Reviewed on this page:
Sing The Lobster Quadrille - Carly Simon - Anticipation - No Secrets - Hotcakes - Playing Possum - Another Passenger -
Boys In The Trees - Spy - Come Upstairs - Torch - Hello Big Man - Spoiled Girl - Coming Around Again -
Greatest Hits Live - My Romance - Have You Seen Me
Lately? - Music From The Motion Picture "This Is My
Life" - Letters Never Sent - Film Noir - The
Bedroom Tapes - This Kind Of Love
There's nothing cool about being a Carly Simon fan: her records are
unabashed pop; her image is clean-cut but not campily so; she wasn't the
first or the best-selling or the weirdest or the anything-est of
the singer-songwriters. She got married in 1972 (to James Taylor - talk about uncool) and stayed
married for ten years. A Simon & Schuster heiress who hit the Top Ten
with her first solo single, she doesn't even score any points for
disadvantaged background or overcoming adversity. So the only thing in
her favor is her actual musical ability, which is considerable: she
really wrote all those early 70s hits; her lyrics are remarkably
concise, well-constructed and poignant; and her approach to mainstream
pop does include a lot of variety. Her voice isn't particularly to my
taste - a bit reedy, like a deeper-voiced Carole
King but less personable - though it certainly has its admirers.
Simon abruptly disappeared from the charts after 1980, but has continued
to record and sometimes tour. (DBW)
Meet The Simon Sisters (The Simon Sisters: 1964)
Carly and sister Lucy Simon on a variety of folk and folk-ized material; the single, "Winken, Blinken And Nod," charted.
Cuddlebug (The Simon Sisters: 1964)
This time the tunes included "Turn! Turn! Turn!," "Blowin' In The Wind" (in French), "Motherless Child," and a Carly original: "Pale Horse And Rider."
Sing The Lobster Quadrille (The Simon Sisters: 1969)
An album for children, but since I don't know how to review those, I'll
just treat it as if it were for adults. Poems by the likes of Edward
Lear and Lewis Carroll ("The Owl And The Pussycat," "The Lobster
Quadrille") set to music by Carly's sister Lucy, and both sisters sing -
the only documentation of their early folk duo career. After this
release, Lucy mostly retired from the music business, which
is unfortunate for us: her melodies are invariably strong, close to
Renaissance or baroque vocal music rather than the usual 60s folk, and
her voice is as clear and effortless as Carly's own, without the shrillness. Can't quarrel with
the lyrics, certainly, and arranger Sam Brown completely avoids Judy
Collins-style pop bombast, using a spare background of woodwinds and
other orchestral instruments (no sweeping strings, folk touches like guitars and harmonica are used lightly),
letting the sisters do most of the work - the disc has a passing similarity to the more traditional work of that other Simon.
The project is slight, perhaps, but extremely well rendered. (I have the 1973 reissue The Simon
Sisters Sing For Children, which may be somewhat different from the
Carly Simon (1971)
Simon became an instant success with the single "That's The Way I've
Always Heard It Should Be" (written with Jacob Brackman), a remarkably
mature look at marriage that now sounds dated after the post-60s tide
of high divorce rates and unmarried couples. If the rest of the album
were near the same level of quality, this would be an astonishing debut,
but it's not: many of Simon's compositions are unimaginative ("One More
Time") and betray an embarrassing longhairs vs. squares sensibility
("Rolling Down The Hills"). Producer Eddie
Kramer, who worked with several of the loudest rock bands of all
time, couldn't get a handle on Simon's lighter sound, and many of the
tracks have a generic pseudo-country feel ("Alone"). Also, Simon didn't
have enough of her own material to fill an album, and the outsider
contributions include spectacular failures like Mark Klingman's "Just A
Sinner," though Kramer cronie Buzzy
Linhart's peace and love anthem "The
Love's Still Growing" is surprisingly credible. There are other
indications of Simon's writing talent ("Reunions"), but more in a "signs
of things to come" way than in a "Whoa, let's listen to that one again"
way. Lots of players including David Bromberg, Tony Levin and Linhart. (DBW)
Produced by Paul Samwell-Smith, and it's far more spacious than Simon's debut: many
tunes have no rhythm section at all, with Simon accompanied by acoustic guitar, piano or both. And, yes,
a couple of songs are strongly reminiscent of contemporaneous Joni Mitchell numbers
("Our First Day Together," "Three Days"), but Simon's sensibility is sophisticated pop rather than hippie folk: drums and
bass often come in after the first verse; strings well up on "The Garden" and the title hit (with thoughtful and
intelligent lyrics that have unfortunately been associated in most minds with a brand of ketchup). She crafts character
sketches ("Legend In Your Own Time") and abstract looks at romance ("Summer's Coming Around Again"), steering clear of
clichés and often blending wit with insight ("The Girl You Think You See").
