Song of the Day #963: ‘The Carter Family’ – Carly Simon

Carly Simon’s No Secrets is another of several 70s albums to make this list of great records. In fact, seven of the 20 albums I’m featuring come from that decade.

However, most of those 70s albums are records I discovered much later in life, during high school or college (early 90s). Only a few reached me as a child, and in each case it was thanks to my parents. One was Billy Joel’s The Stranger and another is today’s featured record.

I fondly recall the sound of Carly Simon’s voice, particularly on this album, from my formative years. Now, No Secrets was released in mid-1972, while I was still in the womb (the most formative year of all, you could argue) but it remained a staple in our house for many years.

I remember an ongoing conversation between my parents over the meaning of the line “I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee” from ‘You’re So Vain.’ I also remember being baffled by the line “you probably think this song is about you.” “But it IS about him!,” I’d say.

On an album full of wonderful songs — ‘The Right Thing to Do,’ ‘It Was So Easy,’ ‘Embrace Me, You Child’ and ‘His Friends are More Than Fond of Robin,’ to name just a few — ‘The Carter Family’ has long stood out to me as the highlight. For some reason I found this song provocative and mysterious even before I heard it. Something about the title and perhaps an overheard conversation between my parents… who knows what makes something stick in a child’s mind.

Once I was old enough to really hear and understand the track, it became a favorite through its own merit. It’s a simple concept — you don’t know what you have ’til it’s gone — but it’s handled so well both lyrically and musically.

The Carter family lived next door for almost 14 years
With Gwen and I inseparable from rag dolls through brassieres
Then Gwen began to bore me with her giggles and her fears
The day the Carters moved away, I had to fake my tears
I told new friends Gwen Carter had become a silly pest
And then I found I missed her more than I’d ever have guessed

Grandma used to nag at me to straighten up my spine
To act respectful and read good books
To take care of what was mine
I hated being criticized and asking her permission
So what if her advise was wise, It always hurt to listen
I didn’t cry when Granny died, she made me so depressed
And then I found I missed her more than I’d ever have guessed

You used to make me moan in bed, but that can’t be enough
My friends complained your jokes were crude,
Your manners were too rough
Don’t know just what I wanted, but I know I wanted more
Someone smooth, presentable, to blend with my decor
And now at night I think of how you grinned when you undressed
And I find I miss you more than I’d ever have guessed.

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7 thoughts on “Song of the Day #963: ‘The Carter Family’ – Carly Simon

  1. Shawn says:

    Interesting..probably wouldn’t have ever listened to another Carly Simon song unless you had posted this. The verse about granny is my favorite. Seems folksy.

  2. Dana says:

    Did you ever ask your parents what the line “You used to make me moan in bed, but that canโ€™t be enough” meant?:)

    It seems that Amy’s theory is largely holding true for you–that one tends to favor albums as a whole from an era when one actually had to buy a complete album and then had the time to immerse oneself in it–either as a kid or perhaps through college years. I suppose albums put out in the last 20 years have a much harder road to hoe.

  3. Clay says:

    I don’t think Amy’s theory applies to me because I still very much listen to music on the album level.

    However, I think a tangent to her point might be that artists these days tend to focus less on producing complete albums and more on pulling together a collection of singles and some filler. That’s always happened but now more so than ever. So the pool of great albums is probably deeper the farther back in time you go.

    But if you look at the albums I liked best this year and in recent years, they are almost always records that were conceived as complete albums first and foremost (the Folds/Hornby collaboration is a perfect example).

  4. Amy says:

    Dana’s first comment/question made me lol ๐Ÿ˜‰

    And, yes, that verse is definitely one that made this song – and, by proxy, this album – seem “provocative and mysterious” and something that we were being “allowed” to listen to despite the fact that it was clearly meant for adults.

    I’ve got a strong hunch that Carole King’s Tapestry will be another of your 70’s albums (how could it not, after all?! Growing up in a house where those two voices were a constant presence must have shaped my thoughts about what women could do and be. I don’t know that I’m offering my own daughter such an empowering glimpse. I mean I love her and all, but Taylor Swift aint no Carly Simon.

    I think it’s time to pull No Secrets off the shelf – and to get ready to explain the less comfortable verses ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. pegclifton says:

    Hey, I’m a little late on this blog and comments due to our traveling. Anyway, funny comment Dana ๐Ÿ™‚ and yes Carly Simon is one of my all time favorite singers. I love this album and esp. this song! Dad and I use to discuss who she was singing about in “You’re so Vain” It was rumored to be Warren Beatty but I don’t believe she has ever said. Yes, Amy, it’s time to bring out the “No Secrets” CD and I’m on my way.

  6. maria tantchuk says:

    Carly Simons lyrics are heart felt, I have been listening to her music since the early 70’s The Carter Family is truly wonder and sure all can relate to
    how we have treated people in the past and hopefully have learnt from the mistakes of the past.
    mt.

  7. willedare says:

    I am very happy to discover this blog post as well as the comments. I, too, am very fond of this album and “The Carter Family” song in particular. I love that some people’s families would discuss and debate song lyrics! My childhood listening was often a solitary/private affair โ€” or that is how I remember it, anyways. My siblings and my parents also enjoyed listening to music, but I don’t recall ever talking about individual song lyrics with anyone. I think the only time Carly SImon has revealed the inspiration for the song “You’re So Vain” is when she has been part of an auction held on Martha’s Vineyard (where she has lived for many years) to raise money for local non-profits โ€” and the winning bidders (for a meal + conversation with her) have been sworn to secrecy. Thank you to everyone for this online conversation about a great album and how different people and families have responded to it over time…

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