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Best Carly Simon Songs: 10 Stone-Cold Singer-Songwriter Classics
List & Guides

Best Carly Simon Songs: 10 Stone-Cold Singer-Songwriter Classics

Finding genuinely unexplored viewpoints in music, the best Carly Simon songs remain classics of the singer-songwriter era.

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In the best Carly Simon songs, there are webs of possibility and ambiguity that create multiple stories in the same narrative. Simon once said, “In every one of my songs there is my biography.” Yet while she draws from her life, she rarely does so in a straightforward way.

Instead, Simon’s songs are of roads not taken as much as ones that are. She has spoken of this as her “peripheral vision”, where she “sees too much of what might happen. There are all types of ways that you can interpret things if you have too much of a peripheral vision.” It means Simon can be brutally honest yet maddeningly elusive in the exact same song.

While she did not really become a superstar until the release of 1972’s No Secrets album and its megahit, You’re So Vain, Carly Simon was a remarkably complete songwriter and performer before then; her early albums contain several hidden gems and fan favourites that still rank among the best Carly Simon songs. Many of these are featured on the new compilation These Are The Good Old Days: The Carly Simon And Jac Holzman Story, which documents Simon’s relationship with her first label, Elektra. “There was never more care given to me,” Simon says of this period.

Simon is loved not only for her music, but also for her frank and warm personality, which shines in her memoir, Boys In The Trees. She doesn’t shy away from the tougher parts of her life, yet looks always for redemption. “I think in the book gives a very good journey through the way I handled things that were desperately frightening for me,” she has said. “I think by the end of the book I have made that journey, and it’s as if I’m coming up through the water and having oxygen again. I’m constantly re-emerging in my life.”

Listen to the best of Carly Simon here, and check out the best Carly Simon songs, below.

10: Our First Day Together (from ‘Anticipation’, 1971)

Gentle and enigmatic, Our First Day Together perfectly captures the soft lilt of new discovery in romance, yet its minimal lyrics also suggest a mismatch of expectations and an uncertain future. Many of the best Carly Simon songs are masterful examples of this, injecting equivocation in what may, at first, seem a straightforward love song.

At the time of Our First Day Together, Simon was just getting to know James Taylor. She first met him in April 1971, before his then girlfriend, Joni Mitchell, interrupted them. When the pair next met, the attraction built, and they wed in 1972. Taylor had been a heroin user since before meeting Simon, and his addiction carried through into their marriage. But at this stage, Simon did not know the extent of his habit. “It just kind of confused me and I didn’t know exactly what it was,” she said. This feeling of unspoken and unknown barriers suffuses Our First Day Together.

9: Tranquillo (Melt My Heart) (from ‘Boys In The Trees’, 1978)

From her 1978 album, Boys In The Trees, Tranquillo (Melt My Heart) hits a wonderful sweet spot between disco and yacht rock. It found Simon working with producer Arif Mardin for the first time, and his approach was subtle: he took Simon’s soft rock and softened it further. Boys In The Trees includes elements of jazz and soul music, and this track in particular stands with the best of The Doobie Brothers and Christopher Cross: it sounds slick and serene, yet with a boogie heart.

8: Alone (from ‘Carly Simon’, 1971)

“My going has nothing to do with you,” is the first line of Alone, from Carly Simon’s debut album. One of the best Carly Simon songs of this early period, Alone is an understated cut that finds Simon craving solitude, rather than seeing it as a lack of something in her life, or as a reflection of an unhappy romance.

At the time of her self-titled debut album, the singer-songwriter cheerfully admitted that her influences were “all over the place”. She “wanted to be a jazz singer”; she was performing folk music with her sister Lucy; and she was drawing great influence from classical pianists. As Alone showed, she was also unafraid to experiment with country tinges. Her very eclecticism in the singer-songwriter field, right from her earliest releases, is a key reason why Simon’s first three Elektra albums remain so vital today.

7: Coming Around Again (from ‘Coming Around Again’, 1987)

“I don’t perceive this as a comeback,” Simon said in 1987 interview. “Although it could be perceived that way by people who have not followed my career through the years, where there hasn’t necessarily been a hit off of an album. But it certainly isn’t to me. I didn’t drop out at any time.” Certainly, Simon’s previous album, Spoiled Girl, had been released a mere two years earlier, and featured innovative production by Arthur Baker and Don Was. But while Spoiled Girl’s darker experimentation hadn’t caught the public’s imagination, Coming Around Again very much did.

Written for the Nora Ephron-scripted movie Heartburn, the song Coming Around Again deals with that film’s theme: the cruelties, small and large, within a marriage. The film was a moderate success, but Simon’s single was a stormer, and she used it as the title track of her 1987 album. In later years, she would twin it with That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be, her very first single, noting the uncanny similarities of their subject matter despite the 15 years between the two songs.

6: Nobody Does It Better (from the ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ soundtrack, 1977)

The first James Bond theme to be titled differently from the movie it soundtracked, Nobody Does It Better was from The Spy Who Loved Me. “I think Nobody Does It Better was the perfect song and I was the perfect artist for it at the time,” Carly Simon said in 2021. Performing lyrics written by Carole Bayer Sager, Simon is mesmerising in her low purrs about 007’s erotic abilities.