But side two drags badly, starting with a flakey choir-equipped end-of-the-world number ("Share The End"), ending with
a trite Kris Kristofferson tune ("I've Got To Have You," the only song on the record Simon didn't write or co-write),
and not much better in between (the obvious "Julie Through The Glass").
The band is Jimmy Ryan (guitar), Paul Glanz (piano), John Ryan (bass), Andy Newmark
(drums). The album went gold, and Simon stuck with the same sonic approach on her more successful follow-up.
No Secrets (1972)
Simon's incisive lyrics, tuneful songwriting, and deceptively simple
arrangements were all at their peak here. The first single - the
catchy character assassination "You're So Vain" - and the album both
went to #1, and the mellow, melodic "The Right Thing To Do" was also a
major hit. However, a number of other tracks are just as good, with
telling details and ingenious rhymes ("The Carter Family," "We Have No
Secrets"). Her first release after hooking up with James Taylor, and he contributed "Night Owl," one
of his patented silly animal songs (with Bonnie Bramlett, Doris Troy and Paul and Linda McCartney on backing vocals)
that sounds totally out of place next to Simon's sharply-detailed love
songs and introspection. Richard Perry took over as producer, and
brought in a high-powered cast: Jim
Gordon, Jim Keltner and Newmark on drums, Klaus Voorman on bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano,
percussion by Ray
Cooper, orchestrations by Paul Buckmaster.
Simon, though, played piano or acoustic guitar on every one of her
Far less ambitious, musically and lyrically, with uninteresting love
songs ("Mind On My Man," "Just Not True") and silly wastes of time like
Taylor's title track. The childhood reminisces aren't as sharply
detailed or as insightful, though they're still clever ("Grownup," "Big
Sister"), and the songs with the most interesting lyrics ("Misfit,"
"Think I'm Gonna Have A Baby") have the most predictable melodic
development. The gimmicky cover of the children's song "Mockingbird" (a
duet with Taylor) sailed into the Top Ten, and the album followed.
The other big single, "Haven't Got Time For The Pain" (now a commercial
jingle), ends with a dramatic Buckmaster orchestration that's easily the
most moving part of the record. I would've rated this lower, but
it's close enough to Simon's classic sound that big-time fans would
probably still enjoy it. Produced by Perry. The musicians are
mostly the same as on No Secrets, plus guest shots by Robbie Robertson, Dr. John, Bobby Keys,
Michael Brecker (all on "Mockingbird"). (DBW)
Playing Possum (1975)
Perry's last shot is a downer - the giddy triviality of the last release
replaced by a slew of Billie Holiday-inspired piano-and-voice tales of
woe ("Sons Of Summer" by Billy Mernit, "More And More") and sluggish
pop. The attempts at mid-tempo cheer fall flat ("Are You Ticklish,"
"Look Me In The Eyes"), and the several songs with interesting lyrics
have dull melodies:
the despairing "Slave"; the title track, a pre-Big Chill
look at post-radical boomer sellouts; "Love Out In The Street." The
ambivalent disco semi-sendup "Attitude Dancing" (with strings by Motown
vet Paul Riser) was a moderate
hit, and the album went to #10. Guest artists include Jim Gordon, Willie Weeks, James Newton Howard and Carole King; Taylor is on a few tracks, notably
including "Waterfall." (DBW)
Lucy Simon (Lucy Simon: 1975)
I have the two mid-70s LPs cut by sister Lucy, and do intend to review them someday. (DBW)
Another Passenger (1976)
An experiment in pop styles, from the Doobie Brothers (who appear on "It
Keeps You Running" by Michael McDonald) to Little Feat (who play on
several country-styled numbers including their own "One Night Stand") to
pseudo-samba (the soothing "He Likes To Roll," with Laurindo Almeida on
guitar). None of it fails, but the best cuts are still the ones where
Simon sticks closest to her usual style: the effortless pop "Half A
Chance," the shrewdly confessional "In Times When My Head," the acidly
accurate "Dishonest Modesty," the gentle feminist morality tale
"Fairweather Father." There are also a couple of story songs that don't
add up to much ("Cow Town," "Libby"), just coasting on their Adult
Contemporary groove. Guests include Van
Dyke Parks, Rob Glaub, Victor Feldman, Milt Holland, Bud Shank, Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt. Though
it's perfectly enjoyable if thin, sales dropped off quite a bit, and no
single charted. Produced by Ted Templeman. (DBW)
In 1977, Simon had a huge hit with the James Bond theme "Nobody Does It
Better," which was written by Carole Bayer Sager and Marvin Hamlisch.
