Carly Simon wrote “You’re So Vain” in 1972, and it was a number 1 hit single. And for more than 40 years now, controversy and speculation have raged: Who is the song about?? One thing that Simon has made clear is that the three verses are about three different conceited men, and it has long been assumed and acknowledged that the second verse is about actor Warren Beatty. In fact, he still claims that the whole song is about him. Carly has denied that her ex-husband, musician James Taylor inspired the song, nor did Mick Jagger. Both had been suspected of being behind the song. Music industry executive David Geffen was also a speculated choice, but Simon says she never even met him. Other names often bandied about as having been vain enough to inspire “You’re So Vain” are David Cassidy, Cat Stevens, and David Bowie.
Carly Simon has been a major force in singing and songwriting since the 1970s. She has had a number of comebacks and has managed to stay relevant after many others have passed into obscurity. Among her best-remembered songs, in addition to “You’re So Vain,” are “Haven’t Got Time For the Pain,” “Coming Around Again,” “The Stuff That Dreams are Made Of,” and “Let the River Run,” for which she won an Oscar.
“Girl from the North Country" by Bob Dylan
People can’t seem to agree who was the woman behind Bob Dylan’s early composition “Girl from the North Country.” Many are convinced it was his high school sweetheart, the fellow Minnesota native Echo Helstrom. Others insist it was another early girlfriend, actress, and activist, Bonnie Beecher. The third woman who is often mentioned as the source for the song was Dylan’s long-time girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, who was with him as he progressed from a relatively unknown folk singer to one of the most important cultural icons of his generation. Her political beliefs influenced Dylan to write songs with a more political bent, and it is she who is walking arm-in-arm with him on the cover of "The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan."
Musically, “Girl from the North Country” was inspired by Bob Dylan’s recent trip to England is his immersion in the various styles of folk music prevalent there. He met many of the local folk musicians and based this composition partly on a local version of the classic “Scarborough Fair.”
“In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel was living with actress Rosanna Arquette at the time “In your Eyes” was written, which has made it a commonly repeated theory that she was the inspiration for the song. Not only that, but she also allegedly inspired the Toto song “Rosanna,” which was released while she was dating the keyboard player Steve Porcaro. Both Peter Gabriel and Toto have been less than forthcoming in confirming the speculation about their songs’ origins, but that hasn’t stood in the way of the received wisdom regarding them. How many women can claim to be the muse behind not one but two very popular rock songs?
Rosanna Arquette has reinvented herself as an actress many times over the last three decades, taking both serious and quirky roles over the years. Among her most memorable performances are a starring role alongside Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan and an unforgettable cameo as a drug dealer’s wife in Pulp Fiction.
“I’m Your Boogie Man” by KC & The Sunshine Band
One might be forgiven for assuming that when a super successful disco pioneer sings “I’m Your Boogie Man,” he’s talking about himself. But the truth is that the song was written in praise of someone to whom the band felt they owed their success. A DJ from the band’s hometown of Miami was the first to play their song “Get Down Tonight” on the air. It would go on to become their first number-one hit and launch them into superstardom at the very top of the world of disco. The DJ’s name was Robert W. Walker, and he was the inspiration for “Boogie Man”.
Harry Wayne Casey (KC) started KC & the Sunshine Band as a disco and funk outfit in 1973. By 1975 they had the first of five chart-topping hits, the last of which ushered in the 1980s, which would also be the decade that would see their decline. Disco ruled for a while, but when the backlash came, it was severe.
“Chelsea Hotel #2” by Leonard Cohen
The 1974 Leonard Cohen album New Skin for the Old Ceremony contains one of the most memorable of his early songs, “Chelsea Hotel #2”. In it, he describes in surprising detail a one-night stand with a woman he would later reveal was rock star Janis Joplin. The Chelsea Hotel in New York had been a famous temporary residence for itinerant artists ever since Mark Twain had stayed there.
Cohen used to love regaling his audience not only with the song (which is explicit enough) but with the story and name behind it. Eventually, he would come to repent the “locker room” mentality that caused him to kiss and tell. He felt it was wrong to associate Joplin’s name with what he had done, and he apologized, so to speak, to “her ghost.” In 1968 it was far from given that Leonard Cohen would ever be a legend in the music industry. His one album at that point had not sold very well, and he was already older than many established stars. That was when he started staying at the storied Chelsea Hotel. Who knows; maybe between the ambiance and Janis Joplin, he got the inspiration he was looking for.