Big voice, vivacious, great songwriter. That was Carly Simon. Her third album, No Secrets, is arguably her best overall album. It was the number one album in the country for five weeks and easily achieved Gold status.
The album produced two hit singles, “The Right Thing to Do,” and the mega-hit, the number one song, “You’re So Vain,” which for forty years was surrounded in mystery. Who was it she was writing about? The album was recorded in London, so she had an affair with singer Cat Stevens, Mick Jagger sang background on the song, and she was friendly with actor Warren Beatty, in town to film a movie.
Simon had released two previous albums and had success. Her first album had the top ten song, “That’s the Way I Always Heard it Should Be, and her second album, the top 20 hit “Anticipation.”
Her record company had big plans for her. Each of her first two albums had a different producer. Work on her third album halted when the record company rejected the songs and hooked her up with producer Richard Perry in London. Simon generally wrote all of her own songs, which were often autobiographical in nature.
Perry started over, using a combination of American and English musicians, but mostly the sessions had Simon on piano and guitar, Klaus Voorman (the Beatles) on bass, Jimmy Ryan on bass and guitar, and Andy Newmark on drums. This was a tight group who built a solid foundation for her songs.
Simon is a very expressive singer with great vocal range. A song like “You’re So Vain” called for a bigger production since it had great single potential, so orchestration and backup vocals were added. Perry had great L.A. connections so he brought in tremendous session players like Lowell George and Billy Payne (Little Feat), drummers Jim Gordon and Jim Keltner, and horn player Bobby Keys (Rolling Stones) to sweeten the sound. James Taylor (future husband), Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney helped out on background vocals.
All songs written by Simon, unless noted. Produced by Richard Perry. Orchestration by Paul Buckmaster.
No. Title Writer(s) Length
- “The Right Thing to Do” 2:57 My favorite song on the album, I thought this was even better than “You’re So Vain.” Musically, it is full of great chord changes and variances in Simon’s vocal performance. Perry gives it the right amount of accompaniment. Three minutes of pop delight. A great way to open the album.
- “The Carter Family” (Simon, Jacob Brackman) 3:29 Simon was good at story songs, it was her folk roots. A song about growing up and childhood friendship. Simon’s voice shines on this song, it allows her a great range of emotion.
- “You’re So Vain” 4:17 What more can you say about this song, it’s one of the 1970s most iconic song. It speaks to the bravado and arrogance of the decade, especially toward women. The song was nominated for song of the year, record of the year and best pop performance at the Grammy Awards. It’s a great song, made even better by Perry’s astute production.
- “His Friends Are More Than Fond of Robin” 3:00 Another quiet story song. Simon is accompanied on the piano by an ARP synthesizer. Very simple but effective.
- “We Have No Secrets” 3:57 More autobiography. An aching reflective song. A great bass line by Klaus Voorman. Nice slide guitar and string arrangement to underscore the sentimental mood.
No. Title Writer(s) Length
- “Embrace Me, You Child” 4:06 A song about children and parents, probably through her own eyes. Nice orchestral and choir backing, arrangement by Buckmaster (Elton John).
- “Waited So Long” 4:14 An uptempo song with a country beat. The subject matter is about wanting to consummate a relationship. Even average fair is sharpened by Simon’s vocal ability.
- “It Was So Easy” (Simon, Brackman) 3:06 Another reflective song about life past, with a gentle rocking beat. Perry’s production raises this a run of the mill song to a lilting, ballad.
- “Night Owl” (James Taylor) 3:47 One of the harder rocking songs on the album with a bigger arrangement and background vocals by Taylor, McCartney, Doris Troy and Bonnie Bramlett. Great sax solo by Bobby Keys and piano by Nicky Hopkins (Rolling Stones).
- “When You Close Your Eyes” 3:05 A soft, gentle song with great orchestral backing. An under appreciated song, great lyrics. Wonderful way to close the album.
This album brought great success to Simon and it raised the expectations for every album that followed. This album was Simon in her element, even though it was recorded in London, it was a very earthy, unpretentious album. Her relationship with Perry would last two more albums and include the excellent Playing Possum, perhaps her second best album.
If you want a starter album of Carly Simon, get her first greatest hits album, The Best of Carly Simon, released in 1975, which represents her most successful period.
No Secrets or Playing Possum would be the best of her 1970s work.
Simon would go on to write and perform big hits and win tremendous awards.
Her 1988 song “Let the River Run”, from the film Working Girl, was the first time one artist won an Academy Award, a Grammy and a Golden Globe.
She has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame and presented with the ASCAP Founders Award.