Stolen Time (Lucy Simon: 1977)
Boys In The Trees (1978)
This went platinum behind two hit singles, the disco-y "You Belong To
Me" and "Devoted To You," an old Everly Brothers tune Taylor duets on.
Arif Mardin's production is uninventive, and
numbers like "Tranquillo (Melt My Heart)" and "You're The One" are
sickeningly slick. Fortunately, he gets out of the way on a few
stripped-down, characteristically clever Simon compositions: "In A Small
Moment," the title track, and the fascinating "Haunting." The calypso
arrangement on "De Bat (Fly In Me Face)" is perfectly musical, but the
song is an embarrassing minstrel show. Taylor acquits himself well as a
guitarist and singer on several tracks, but his "One Man Woman" is
obvious and a bit annoying. The band is the familiar 70s combo of Steve Gadd, Tony Levin or Gordon Edwards, Richard Tee and Cornell
Dupree; guests include David Sanborn,
Hamish Stuart, Alex Ligertwood and
Mardin again, and the disc bombed. Simon's focused on heartbreak and
depression again, as on Playing Possum, but the discofied, lite
fusion backing is often stultifying (the endless closing suite
"Spy/Memorial Day"), and the uptempo numbers sound forced (the single
"Vengeance," about as hard a rocker as she's ever cut) - there are none
of the acoustic guitar pieces that made Boys. The good news
is, the mood pieces are better rendered than on Possum, with some
thoughtful orchestrations from Mardin ("We're So Close," "Love You By
Heart"). Players include Gadd, Levin, Tee, the Breckers, Sanborn,
Bennett, plus David Spinozza, Joe Caro and John Hall (guitar),
Warren Bernhardt, Don Grolnick, Ken Bichel and Cliff Carter (all
keyboards - Simon barely plays a note), Will Lee (bass), Peter Ballin,
Lewis Delgatto and Tom Malone (horns), and Mike Mainieri (vibes).
Come Upstairs (1980)
Produced by Mike Mainieri, who cowrote all the music with Simon, and
their attempts to stay current resulted in the grating New Wave entry
"Them" (a shame, because the "men are space aliens" theme could've
worked with better music), corporate rock ("In Pain"; the groupie anthem
"Stardust"), and lots of anonymous pop (the would-be sexy title
track, "Take Me As I Am"). There's even a ripoff of Joni Mitchell's Hejira period, "The
Desert." The only song that really hearks back to the tunefulness of
yore is the gold single "Jesse" (no, not the Janis
Ian song), which is nonetheless a bit aimless - it's her most recent
significant pop hit. The album's best song is probably the moody
"The Three Of Us In The Dark," and even there the lyrics are obvious.
A bunch of musicians including Gadd, Levin, Marotta, Taylor, and even
actor Laraine Newman on backing vocals. Best thing I can say is, it's
far better than the Mainieri collaboration which followed. (DBW)
An album of jazz standards like "Body And Soul" and "I Got It Bad And
That Ain't Good," and the first in a string of commercial flops. It's
not hard to see why it didn't sell: the move was sure to alienate her
pop fans, and she doesn't have the vocal chops to hold her own in Billie
Holliday territory. She doesn't find the subtle nuances in the
material, but doesn't belt either - as if she thought her good taste in
choosing the tunes made further effort unnecessary. Several of the
compositions aren't particularly interesting to start with, like
Nicholas Holmes' "Blue Of Blue" and "Hurt" by Jimmie Crane and Al
Jacobs. Making the worst of a bad bargain, Mainieri's arrangements (he
also produced) are relentlessly syrupy and bathetic, swamped in strings
- listening to this record is like walking mid-deep in mud. The
one bright spot is Simon's lone composition, the clever "From The
Heart"; otherwise, the best thing about the album is that it's short.