Simon was approached to sing the song specifically because of You’re So Vain – Carole Bayer Sager thought her lyrics to Nobody Does It Better were similarly about vanity and arrogance. The song was notably covered by Radiohead in 1995, with Thom Yorke calling it “the sexiest song ever written”.

5: I’ve Got To Have You (from ‘Anticipation’, 1971)

Simon was the first person to record the Kris Kristofferson-penned I’ve Got To Have You. The song has since been recorded by artists as diverse as The Walker Brothers and Lena Horne, while Kristofferson recorded his own version, with Rita Coolidge, in 1974. Released on her second album, Anticipation, Simon sings with such grace and subtlety, creating a work of intense quiet power among the best Carly Simon songs.

Elektra’s Jac Holzman was pleased with the trajectory of Simon’s career as Anticipation launched. “The second album worked,” he said in 2023. “It gave us a place to stand so that we could take the next step. I didn’t think she was going to get a big hit on the first or second album, but I thought she was going to get it on the third. Which is exactly what happened.”

4: Anticipation (from ‘Anticipation’, 1971)

Written in just 15 minutes, Anticipation is a livestream of Carly Simon’s state of mind as she waited for Cat Stevens to show up at her apartment for dinner. “I was very nervous,” she said in 2017. “Oh my god, this is really too scary that he’s coming for dinner, what’s going to happen, what’s going to happen? And then I caught myself not living in the moment, so I picked up my guitar and said, OK, I’m just going to keep on writing a song until he arrives.”

Thankfully, Stevens didn’t arrive until Simon had finished the song, which she quickly became very fond of. Almost an early power-ballad, it became the title track of her second album and its lead single. One of the best Carly Simon songs from her breakout era, Anticipation also found a new lease of life several years after its first release, as the genius soundtrack to a ketchup commercial – about how anticipation really does make everything better.

3: That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be (from ‘Carly Simon’, 1971)

Carly Simon’s debut single is a masterpiece of nuance, and its emotional hit has only become more punishing in the 50-plus years since its release. Dealing with isolation in relationships, whether a long-established marriage or recent young family life, That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be is both cynical and hopeful. It simultaneously holds the narrator’s wish for things to be different in her own relationship with the realisation that they probably won’t be, particularly as the years creep on. “People said that they’d never heard a song like that,” Simon said in 2021. “It was more of an art song than anything else.”

She knew it was absolutely the one to launch her solo career, and Jac Holzman agreed. Shrewdly understanding that the song’s message met the mood of the times, he pushed back at DJs who were reluctant to play songs by female singer-songwriters. He’d say to them, “‘Women are a large part of your audience, so why don’t you give it a shot?’” Holzman recalled. “Well, some of them did, and it was a hit.” Not only that, That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be won Carly Simon her very first Grammy the following year, forever cementing its place among the best Carly Simon songs.

2: Why (from the ‘Soup For One’ soundtrack, 1982)

From Nobody Does It Better to Coming Around Again, Carly Simon has enjoyed phenomenal success with soundtracks. Why was another magical song that began life because of a film – in this case, the largely forgotten comedy Soup For One – and was part of the soundtrack album written by Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. The eight-minute 12” extended mix, in particular, is absolutely outstanding, and found renewed fame in the 90s with both Ibiza and hip-hop crowds, when it was sampled by A Tribe Called Quest on Bonita Applebum.

“At the time we’d never played with drum machines or sequencers, but we started to appreciate the grooves that you could get from them,” Rodgers said of Why in 2008. “When we did that song, we were trying to experiment, we didn’t want to hold back, we wanted to go into the future, but we wanted to go into it as a collaboration. We used the drum machine and programmed that beat, and then I started playing on it, and I called up Bernard and he came up with that bassline. And Carly, she’d never heard it before she got to the studio. We sang it to her, ‘ladidadida’, and that’s it, we recorded it in a couple of takes and it was done.”

1: You’re So Vain (from ‘No Secrets, 1972)

You’re So Vain is one of the most talked-about songs of all time. Clues as to the identity of the person (or people) who are at the centre of the narrative have been dropped by Carly Simon over the years, but clear information is still hard to come by. The breadcrumb trail of You’re So Vain can be followed, but the clues won’t lead you to Simon’s psyche. The game, not the answer, becomes the point.

None of the mystery would matter if the song wasn’t a stone-cold classic, both lyrically and musically. The reason You’re So Vain intrigues, and why it tops this list of the best Carly Simon songs, is that it finds a genuinely unexplored viewpoint in music. It’s a female-centric take on peacock strutting, highlighting ridicule, charm and danger in male vanity, and it’s all peppered with extraordinary lines such as “I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee”.

Placing it on her third album, No Secrets, Simon understood what an important personal milestone the song was for her, too. “I felt my womanhood in a way that I hadn’t felt it before. Sort of as if I was coming out into a time that I was respected,” she has said. Certainly, if You’re So Vain had been the only song Simon released, her place among the most influential female musicians of all time would still be secure. “I wasn’t just being told what to do,” she said of her work at the time. “I put on my boots and became part of the feminist movement.”

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