from wannabe folk
singer to internationally acclaimed
pop music icon encompasses so much
struggle, adaptation, and heartbreak that it
strains the bounds of mere biography. She
is responsible for some of the most brilliant,
diverse, and emotionally involving
pop music of the modern era—
from 1971’s “That’s The Way
I’ve Always Heard It Should
Be” to 2008’s brilliant
Brazilian-tinged “This Kind
of Love.” Throughout the
years, her distinctively silky,
sultry voice has served as her
trademark, and her knack for
picking the right songs to
record has given her tremendous
latitude in conceiving
the more than two dozen
albums she has released since
1971. Her career began as a
triumph over debilitating stage fright, and
has thankfully been prolonged by her
refusal to give in to cancer ten years ago.
Along the way, she has somehow found
the time to write five children’s books,
compose the music for many films (one of
which earned her the Academy Award for
Best Song From a Movie), and raise two
children—both of whom are talented musicians
in their own right .
Carly’s father, Richard L. Simon, was one of the founders of the Simon & Schuster publishing company, and she grew up at the core of America’s cultural establishment. Born in 1945, she and her sister Lucy began performing in Greenwich Village folk clubs while still their teens. Together, as the Simon Sisters, they signed a recording deal with Kapp Records in 1964, releasing the single “Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod”—adapted from the children’s poem by Eugene Field. The song reached the #73 position on the national chart and gave the sisters a chance to open New York shows headlined by the likes of Woody Allen, Bill Cosby.
However, the Simon Sisters failed to develop into anything more than a pleasant sixties coffee house folk duo. They recorded no new material between 1965 and 1968, and when they finally did release a project, it was a collection of folk songs for children (1969’s The Simon Sisters Sing the Lobster Quadrille and Other Songs) and Lucy had already left the act to get married. Carly—now a soloist by default—took it upon herself to relearn the art of singing without a harmonist, and of writing songs that would suit the new voice she intended to develop.
Meanwhile, she took a job at a production company that brought her into contact with a “who’s who” of the era’s recording artists. In 1968, she served a brief apprenticeship as the lead vocalist for the band Elephant’s Memory (yes the same one that would back John & Yoko). This was a short-lived experiment and she continued to develop her solo act during her spare time. In 1971, Elektra Records decided to take a chance on the still completely unknown songwriter, and she set about recording her first album. The self-titled project featured the single “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” which garnered heavy airplay and reached the #10 position on the chart.
After seven years, Carly Simon was no longer a struggling songwriter. A second album was rushed into production while the single generated fans through the radio, and before year’s end “Anticipation” had broken into the Top 20. This song peaked at #13 in January of 1972. With two Top 20 singles in a less than a year, Carly Simon was poised to become a major pop star—and her amazing voice, beautiful looks and evocative lyrics seemed likely to take her ever higher. She won the 1971 Grammy Award for Best New Artist and later revealed that “Anticipation” was written to describe her feelings about waiting for singer Cat Stevens to pick her up for a date.
She began work on her third project in just over two years in 1972. The resulting album, No Secrets, solidified her stardom. The smash hit “You’re So Vain” reached the top of the singles chart, and the album followed suit. The single, which featured Mick Jagger on background vocals, provoked a great deal of speculation about the identity of the object of the accusatory lyrics. Regardless of whom she had targeted, the track would hold the #1 position for three weeks in the early winter of 1973, selling over a million copies, and propelling the entire album (which also featured guest vocals by James Taylor and Paul and Linda McCartney) to gold status.
She was now one of the biggest attractions in show business, but Carly Simon’s personal life did not take a backseat to her professional success— she married fellow pop star James Taylor in 1972 and the couple had their first child two years later. The newly married couple recorded a duet cover of the 1963 hit “Mockingbird.” The song became a gold-selling smash and made it into the top 5, as did its parent album, Hotcakes (1974). That project also gave birth to a second hit single—“Haven’t Got Time for the Pain,” which peaked at the #14 spot in summer of ‘74.
Carly Simon released her fifth album in five years in 1975. Her songwriting continued to attract stellar guest vocalists— Playing Possum featured Ringo Starr, Dr. John, Rita Coolidge and Jeff Baxter of the Doobie Brothers in that role; and the top 40 hit, “Attitude Dancing,” was graced by backing vocals from Carly’s friend Carole King. The album cover featured a controversial photo of Carly in a short, sexy negligee complete with knee high boots. Her new look did no damage to sales, as the album peaked at #10.
In 1976, she released a “Greatest Hits” collection that would go on to sell more than three million copies, but she maintained her breakneck recording pace, heading back to the studio for work on her sixth album, Another Passenger. This project again featured an array of guest stars like the Doobie Brothers, Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt; but Carly’s mellow style was somewhat out of sync with the disco-crazed late-’70s. Another Passenger sold well, but produced no hit singles. As 1977 dawned, Carly and James welcomed their new son Ben to the world, but this did not prevent her from completing work on her seventh album, Boys in the Trees.