Musicians include Phil Woods, Anthony Jackson and Grady Tate, plus the
Hello Big Man (1983)
The last Mainieri production, and it's mostly overcooked soft rock with confessional breakup lyrics ("You Don't Feel The Same," "It
Happens Everyday" [sic]), like Come Upstairs without the stylistic range. The only remarkable feature is a reggae influence: Sly and Robbie appear on the Bob Marley cover "Is This Love" and the rambunctious "Such A Good Boy," and "Floundering"
- a classic Simon character assassination - also uses a reggae arrangement.
Otherwise the musicians are as familiar as the material (Levin, McCracken, Sanborn, Crusher Bennett) -
Peter Wood played keyboards and co-wrote many of the tunes with Simon, and Jimmy Bralower adds
some Linn electronic drums.
Spoiled Girl (1985)
Rarely have so many producers produced so little. Everyone from Samwell-Smith to Arthur Baker to Phil Ramone
takes a shot here, but they all follow the same recipe: layers of synth plus mechanical drums plus chorusy rhythm guitar
equals the same crappy mainstream sound that was everywhere in the 80s. The sound is so unvarying from track to track there's no
any point in discussing specific compositions. It's hard to tell under all the keyboards, but I don't think
Simon had any good melodies this time either ("Make Me Feel Something").
Her lyrics don't do much either: her patented slice of life
approach on "The Wives Are In Connecticut" is predictable, as if she knew she was recycling herself - and that's a high point. The
words of "Interview" are perhaps the lamest she's ever committed to vinyl. And Simon didn't even write the single "Tired Of Being Blonde"
(Larry Raspberry did). It's not much worse than Torch, but it's certainly less ambitious. The other producers who should be ashamed
of themselves are Russ Kunkel, T-Bone Wolk, G.E. Smith and Andy Goldmark.
Coming Round Again (1987)
Again there are a bunch of producers - Samwell-Smith, Kunkel, John Boylan, Bill Payne, Frank Filipetti, Richard Perry, even Bryan Adams - and again the sound is fairly consistent: Adult Contemporary
pleasantness with an occasional folk tinge. Practically every musician she'd ever worked with (notably excepting Taylor)
turns up here, as the instrumentation ranges from drum machines (by Jerry Bralower)
and synths (Robby Kilgore), both used lightly, to a fully string section, to a childrens choir on the nursery rhyme "Itsy
Bitsy Spider." The notable guests are Stevie Wonder (harmonica on a cover of "As Time Goes By")
and Roberta Flack (backing vocals on "All I Want Is You"). Though it's complacent and unambitious
- she only wrote six of eleven tunes - it's inoffensive by the same token, and Simon did come up with two lovely, vivid compositions: the
title track and the wry story song "Two Hot Girls (On A Hot Summer Night)." (DBW)
Greatest Hits Live (1988)
Produced by Simon and T-Bone Wolk, this is heavy on big hits
performed exactly like the studio versions ("Nobody Does It
Better," "The Right Thing To Do," "Anticipation," etc.) - thoroughly
professional and unilluminating. Carly doesn't interact with the
audience at all, making the experience more hermetic. There are a few
late numbers thrown in - "Do The Walls Come
Down" - and a moving rendition of "Never Been Gone"; a decent buy if
you're already a devoted fan, or if you want a cheap way to get all her
radio hits in one place. The band is Wolk (bass), Robbie Kondor and
Robby Kilgore (keys), Rick Marotta (drums), Hugh McCracken and Jimmy
Ryan (guitars), and Michael Brecker
Working Girl (1989)
I don't know how much of this movie soundtrack is her work, but her "Let
The River Run" won an Oscar. (DBW)
My Romance (1990)
Another collection of standards and show tunes, largely by Rodgers and
Hart ("Bewitched," title track). If you must have a
Carly Simon standards album, this is preferrable to Torch
in every way: her voice has gotten huskier, either from age or by
intent; the arrangements are clean and lively; the tunes are at
least hummable if overfamiliar ("Something Wonderful," "Time After
Time"). Still, Simon's strength as a vocalist is her clarity, not her
sophistication, and her interpretations are so straight down the middle
they add nothing to the songs (for comparison, check Chaka Khan's version of "My Funny
Valentine," or Diana Ross's
version of "Little Girl Blue," both rendered blandly though sincerely
here). The one original, "What Has She Got," is a decent enough
take on the musty theme "I've got the material things, she's got you."
