Not long after Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on Jan. 6, 1973, fans had questions. What do you wear with an apricot-colored scarf? How many celebrities had their own LearJet? And above all: who is this song about?
To her credit, Simon's done a great job of not telling, nearly 50 years later. (Ironic, considering the tune comes from the chart-topping LP called No Secrets!) But folks sure have some theories over the years, and we figured it was only right to keep track of them all.
Someone named Ben? Years before she and James Taylor named their son Ben in 1977, Simon wrote "You're So Vain" with a different set of lyrics. "It went 'Bless you Ben, you came in, where nobody else left off...'" she said in a 2000 interview. "It never went anywhere, I could never fall in love with it. And then I was at a party and somebody walked in and my friend said to me 'Doesn't he look like he's just walked on to a yacht?'"
Wait, can you give us a hint? Over the years, Simon has cannily divulged letters that are in the subject's names. She started out with an easy one: "A." In 2003, NBC executive Dick Ebersol donated $50,000 to charity in exchange for Simon sharing the secre; he was permitted to reveal only another letter: "E." A year later, Simon went on Live! with Regis & Kelly and offered one last clue: "R."
Mick Jagger? The Rolling Stones frontman was often speculated as a potential subject, and he's got all the letters given as clues. She debunked that theory to The Washington Post in 1983, but listen closely and you'll surely recognize the man singing backing vocals on the track.
Warren Beatty? The actor/director is perhaps the most commonly-cited man behind the tune. "It certainly sounds like it was about Warren Beatty," she told The Washington Post. Another person who thinks this song is about him: Beatty himself. "Let's be honest. That song was about me," he quipped in 2007.
David Geffen? In 2009, Simon re-recorded several of her hits for the album Never Been Gone, including "You're So Vain." She later shared there were some clues in the new recording. "There's a little whisper," she told Uncut, "and it's the answer to the puzzle." Indeed, listen closely and it sounds like she's whispering "David," which U.K. paper The Sun speculated could be music mogul David Geffen. (The theory was Simon was frustrated when he passed her over in favor of Joni Mitchell on the Asylum Records roster - and added insult to injury when Asylum merged with her label, Elektra.) "It could be one of many Davids," she cheekily admitted to CNN.
All of them?? Perhaps we've been looking at this all wrong: even before the song reached the top of the charts, Simon suggested it may have been about more than one person. She confirmed this in her memoir, suggesting that the second verse is at least about Beatty.
Who else knows? If you're not satisfied by any of this speculation, there are still a few people you can call up and try to get the truth. Howard Stern reportedly knows, expressing surprise that the person Simon named was not that vain. Taylor Swift knows, too, after Simon told her before their performance together at a 2013 concert. We may not know the whole truth, but that's not going to stop us from listening to the song again and again!
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