In 1972 when I was 12, I remember hearing on the school bus a song a woman sang with the intriguing phrase “clouds in my coffee.” I didn’t know who it was but the voice reminded me of the ketchup commercial for Heinz. Something to do with “Anticipation.” A cool song with an awesome drum part. It was soon revealed to me through “Casey Kasem’s American top forty” that the song in question was called “You’re So Vain” and it was sung by Carly Simon as was “Anticipation.”
I didn’t know much about Carly Simon except I loved her voice, she wasn’t Paul Simon’s sister and there were rumors she was going out with James Taylor who I did know. At any rate, I bought the 45-single of “You’re So Vain” and that was that. Occasionally, I would catch on FM radio Carly Simon’s song “We Have No Secrets” and “Waited Too Long” (a song that had the word “virgin” in it and that alone was intriguing). Her No Secrets album (inconspicuously displayed right in front of the EJ Korvettes record department) portrayed a sizzling photo of Cary. Oddly enough though, I never bought that album. I did however purchase the single from Hotcakes – a remake of the 60’s hit “Mockingbird.”
This version had Carly Simon and James Taylor singing off each other. It sounded like they were having fun and Richard Perry’s polished production always stood out among the top 40 hits. Up until that time I only had a few singles by women, i.e. Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Cher, Maria Muldaur etc… So, I suspect it was my mom who bought me this album for Christmas or something. It would be the first record in my growing collection whose featured artist was a female. And this album was a hit. It sold like “hotcakes”!
The cover showed a pregnant Carly Simon sitting in a white room with her big smile. Not as sexy as the previous album cover but inviting nonetheless. The album is autobiographical and centers around domestic bliss. As a pre-teen, I did not realize this. I only knew I dug all the songs right off the bat. As I listened a few more times I started to really appreciate the witty lyrics, and the sophisticated chord changes that supported Carly Simon’s wide-ranging melodies. I did not know much about harmony back then even though I was beginning to delve into the likes of Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder but I knew something beautiful was going on.
The album opens with a pleasantly snarky, semi-comical number called “Safe And Sound.” It’s Carly Simon’s reflection on the social events happening at the time: women’s liberation, transcendental meditation, the gender sexual revolution etc… Basically events that had a profound effect on a person whose values stemmed from the 1950s. The melody is easily memorable with a hook that is not repetitive but conclusive. The production takes clever twists and turns as Carly Simon jumps from subject to subject. The basic premise is: as long as Carly Simon is with the person she loves she’s able to navigate through the changes. A sentiment many couples could relate to. Her vocals are confident and sexy in a subtle way. Frequent lyric collaborator Jacob Brackman co-wrote this one with Carly.
The next tune “Mind on My Man” is a simple folk song with jazzy chord changes and an arching melody. A song clearly written about her then husband, James Taylor. Carly Simon sings it effortlessly and her whistling solo is charming. This is a great example of singer-songwriting that needs very little instrumentation. It’s a beautiful tune that stands on its own. One of my favorites.
“Think I’m Gonna Have A Baby” shows us where Carly Simon is at this particular time. Pregnant with James Taylor’s baby Sally, the song revels in the delights of having a child and taking some time off from record making in order to enjoy the moment. It’s a very relaxed, memorable tune sung with a sweet tone. Other than the song “Mockingbird” this is the happiest Carly Simon sounds. The production is solid with a supportive rhythm section consisting of Klaus Voorman on bass and Jim Keltner on drums. Her sister Lucy and various background singers add an extra lift to the overall positive vibe.
We are then greeted with an old-time sounding tongue-in-cheek song about one of Carly Simon’s siblings. The song’s title makes clear the subject matter: “Older Sister.” Here, Ms. Simon builds her song around very chromatic chord progressions. This adds to the frustration of her lyrics which deal with the competition she once had with her sister. Which one – we do not know. She had two older sisters, Lucy and Joanna who interestingly enough passed away within a day of each other from cancer. This jazzy track features the tasty electric playing of Dave Spinozza one of the biggest in demand guitar players at the time.