The basic band is Michael Kosaria (piano), Wayne Pedziwiatr and
Jay Leonhart (bass), Gordon Gottlieb (percussion), Ryan and Gadd;
Michael Brecker is the featured
soloist, and a string section is used tastefully. Arranged by Marty
Paich, who produced with Frank Filipetti. (DBW)
Have You Seen Me Lately? (1990)
After a decade of experimentation, Simon came up with a solid collection of pop tunes incorporating elements of
various genres (country fiddles, funk bass, electronic dance beats, folk harmonies), but not going overboard with them - paralleling Neil Young's Freedom.
All Simon compositions or co-compositions, and many of them are irresistably melodic ("We Just Got Here"), have
clever, observant lyrics ("It's Not Like Him"), or both ("Better Not Tell Her"). She's more introspective lyrically
than she'd been in years ("Life Is Eternal"), which is a plus. But there are many tunes which are just routine
("Waiting At The Gate," title track), and her later Letters Never Sent is a much more successful effort along
exactly the same lines - make sure you check out that one first. Guest vocalists include Judy Collins, Simon's children
Sally and Ben Taylor, and sister Lucy; the band is Ryan, Gadd, Will Lee (bass), Teese Gohl (keyboards), and Jimmy Bralower (drum programming). Produced by Filipetti and Samwell-Smith. (DBW)
Music From The Motion Picture "This Is My Life" (1992)
Soundtrack to a mostly unseen Nora Ephron film about a single
mother's relationship with her children. There are a few decent tunes
here for fans ("Easy On The Eyes"), but it's very slight:
there are a bunch of instrumentals that are background music at best ("Moving Day");
most of the real songs are presented in multiple versions ("Love Of My Life,"
which was overly sentimental in the first place); and two tunes are
shameless knockoffs of well known songs: "The Show Must Go On" is
cribbed from "There's No Business Like Show Business," and "The Night
Before Christmas" is every Christmas song you've already heard. Since
even the high points are on familiar ground, this is not of general
interest, but it's generally inoffensive and capably arranged. Musicians
include most of Simon's usual compatriots, with Toots Thielmans
prominently featured on harmonica, Charles McCracken adding cello to
"Love Of My Life," and Carly's own children, Ben and Sally Taylor,
adding voice here, acoustic guitar there. Produced by Filipetti and
Carly Simon's Romulus Hunt: A Family Opera (1993)
Yep, a pop opera. (DBW)
Letters Never Sent (1994)
You might think rock critics have gotten misty-eyed and nostalgic, but
the truth is a lot of 60s and 70s dinosaurs have gotten themselves
back on track in the 90s and made some damn good records, like
this one. Simon wrote everything here, and though the concept is unsent
letters set to music, it's really just another batch of love songs.
She covers a ton of musical styles and succeeds with all of them:
Appalachian country (the opening and closing theme, "I'd Rather It Was
You"), swinging pop ("Lost In Your Love"), sea chanty ("Halfway
'Round The World"), funky rock (title track, propelled by Doug Wimbish's bass and Carlos Alomar's guitar), even full-blown opera
("Like A River," repeated from the previous record). Her son Ben Taylor
adds a solo acoustic number, "Time Works On All The Wild Young Men,"
where he sounds eerily like his father. The lyrics are elegant and
precise ("Private," "Born To Break My Heart"), and occasionally a
bizarre sense of humor shows through ("The Reason"). If you don't like
anything here, it's unlikely you'll like anything Simon's ever done.
