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Overview for Carly Simon
Carly Simon

Carly Simon



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Also Known As: Died:
Born: June 25, 1945 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA Profession: Music ... composer lyricist singer author


One of the top singer-songwriters of the 1970s and 1980s, Carly Simon combined an earthy sensuality with a soaring voice and lyrical ruminations on romance and happiness with such hits as "Anticipation," "You're So Vain," "You Belong to Me" and "Nobody Does it Better." Frequently mentioned in the same breath with other introspective female musicians as Joni Mitchell and Carol King, Simon's music was as hopeful about love as it was cautious, a position she took in real life as well through several high-profile relationships with stars like Warren Beatty. She settled down in 1972 with singer James Taylor, but by the end of the decade, both her marriage and career were in a tailspin. After divorcing Taylor in 1983, she rebounded in the late 1980s with the album Coming Around Again and the song "Let the Rivers Run" from the movie "Working Girl" (1988), which earned her an Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe. Simon worked feverishly throughout the 1990s until a bout with breast cancer in 1997 put a halt to her schedule. She made tentative inroads back into music in the new millennium, while still enjoying the fruits of her earlier hits, which remained anthems for generations of men and women.

Born Carly Elisabeth Simon on June 25, 1945 in New York City, she was a child of privilege; her father, Richard L. Simon, was co-founder of the Simon & Schuster publishing house, while her mother, Andrea Louise Heinemann, was a civil rights activist. Simon and her siblings, sisters Lucy and Joanna and brother Peter, were raised in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx in a house filled with music. Her father frequently played classical piano in the home, while her mother was a singer. These influences clearly impacted their children's interests, as Joanna would become an opera singer, while Lucy won a Grammy for 1981's In Harmony/A Sesame Street Record and a Tony Award nomination for the Broadway musical "The Secret Garden." Carly Simon chose pop music as her field.

Before her emergence in the 1970s, she had a minor hit single with "Winkin' Blinkin' and Nod" (1964), which she recorded with her sister Lucy as the Simon Sisters. The duo would release two more albums of music for children before bringing the act to a close in 1969. Simon would briefly attend Sarah Lawrence before dropping out to fully devote herself to music. In 1968, she sang with the experimental New York band Elephant's Memory, which became famous for playing with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the early 1970s, and appeared as an auditioning singer in Milos Forman's 1971 film "Taking Off."

That same year, Simon recorded her self-titled debut album for Elektra Records. Its lead single, "That's the Way I Always Heard it Should Be," was an elegant and rueful discourse on the truths and fallacies of marriage - a subject that initially concerned the label due to its serious subject matter, but audiences in the emotionally progressive 1970s responded to the song's frankness and sent it to No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The album minted Simon as one of several emerging female singer-songwriters, including Joni Mitchell, Carol King and Janis Ian, who approached matters of the heart with thoughtful, often artistically inclined material. Outside of the recording studio, Simon was also earning press for a series of relationships with high-profile entertainment figures like Cat Stevens, Kris Kristofferson, Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson and Mick Jagger.

Her relationship with Stevens provided the inspiration for her next single, "Anticipation" (1971), from her eponymous album, also titled Anticipation. The song, which charted her thoughts as she waited for a date with Stevens, reached No. 13 on the singles chart and earned her a Grammy for Best New Artist. But her true breakthrough came in 1973 with "You're So Vain," a soaring dismissal of a self-centered lover from her third album, No Secrets that reached No. 1 on both the pop and contemporary music charts. It netted three Grammy nominations, but perhaps its greatest legacy was the decades of discussion about the subject of the song. Simon herself never revealed whom she had written the song about, leaving many to guess that it was about one of her past paramours, with Beatty or Jagger - the latter of whom provided uncredited backing vocals on the track - as leading possibilities. Others fingered singer-songwriter James Taylor as the likely candidate. Taylor was the latest of her celebrity boyfriends, and in 1972, became Simon's husband. Their marriage, which brought together two of the most acclaimed figures in pop music, was the focus of considerable media attention for much of the 1970s.

After generating another Top 5 single from Anticipation with "The Right Thing to Do," Simon scored another hit album with 1974's Hotcakes. The album cover featured an ebullient Simon, pregnant with her first child by Taylor, a daughter named Sally, and a generally upbeat mood in its material, as reflected in its lead single, a cover of Charlie and Inez Foxx's "Mockingbird" with Taylor, and the more sobering "I Haven't Got Time for the Pain," both of which reached the Top 10. By 1975, Simon was one of the leading figures in popular music, with enough hits to her name to generate a greatest hits album, The Best of Carly Simon, which reached triple-platinum status and became the best-selling album of her career.

Simon's record sales began to experience a decline with the release of her fifth album, Playing Possum (1975). Though it broke the Top 10 and featuring a Top 40 single, "Attitude Dancing," audiences and critics alike found it a more superficial album than her previous, highly confessional releases. Its follow-up, 1976's Another Passenger, fared even worse, with its single, "It Keeps You Running," barely reaching the Top 50. Any number of factors contributed to this downward turn in her creativity - Simon suffered from crippling stage fright, which made it difficult for her to promote her songs in concert, and her relationship with Taylor had become fraught with tension over his rampant drug use and emotional unavailability, as well as rumors of physical abuse. Despite the turmoil, they had a second child, Benjamin, in 1977.

