Singer/songwriter/composer Carly Simon was born into an affluent, musical family. Her father, a cofounder of Simon & Schuster publishers, played classical piano in his spare time; one sister, Lucy, is a folksinger and composer (she wrote the score for the musical The Secret Garden); another, Joanna, is an opera singer.
Simon left Sarah Lawrence College to work as a folk duo with Lucy. They played New York clubs as the Simon Sisters, breaking up when Lucy got married. The Simon Sisters cut an LP for Kapp and had a minor hit in 1964 with "Winken, Blinken and Nod." Carly continued as a solo act and in 1966 began recording material for a solo debut album with sessionmen including Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, and Richard Manuel (of the Band), Al Kooper, and Mike Bloomfield. One of the tracks to be included was a version of Eric Von Schmidt's "Baby Let Me Follow You Down," with lyrics rewritten for Simon by Bob Dylan. After the project was abandoned, Simon kept a low profile for the rest of the decade.
She reemerged in 1970 with a single from her debut LP, "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be" (#10, 1971), one of many songwriting collaborations with film critic Jacob Brackman. In late 1971 the title cut of her second LP, Anticipation (produced by ex-Yardbird Paul Samwell-Smith), was a #13 hit, and the album was also a bestseller, helping her to win that year's Best New Artist Grammy. Her later hits included the mammoth smash "You're So Vain" (#1, 1972), allegedly inspired by and sung to either Warren Beatty or Mick Jagger (who appears on it as a backup vocalist). No Secrets (#1, 1972) went gold later that year; it is her most successful album to date.
On November 3, 1972, she married James Taylor, and in 1974 their duet cover of "Mockingbird" hit #5; the album it came from, Hotcakes, went gold. Playing Possum would be her last Top 10 album for a few years. Among her Top 30 hits of the mid-'70s were "The Right Thing to Do" (1973) and "I Haven't Got Time for the Pain" (1974). Simon came back strongly in 1977, with the theme song from the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me, "Nobody Does It Better," which went to #2, and next year's "You Belong to Me" (#6), which she cowrote with Michael McDonald. Boys in the Trees, which included "You Belong," was the last Top 10 and first platinum album of her career. She and Taylor's duet of the Everly Brothers' hit "Devoted to You" went to #36, and her biggest singles of the time were "Jesse" (#11, 1980) and "Why" (#10 U.K, 1982).
With the '80s Simon changed direction, recording 1981's Torch (#50), her first collection of pop standards, featuring songs by Hoagy Carmichael, Rodgers and Hart, and others. (She followed it up with two more albums of standards, 1990's My Romance [#46] and 1997's Film Noir [#84].) In 1981 she also filed for divorce from Taylor (it was finalized in 1983); they have two children, Sally and Ben, who have pursued music as adults. Simon's legendary stage fright, which had caused her to cancel a tour in support of Come Upstairs, and a series of interesting but less than stellar singles (such as "Tired of Being Blonde") followed.
Simon's efforts as a composer for film paid off immediately, however, as "Coming Around Again" (from the 1987 film Heartburn) became a Top 20 single and "Let the River Run" (from 1988's Working Girl) garnered her an Oscar for Best Original Song. She also composed music for the film Postcards From the Edge, including "Have You Seen Me Lately?" In the late '80s she also surmounted her stage fright with a live concert on Martha's Vineyard, which was filmed for a popular HBO special, "Carly in Concert —Coming Around Again," and recorded for her gold 1988 LP Greatest Hits Live. In 1995 she went on her first major tour since 1981, and even played in New York's Grand Central Terminal. Like the Martha's Vineyard show, the performance was taped for cable (Lifetime Network).
In 1997 Simon was diagnosed with breast cancer. After undergoing a mastectomy and rounds of chemotherapy, she wrote and recorded The Bedroom Tapes, her first album of original material in six years, at her home in Martha's Vineyard. Continuing her tradition of autobiographical, introspective songwriting, she dealt with her illness on songs such as "Scar."
Over the past decade, Simon has also successfully diversified her career. In 1993 her opera for young people, Romulus Hunt, debuted at the Metropolitan Opera and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She has written five children's books: Amy the Dancing Bear, The Boy of the Bells, The Fisherman's Song, The Nighttime Chauffeur, and Midnight Farm. She also set nursery rhymes to music on Mother Goose's Basket Full of Rhymes (2000).
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
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