Produced by Filipetti and Simon; personnel includes Ryan, Newmark, Pino Palladino, Danny
Kortchmar, Paul Samwell-Smith, Taj Mahal, Andreas Vollenweider (who's
actually tasteful on the laid-back "Davy"), and T-Bone Wolk, plus
Rosanne Cash and Otis Redding III on backing vocals. (DBW)
Clouds In My Coffee (1995)
A 3-CD boxed set with a few rare and unreleased tracks. (DBW)
Film Noir (1997)
One more shot at standards; rather than tunes from film noir, it's the usual batch of Broadway composers:
Cole Porter ("Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye"), Johnny Mercer ("Laura"), Hoagy Carmichael ("Two Sleepy People"), etc. As usual for a Simon
standards album, there's exactly one original (title track). Produced by Simon and Jimmy Webb (who
duets on Frank Loesser's "Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year), and every track wallows in strings. It's all tasteful but excruciatingly
dull, with the only variation being clichéd Gay Paree accordion on "Lili Marlene," and despite the title conceit the disc doesn't
have the thematic coherence that made My Romance bearable. Mardin and Van Dyke Parks each do some
conducting, and the obligatory bizarre guest vocalist is John Travolta, whose duet on "Two Sleepy People" is hilariously bad.
The Bedroom Tapes (2000)
A collection of tunes Simon wrote and partly performed (on guitar, keyboards, and drum programming) in a bedroom of her house.
Mostly guitar-based, with a country-folk feel that hearks the way back to her first solo album, despite all the programmed drums.
And like her first album, the melodies are almost uniformly forgettable ("I'm Really The Kind").
But even the most ordinary songs have taut arrangements ("Our Affair") and occasionally Simon shows the sharp-eared eclecticism of Letters Never Sent: the mini-suite "Cross The River" ranges from
funky piano groove and sweeping strings, to unaccompanied emotive piano, to a reggae ending.
Simon's usual lyrical themes are evident: there's an ironic character assassination ("Actresss"), a meditation on aging ("I Forget"),
lots of semi-detached love songs ("Our Affair"), and she gets too cute for her own good on the computer-jargon-dropping, reverse sexist
"Big Dumb Guy." But lacking in conviction and verve, it all seems rehashed and routine
(though there is an ironic character assassination of ironic character assassinators, "We Your Dearest Friends").
It's Carly Simon in top form in every area except the most important one: her songwriting.
Even on this project there's a long list of musicians: Michael Lockwood, Stuart Kimball, Peter Calo, Eric Bazilian (guitar); Teese Gohl (keyboards); Wolk, Garnier (bass);
Gadd, Larry Ciancia, Shawn Pelton (drums); The Rankin Sisters, Jill Dell'Abate and Ben Taylor (backing vocals).
Liam O'Maonlai adds flute and spoken vocals to "Scar."
Christmas Is Almost Here (2002)
The title track was written by Livingston Taylor, James's brother. Otherwise, it's mostly the usual standards - "O Come All Ye Faithful"; "Silent Night" - and two originals: "Heaven" (written with Lucy) and
"The Land Of Christmas (Mary)."
Moonlight Serenade (2005)
Another standards album: "In The Still Of The Night," "How Long Has This Been Going On?" and so on. Produced by Perry.
Into White (2007)
This time, something slightly different: a folk standards album, ranging from chestnuts like "I Gave My Love A Cherry" to more recent fare ("Blackbird").
Produced by Jimmy Parr.
This Kind of Love (2008)
What a crazy, confused mess this record it is, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.
Simon goes samba, sorta, and in a couple of places she's reasonably successful ("Hola Soleil") in the mold of Dionne Warwick's Aquarela Do Brasil.
More often, though, she just strings together a bunch of half-spoken words over meandering, toothless instrumentation ("In My Dreams") - contrary to her impression, just because a song is mushy and midtempo with no clear melody or chord progression doesn't mean it's somehow Brazilian.
I don't even know what to say about the extended rap-on-Quaaludes "People Say A Lot" - I think it's supposed to come off as atmospheric and menacing, but falls completely flat. Lyrically as well, Simon seems to be continually reaching for some sort of coherence just outside her grasp, whether she's dealing with romance ("How Can You Ever Forget"; "Too Soon To Say Goodbye") or more general statements ("They Just Want You To Be Here").
I'm glad Simon's still working, and I give her credit for trying something new, but I can't endorse the results.
Never Been Gone (2009)
Acoustic remakes of her best-known tunes like "You're So Vain" and "Anticipation."
Carly, you probably think this page is about you.