The second to last track on side one is my favorite on the album. The very over looked “Just Not True.” Though never destined to be a hit, it nonetheless shows off Carly’s sophisticated melodic and harmonic prowess as a singer-songwriter. This is a song about trust. And trust here is portrayed with minor modes against major ones. It starts off with an Eb-minor chord and pivots to a very tense C#7#9 chord. This means nothing to the non-musical listener but in essence, these two chords set up a harmonic backdrop that is as angry as her lyrics. Not to mention the stern sounding strings that accompany Carly’s serious vocal.
All the anger here is suddenly relieved as she lands on a very “major” sounding chord progression in a key that is very far removed from the previous one. This is done smoothly with expert voice leading and change of tone in the content of the lyrics which reflects on her vulnerable side. The melody rises here and just when you feel a bit of resolve she returns to the initial tense chords that opened the piece. She repeats the entire first section again but as it resolves she suddenly takes a left turn into a completely different key and feel.
It’s a breezy instrumental break with James Taylor and her singing these beautiful descending harmonies. The section concludes and cleverly brings us back to the uplifting part of the song which in turn leads to this breezy section again leading to a fade out of instruments swirling around. It’s very magical sounding. A definitive way to end side one. Yes? Almost.
Expect the unexpected. The last track on this side is actually the 1:06 “Hotcakes.” It’s a thoroughly funky track with an excellent groove by master drummer Billy Cobham and some wild horns arranged by James Taylor who is credited as the sole composer. Carly Simon performs a sexy rap over the intro groove talking about making some sizzling hotcakes. A very domestic touch to this “new family” album. Maybe that’s what Carly Simon craved as she was pregnant at the time of this recording? Could be. The outro features tuba player Howard Johnson making his instrument sound like fluffy pancakes being flipped!
Side two opens up with “Misfit.” Its simple piano opening sounds like an outtake of John Lennon’s song “Imagine.” But Carly Simon quickly dismisses any sort of predictability by bringing us on a melodic rollercoaster ride. The song’s arrangement takes on an odd almost circus like tone and that works perfectly for the lyrics which are all about her feeling awkward and neurotic with a person she is with. The bridge of the tune suddenly shifts to a very centered, major key as Carly Simon is trying her best to make her lover feel comfortable. She tries to justify her mixed emotions by speculating it’s all part of the process of being a hip artist. The song repeats its form and lingers on a vamp that is reminiscent of Leon Russell’s hit “Tight Rope.” In a very theatrical way, the song ends on the word misfit being repeated twice supported by appropriate tense chords.
“Forever My Love” is the next song. It’s a mostly acoustic ballad with lyrics written by her husband at the time, James Taylor. It’s a pretty pedestrian piece and my least favorite on the album. But its saving grace is Carly’s tender vocal delivery and Taylor’s tasty guitar playing.
Speaking of James Taylor, he and Carly Simon then deliver an exuberant, fun Dixieland-ish cover of the 60’s Inez and Charlie Foxx’s song “Mockingbird.” This was the big hit of this album and it reached number 5 on the Billboard charts selling over a million copies. The vocal interplay between the newly married couple is contagious and certainly adds to the family concept that runs throughout this album.
The mood changes with the next track, “Grown Up.” It’s Carly Simon singing and playing piano with a lot of passion and angst. I always felt that this was her musical nod to Elton John. Interestingly the strings that insinuate themselves around Carly Simon were arranged and conducted by Paul Buckmaster who had worked with Elton on a number of his early 1970s albums.
The final song (another hit) is Carly Simon’s catchy “Haven’t Got Time For The Pain.” The words are perhaps her way of thanking James Taylor for showing her how to open up her heart and dissolve the negative issues that might have been plaguing her. The beautiful melody is wide ranging and Carly Simon’s vulnerable vibrato adds to the sincerity of the piece. The ending angular string and percussion vamping are unexpected but make for a perfect way to fade the album out.
As usual producer Richard Perry offers up another excellently recorded album that still holds up today. He masterly maintains the continuity needed to blend all of Carly’s varied musical ideas into a cohesive whole.
The album reached number three on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums Charts
Carly Simon’s HOTCAKES Album Still Sizzles After 39 Years article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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