She rebounded in 1977 with "Nobody Does It Better," the theme to the James Bond film "The Spy Who Loved Me." The track reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became her second biggest hit of the decade, selling over a million copies and earning both Grammy and Academy Award nominations. Its popularity carried over to her next album, Boys in the Trees (1978), which featured the sultry "You Belong to Me" and netted her third Grammy nod while signaling what appeared to be a significant career revival. But Simon spent much of the close of the 1970s in her husband's wake, performing on several of his albums and teaming with him for the 1979 No Nukes concert at Madison Square Garden, which was documented in the concert film "No Nukes" (1980). In 1980, Simon collapsed while performing in Pittsburgh, and significantly cut back on her already limited tour schedule. She also parted was with Elektra Records, her label home since the early '70s, and released a series of low-selling and critically ignored records, including Torch (1981), a collection of jazz standards.

In 1983, her marriage to Taylor finally gave out after she delivered an ultimatum for him to cut back on touring and spend more time with his children. His response was the 1981 album Dad Loves His Work, which essentially provided her with an answer. She signed with Epic in 1985, but the resulting record, Spoiled Girl, did little to change her fortunes. Her personal life was also under some strain; a 1985 engagement to drummer Russ Kunkel dissolved the following year. In 1987, she married writer and businessman James Hart. That same year, Simon recorded Coming Around Again for Arista Records. The single, a hopeful pop ballad about spiritual rebirth, was initially featured in the 1986 film "Heartburn," but found a second life on the album, leaping into the Top 40 and garnering another Grammy nomination. The album was significantly promoted by a 1987 HBO special, "Carly Simon - Coming Around Again," which featured Simon in concert at her new home on Massachusetts's Martha's Vineyard. The concert was released on disc as Greatest Hits Live (1988), which was also a top seller.

The following year, Simon provided the song "Let the River Run" for Mike Nichols' 1988 romantic comedy "Working Girl." The song, part gospel testimonial and part classical vocal piece, swept the awards in 1989, winning not only the Oscar but a Golden Globe and Grammy to boot, as well as a place in the record books as one of only two songs written and performed by a single artist to win all three significant movie awards. Simon also launched a successful second career that year with her first children's book, Amy the Dancing Bear.

The 1990s saw a flurry of activity from the newly revitalized Simon. She recorded a second album of standards, 1990's My Romance, which was soon followed by a LP of original songs, Have You Seen Me Lately?, which yielded a Top 5 Adult Contemporary hit with "Better Not Tell Her." She delved deeper into film work, scoring the 1990 film "Postcards from the Edge" and "This Is My Life" (1992) for director Nora Ephron. Two more children's books, The Boy of the Bells (1990) and The Fisherman's Song (1991), were released before she tackled a contemporary opera, "Romulus Hunt" (1993), which had been commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera and the Kennedy Center.

In 1995, Simon appeared to conquer her decades-long bout with stage fright by appearing at an unannounced performance at Grand Central Station Terminal in New York. An American tour with Hall & Oates followed that same year, as did a surprising performance with ex-husband Taylor for the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society. The year was capped by a comprehensive boxed set, Clouds in My Coffee, which covered the highlights of her then-three-decade career. Simon teamed with composer-arranger Jimmy Webb for Film Noir (1997), a third album of standards, which earned her another Grammy nomination. But the year was overshadowed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which required a mastectomy, chemotherapy and two rounds of reconstructive surgery in 1997 and 1998. While recovering, she recorded a collection of songs in her home that were released in 2000 as The Bedroom Tapes. The record failed to generate sales, but Simon herself was on the charts in 2001 with "Son of a Gun (I Betcha Think This Song Is About You)," a collaboration with Janet Jackson which featured a newly recorded version of "You're So Vain" interpolated into the song.

Simon continued to record on a regular basis, releasing Christmas albums in 2002 and new compilations of her older material in 2003. A fourth greatest hits package went to No. 22 on the Billboard chart in 2004, and provided her with her first gold album since the 1980s. It was followed by a fourth album of standards, Moonlight Serenade, in 2005, and her first concert tour in a decade. In 2007, Simon recorded her fifth album of covers, Into White, which featured songs by Cat Stevens, the Beatles and the Everly Brothers, as well as duets with her children, Ben and Sally, who had followed in their parents' footsteps as artists and political activists. To many industry observers' surprise, it debuted at No. 13 on the Billboard charts, signaling a third act to Simon's music career. Flush with the success of Into White, she signed with Hear Music, a new label owned by the Starbucks coffee chain. A new album of original songs, titled This Kind of Love, appeared in the chain's stores in 2008, which leapt to the Top 20 on the Billboard charts. The following year, Simon launched a lawsuit against Starbucks, stating that they had failed to adequately promote the album by pulling out of their deal with Hear Music shortly before the album's release.

Simon licked her wounds with Never Been Gone, a collection of acoustic versions of her established hits. Released in 2009 by Iris Records, it was the lowest-charting album of her career. In 2010, she made several appearances on U.K. television programs to promote the record, which sent it to No. 45 on the English charts. That same year, Simon was named among the list of celebrities who had suffered significant financial losses through investor Kenneth I. Starr's Ponzi scheme.

By Paul Gaita

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