom in the late ’60s. By the early ’70s, he and Carly were romantically involved and writing songs about one another. Carly’s “Anticipation” and “Legend in Your Own Time” is reportedly about Cat, so of course, people thought “You’re So Vain” might be, as well.
Here’s Why Cat Was Still An Option
At this point you might be thinking, didn’t we just establish that the mystery man’s name is David? While this is true, Carly revealed that the song might actually be about multiple men.
Since the singer’s other songs about Cat paint him in a better light, it seems doubtful that he was the subject of “You’re So Vain.” Then again, their short-lived relationship did come to a close around the same time that the hit came out.
Producer David Geffen Was Another Possibility
David Geffen rose to prominence as first a talent agent before co-founding Asylum Records in 1971. He entered the public eye when he dated Cher in 1973, shortly after the singer divorced her long-time music partner Sonny Bono.
Since David was in the spotlight around the time that “You’re So Vain” came out, fans began to wonder if he was the subject of the song. Especially after the “David” clue came out, the producer seemed like a definite contender.
Carly May Have Admitted David Geffen Was A Subject
There was one person Carly supposedly felt comfortable enough to admit the truth to, and that was Howard Stern. We are not sure why she would tell a radio personality her big secret, but that’s what Howard claims.
He also says that one of the names may have been David Geffen, but he “forgot.” Carly put an end to the nonsense in 2010 by stating she hadn’t yet met Geffen when she wrote the song.
Warren Beatty Even Thought It Was About Him
After seeing the success of his sister, Shirley MacLaine, Warren Beatty decided to try his hand at acting. He went on to have a massively successful career, garnering 15 Academy Award nominations for acting, directing, producing, and writing, sometimes for the same film!
To top it off, Warren produced a benefit concert in 1972 with massive names like Barbra Streisand and Quincy Jones. The same year, “You’re So Vain” came out, and Warren knew it was about him.
At Last Carly Admitted It Was Warren Beatty!
Warren Beatty wasn’t just a suspect because he’s great at everything in his field. It was also because he had dated Carly Simon. The singer finally caved in 2015 when People magazine agreed to put her on the cover if she’d revealed the mystery man.
She only had to give up who one verse was about, and she chose the second one, which is all Warren. The singer joked, “Warren thinks the whole thing is about him!”
Carly And Guitarist Dan Armstrong Broke Up In 1971
Fans suspect that “You’re So Vain” might also be about Dan Armstrong, a guitarist Carly dated until 1971. Since they broke up the year before the song came out, it would certainly make sense chronologically.
Dan not only played the guitar; he also made them. Dan’s clear Plexiglas guitars and basses were so renowned that Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones performed with one. The line of instruments was even named the Ampeg Dan Armstrong.
Carly Already Wrote One Song About Her Ex Dan
Supposedly, Dan used to boast they he was the only electric guitar specialist in the world. It sounds like his success as a luthier may have gone to his head, which could be a reason for Carly to call him vain.
On top of that, Carly had already written a song about Dan once before! Her debut solo album released in 1971 featured “Dan, My Fling,” which was clearly about the relationship. Furthermore, Dan’s full name has an A, E, and R in it.
Jack Nicholson Was Another Ex Of Carly’s
One ex that Carly Simon got candid about in her memoir was actor Jack Nicholson. The news that the two were together has left some fans wondering if he was one of the men she referenced in “You’re So Vain.”
After more than a decade of subpar work, Jack got his big break in 1969 by landing a role in Easy Rider. By the time he met Carly, Jack was well on his way to stardom.
Jack Broke Carly’s Heart
With fame comes lots of incredible dating prospects, and Jack found himself torn while dating Carly. In her memoir, she revealed that the actor was seeing someone else at the same time as her.
It turns out that Jack had strong feelings for this other woman and felt he needed to tell Carly about it. Though she wasn’t very committed to Jack, it did still hurt the singer’s feelings. Whether or not it was enough to accuse him of being vain is a mystery.
Carly Simon Met Sean Connery When She Was 20
In 1965, Carly Simon and her sister, Lucy, had the chance to meet the late and great Sean Connery. At the time, he was one of the biggest actors in Hollywood thanks to his starring role as James Bond.
