Carly Simon

How Lyrics work – by Carly Simon

The now-defunct online magazine, Doubletake, printed a short but very good article on lyric writing, by Carly Simon, the hugely popular song writer.

Amazingly, at one point she was so discouraged about her apparent lack of success with songwriting, that she decided to give up on that career.  However, on her ferry trip home, a song from George Gershwin kept playing on the jukebox – and she found herself writing a poem in response, asking George how it was for him in his life and work.

As if he could hear me, I asked questions: “Did you buy your house in the country? Did you wait for something that never came? Did you die still waiting for your train?” Every time I asked a question, the refrain “Embrace me, my sweet, embraceable you, embrace me, you irreplaceable you” kept hitting, and as it kept hitting, I repeated it in my letter. It became a quoted chorus in a bed of my questions and observations. At the end of the letter, I vowed to go home and sit at the piano and try to write songs again. “In honor of you, George, in honor of you . . .”

This eventually became her song “In honor of you, George”.  The whole article on songwriting is still here to be read – and worth reading if you write lyrics.  (Thank you, Doubletake, for leaving it online.)

Creative Takeaways

  • If you’re feeling like giving up because no one ‘gets’ you or your art – just keep on going – pushing though discouragement has been an experience for pretty much every achiever (with the possible exception of child prodigies)
  • When you’re stuck and lyrics won’t come – write a response to someone who intrigues you, ask them questions.  This automatically gives you a starting point.

Going back to Carly, one of the recurring questions asked about her was who she wrote her big hit ‘You’re so vain” about?  Here’s the final answer….

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Songwriter – Carly Simon

Just watched a BBC documentary on the making of the album “No Secrets” – which includes the song “You’re so vain”.  Absorbing.

 

We get to hear from the producer, bassist, sound engineer, drummer, lead guitarist, her manager and most of all Carly herself.  What were her inspirations for her songs?  What was it like to be at the centre of recording such a phenomenally successful album?

A great insight into songwriting and the team effort which is recording an album. And also of the personal and emotional toll it takes on the performer, in the concentrated pressure chamber of the studio. Should be watched by all wouldbe musicians.

Much of the documentary is about the single “You’re so vain” because there are so many little separate elements which made it special.  One of these is backing vocals by a very young Mick Jagger, whom Carly randomly met at a party shortly beforehand, and brought into the studio.

Carly also talks about how she was influenced by the soul stylings of singer Odette (photo featured above).  The photo on the album and its title were not chosen til the very last minute.  The photo used on the front cover was literally as Carly left the photo shoot, dressed in her own favourite clothes, to go back to the studio to work.

Much of this album and its making are indeed life and art combined – the life of one particular musician, at a particular phase in her life and in the technology of sound recording.

This one hour documnetary is available to view on BBC iplayer but only until 5 June – so watch or download soon.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08pg5tq/classic-albums-carly-simon-no-secrets