Carly Simon

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Robert Christgau

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Except for "One More Time," Simon's compositions [on Carly Simon] sound stiff and overperformed, typical rock-as-art jive. At the time I closed my ears and hoped she would go away. (p. 292)

"That's the Way I Always Heard It Should Be" is in the noble tradition of "Leader of the Pack" and "Society's Child." In all three a young woman's challenge to the social limitations of romance is milked for melodrama, and in all three, realistically enough, she capitulates. Of course, Simon's song comes on more sophisticated, although it's worth noting that "Society's Child" seemed equally sophisticated five or six years ago. In any case, sophistication ruins Simon's song. Only in such a painstakingly precise song would the hazy outline of its persona—who talks like a recent college graduate yet claims that her college friends have already alienated their children, a process that normally takes ten years or so—be so noticeable. And only in such a wordy song would the basic principles of schlock pop-melodrama production be flouted so arrogantly. Its shock absorbed, the song was simply no fun to hear. (pp. 292-93)

As her career progressed, I liked her less. It seemed to me that she epitomized women's lib as an upper-middle-class movement. Girls and young women empathized with her problems and her projected independence without understanding that her independence was primarily a function of economic privilege….

And then there was "You're So Vain," a record so wondrously good-bad that it eventually overcame every one of my prejudices. Verbally, it is so overblown that I can only assume Simon is parodying her own hubris. Why else would she rhyme "yacht" (in a simile that shilly-shallies instead of specifying), "apricot" (in one of the song's numerous syntactical awkwardnesses), and "gavotte" (a dance that has been dead for two hundred years) or stick in impossibly clumsy qualifiers like "strategically" and "naturally"? What does "clouds in my coffee" mean? Why does she transgress against colloquial speech rhythms at every opportunity? And who cares?

Not me, because the song is recorded the way I always thought "That's the Way I Always Heard It Should Be" should be…. [The] song is a schlock masterpiece. It puts Ms. Simon exactly in her place.

In the name of honesty, in the name of what is fair, I have to admit that Simon's third album, No Secrets, is much superior to the first two. This time it is the Brackman lyrics that sound forced, while most of Simon's own songs are likable enough. Significantly, "Embrace Me You Child," a song about how good her own family was for her, works best. Simon's independent pose is crumbling fast, and that's just as well—the task of redefining the female image can be left to stronger, braver women. It is appropriate that the song that establishes Simon's stardom more or less permanently, "You're So Vain," is about the aristocracy of pop decadence in which she moves so easily, albeit with all the usual easy misgivings. (pp. 293-94)

Robert Christgau, "Carly Simon As Mistress of Schlock," in Newsday (copyright © Newsday, Inc., 1973; reprinted by permission), January, 1973 (and reprinted as "Weird Scenes After the Gold Rush: Carly Simon As Mistress of Schlock," in his Any Old Way You Choose It: Rock and Other Pop Music, 1967–1973. Penguin Books, 1973, pp. 291-94).

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