The Simon Sisters used their famous dad, the cofounder of publishing house Simon & Schuster, to get a chance to meet the actor. Fans thought this meeting may have left a poor taste in Carly’s mouth, but she hasn’t confirmed the rumor.
Sean Connery Was The First James Bond
Any James Bond fans will know that Sean Connery was the first of many actors to nail the role. Before Sean was an actor he was a bodybuilder! His charm and good looks helped him break into the acting industry, though it took a decade to do it.
When you hit the ground running with a role like James Bond, how could you not be a little vain? That was at least the thinking behind some fans who thought he might be a subject of the song.
Kris Kristofferson Was Another Relationship Gone South
Another one of Carly’s many flings was with rocker Kris Kristofferson. The musician’s career took off in the mid-’60s, and he even dated Janis Joplin for a time. By the early ’70s, he turned his focus towards acting, starring in the 1976 edition of A Star Is Born alongside Barbra Streisand.
In her memoir, Carly described their relationship as a “slam-dunk deranged month.” It’s no wonder that fans took this information as a reason to think he might be the subject of her song.
Carly Knew Kris Wasn’t The One After A Plane Ride
Though Carly was smitten with Kris’s songwriting ability, their relationship couldn’t go far. The day she knew they wouldn’t last came when they boarded a plane together. Carly had a fear of flying and was looking forward to having Kris as a comfort.
When the plane took off, she put her head on his shoulder, but the feeling was not mutual. Instead of reassuring her, Kris closed himself off with a newspaper. The feeling of rejection could have fueled Carly to include Kris in her hit song.
Carly Was Off Again On Again With Director Bob Rafelson
Another one of Carly’s flames was Bob Rafelson, a director who is regarded as playing a key role in the New Hollywood era of the ’70s. Funny enough, he worked with another man on this list: Jack Nicholson!
Though their relationship only lasted for a few weeks, it was a turbulent time. They were an off-again, on-again kind of pair. That’s all the more reason why fans thought he might be one of the people on the list.
Bob Was Married At The Time!
One thing that makes Bob definitely a possibility as the subject of “You’re So Vain” is the fact he was married at the time he was seeing Carly! Obviously, it takes two to tango, but you’d have to get her book to hear all the details directly from Carly.
Their fling came to a halt and Bob and his wife at the time, Toby, ended up divorcing in 1977. Before they did, though, he apparently told Toby about the affair during a karma cleaning session.
Carly And Terrence Malick “Weren’t The Easiest Fit”
Another New Hollywood director that Carly had a relationship with was Terrence Malick. The two met through a mutual friend while Terrence was working on a New Yorker piece about Che Guevara.
Carly admired Terrence’s passion for his work as he talked with a “fervid enthusiasm” about Che. She found herself wanting to be the object of his affections, but ultimately found that they “weren’t the easiest fit.” Fans now wonder if he’s one of the subjects in her song.
Terrence Is Known To Be A Private Person
If this is the first time you’re hearing about Terrence Malick, there’s a reason for that. Unless you’re a film buff, you may have been completely unaware of the director because he likes to keep himself as far from the radar as possible.
Terrence has even been known to avoid movie premieres and interviews. If there’s one thing this director values, it’s privacy. We’re not sure how he felt about being included in Carly’s memoir, let alone a suspect of her song!
The Last Two Men Have No Idea Who They Are
Though Carly admitted that one of the men she references in “You’re So Vain” is Warren Beatty, the other two are a mystery. Furthermore, she says that those men have no idea that they’re the subjects.
Carly clearly revealed Warren since he already figured it was him, anyway. As for the David hint, we’ve seen that it doesn’t really give much away since it’s a common name in Hollywood. It seems that the singer doesn’t want to give it all away.
The Answer May Never Be Revealed
The question remains if Carly will ever state who the men are. It’s one of those things where the puzzle is more enticing than the answer, so perhaps she’s keeping it hidden to stay relevant.
Even Carly has admitted she can’t believe people are still curious who it is. Perhaps the question has helped the hit stand the test of time as people continue to try and sort out what it refers to. At the very least, listeners can insert their own vain exes into the song.