Oct 312022

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

You're So Vain covers

If a horse could sing in a monotone, the horse would sound like Carly Simon, only a horse wouldn’t rhyme “yacht,” “apricot,” and “gavotte.” – Robert Christgau

It’s definitely not about James [Taylor]… but he had the unfortunate experience of taking a jet up to Nova Scotia after I’d written the song. He was saved by the fact that it wasn’t a Lear. – Carly Simon

Rolling Stone: A musical question. As per legend: “You’re So Vain” — did you think the song was about you?
Warren Beatty: [Laughs, 15-second pause] Who wrote that?

When Carly Simon released “You’re So Vain,” speculation ran rampant as to who it was about. James Taylor, her husband? Mick Jagger, who sang backing vocals? Cat Stevens, who inspired “Anticipation”? Well, you can’t spell Carly Simon without C-O-Y, and she played it so for decades, never outright admitting the inspiration for the song. She would say who it wasn’t about; sometimes she would drop hints, such as saying that the subject had an A in his name (which made Kris Kristofferson sigh with relief). Other times she would say things like, “I could never really solve it because if I did, then no one would have anything to talk to me about.”

She finally went so far as to confirm, in 2015, that Warren Beatty was the subject of the second verse. The first and third? Could be Warren. Could be someone else. Or it could be two someone elses.

Guessing games aside, “You’re So Vain” has become part of the national fabric. You can find any number of quotes that have a different way to fill in the blank for “You probably think this _____ is about you” – tweet, shirt, artwork, Facebook post, ad nauseum. And other artists can perform the song without listeners wondering who the song’s about; they can all just enjoy it, and that’s all any song can ask for.

The song has gotten a lot of covers over the years, some of them very unexpected (would you believe the Odd Couple had one?). In our opinion…

The Trash Pour 4 cover is good.

The Faster Pussycat cover is better.

And the Mountain Goats cover is best.

Trash Pour 4 – You’re So Vain (Carly Simon cover)

Trash Pour 4 are a Brazilian bossa nova lounge band, and if you think that means they’ll change the arrangement to “You’re So Vain”… you’re right! They give the verses a languid, bittersweet feel; for the chorus, they speed up the tempo and flex their anger, keeping it melodic all the while.

Faster Pussycat – You’re So Vain (Carly Simon cover)

“You’re So Vain” and its parent album No Secrets (yeah, right) came out on the Elektra label. That made them fair game for the 1990 label tribute Rubaiyat. Faster Pussycat took advantage, giving it the sleaze glam metal pop treatment, changing a few lyrics to hilarious effect along the way.

The Mountain Goats – You’re So Vain (Carly Simon cover)

The Mountain Goats arrange “You’re So Vain” to one acoustic guitar, but that’s not the biggest change – they entirely remove the chorus, arguably the song’s raison d’etre. What’s remarkable is how much removing that memorable zinger changes the feel of the song. The singer sounds left behind, rather than on top, and rather in awe of the song’s subject. The listener tries to sing that familiar chorus, only to find that it doesn’t match what the guitarist is playing. It’s unsettling, but melodically so.

Check out the rest of our 2022 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame features here!

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