The One After the Big One: Carly Simon, HOTCAKES
“You’re So Vain,” Carly Simon’s Number One hit from 1972 (featuring Mick Jagger on harmony vocal) sent her third album, NO SECRETS, to Number One, as well, and cemented her status as a top-tier performer and songwriter (and also, ironically enough, a secret keeper ‒ people still don’t know who that song was about). She also married James Taylor in 1972, and they became a pop power couple, though one that took pains to balance personal concerns with time in the spotlight.
For NO SECRETS’ follow-up, 1974’s HOTCAKES, Simon melded the personal and professional parts of her life in an artful, creative fashion. She made the album while pregnant with her and Taylor’s first child, and appeared on the cover in a modest linen dress, in a glowing white room. Taylor duetted with Simon on the album’s first single, a cover of R&B duo Inez and Charlie Foxx’s 1963 hit “Mockingbird,” and the bulk of the Simon-penned songs on the record seemed focused on domestic concerns of family and its foundation in love.
The album begins with “Safe and Sound,” on which Simon bemoans a world that’s “just turned inside out and upside down.” The answer she finds is to close ranks around hearth and home: “If through all the madness,” she sings, “We can stick together / We're safe and sound.” It’s a sentiment echoed in the lyrics of “Misfit,” which glide through the song’s changes in tempo: “Come on home with me / We'll turn on the TV /About 10 o'clock we'll turn off the light / Not every man was born to stay up late at night.”
Simon’s relationship with Taylor informs the lush “Man on My Mind” and the elegiac “Forever My Love.” On the latter, she ponders a life that’s less than perfect, and what might come of them some day: “Time alone will tell us / Lovers born in May / May grow bitter and jealous / Faded and gray.” Perhaps it’s the “noise” she explores in the hit “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain”: “You showed me how, how to leave myself behind / How to turn down the noise in my mind.”
And then there’s “Mockingbird,” which stands out for its sheer joy, not to mention the vocal arrangement that winds around the melody tightly and never lets go. It was a perfect piece of AM radio pop, and the couple play it for all its worth.
HOTCAKES itself was a hit, continuing Simon’s commercial winning streak and further proving her to be a songwriter who stood out in a particularly fertile creative period for singer/songwriters. It’s definitely worth a fresh spin or two today.
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