In the meantime, she had been asked to record the theme song for the latest James Bond movie, The Spy Who Loved Me. Written by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, “Nobody Does It Better” was released along with the film in the summer of ‘77. It became an instant smash, returning Carly to the top of the charts. The song peaked at the #2 position, selling more than a million copies. It was prevented from reaching the #1 position by an amazing ten week run at the top by Debbie Boones “You Light Up My Life”.
The success of her soundtrack single virtually guaranteed that Boys In The Trees would outperform Carly’s previous effort. The album’s biggest hit, “You Belong To Me” (featuring James on backing vocals), reached the #6 position on the chart. Their duet, “Devoted To You,” peaked at the #36 position, but garnered heavy Adult Contemporary chart action, climbing to the #2 spot there. This classic love song belied the reality of the Simon/Taylor marriage, which had begun to unravel. While on tour in support of the album, Carly—who had never been enamored of life on the road—was taken ill and had to cancel many performances.
Adding to the marital difficulties was the sickness of her son Ben, who was diagnosed with kidney problems that necessitated surgery. These traumatic incidents took their toll, but her career marched on with the album Spy, produced by the legendary Arif Mardin. The project yielded the single “Vengeance,” which peaked at the #48 on the chart.
In 1980, she left Elektra in favor of its sister label, Warner Brothers Records, which released Come Upstairs that summer. The first single off the album, “Jessie,” climbed to the #11 position, selling a million copes and once again performing very well on the Adult Contemporary chart. Unfortunately, the remainder of the album was overlooked by radio, and Carly went back to the drawing board for her next project, a collection of standards from what is now referred to as the “Great American Songbook.” Rod Stewart and other classic pop stars of the ’60s and ’70s have generated massive sales with this formula in the 2000s, but Carly was ahead of the times. The project was under-promoted by her label, and received very little attention. Later in her career she would return to the standards of the early-to-mid 20th century, with much greater success.
Her next album for Warners was a blend of rock and reggae that featured contributions from Sly & Robbie. Once again, this attempt at a new departure left the public cold. Hello Big Man (1983) peaked at the #69 position—it would be her last project for the Warner Brothers label. She and James Taylor also ended their eleven-year marriage that year. Along with the divorce came a move to the Epic label, on a one-album deal that produced Spoiled Girl, which hit the streets in the summer of 1985. The album came and went without leaving a trace of its passage on the singles chart.
More Hollywood exposure—this time on the soundtrack of the Jack Nicholson/ Meryl Streep flick Heartburn—brought Carly back to the top 20 in 1987. “Coming Around Again,” which she wrote for the film herself, reached the #18 position and led off the million-selling album of the same title, released through Arista Records. Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack and Carly’s siblings Ben and Sally also contributed to the project. 1987 also found Simon tying the knot for a second time—with writer James Hart—and recording a live show for HBO. The performance took place on her beloved island of Martha’s Vineyard and would provide the tracks for a platinum-selling live greatest hits album released the following year.
In 1988, director Mike Nichols enlisted Carly’s talents for his film Working Girl, starring Harrison Ford and Melanie Griffith. The theme song for that movie, “Let the River Run,” only reached the #49 position on the chart, but brought her major acclaim when it won the Academy, Golden Globe and Grammy awards. Despite this success, it would be Simon’s last single to chart in the top 100.
Carly’s love of children and her musical contribution to several kid’s projects in the ‘80s (including Sesame Street) led her to begin writing books for young readers. The first of these, Amy The Dancing Bear, was based on a story that she had created to tell her own children during their youth. Jackie Onassis published it and Margot Datz provided the illustrations. Carly and Jackie O worked very well together, and would become good friends.
Meanwhile, she returned to the Great American Songbook for My Romance, which charted inside the Top 50 in 1990. Since then, she has recorded a wide variety of albums, including two more collections of standards—Film Noir and Moonlight Serenade (which peaked at the #7 position on the album chart in 2005, becoming her most successful work in 30 years). She also made a very amusing cameo appearance in the Brittany Murphy vehicle Little Black Book (2004), a film in which a number of her classic hits figure very prominently.
Most recently, Carly recorded a Brazilian flavored album called This Kind Of Love (on the Hear Music Label) that is a must for lovers of her trademarked storytelling love songs. Every song is a Simon original, and the project features contributions from her children Ben and Sally, both of whom are accomplished musicians. Over the past decade, they have often accompanied their mother on tour, turning the punishing ordeal of life on the road into a pleasant family trip. As her wonderfully engaging and informative website (carlysimon. com) makes clear, Carly is enjoying the fruits of her labors and making music on her own terms.
Madacy Entertainment is proud to present this thirty-song collection of Carly Simon’s biggest hits from her glory days at Elektra and Warner Brothers.
Booklet copy: Dave Roy
Copy editor: David Fiore
Design by: Romel Velasco
Photography: Bob Gothard