Wednesday, May 4

No Secrets (1972)

Where the covers of Carly Simon and Anticipation placed Carly firmly within a photographer's carefully composed setting, on the cover of No Secrets she is seemingly caught unaware by the camera. The effect is much more immediate, engaged, and informal. Her clothes are crucial to this sense of informality. The handbag over the shoulder, the velour jeans, floppy hat, and loose jersey are as casual as her stance. She is caught in mid-stride, and, with a light breeze blowing and her nipples showing through her top, it is as though we have just bumped into her on the street.


Of course, not everyone we bump into in the street is so finely formed, so sexy, so hip. Hence, the captivating effect of this album cover. As Sheila Weller comments, in her book Girls Like Us,  the photograph shows Carly in "errand-doing, lunch date-going motion". It offers an image many women would recognise and perhaps aspire to: youthful, confident, and chic without any stuffiness.  Men were also captivated, and for obvious reasons. Indeed, the cover was reknown: six years later, a Rolling Stone reporter based a lengthy profile of Carly around his lust for this image, and he scarcely had to explain it to his readers. Yet for all the lusty comments, there is another aspect of the image that might have been reassuring for men. It suggests that a woman can be a feminist - as any women walking down a public street without a bra in 1972 was likely to be - and yet still be engaging, sexy and easy-going. Feminism itself could be sexy, in other words, and women's liberation was more than just hostile political rhetoric. It had something to offer men as well.

The photographer was Ed Caraeff, and his session with Carly took place in London while she recorded her third album there. As the other photographs (below) demonstrate, they went through a number of settings and changes of clothes, some of which nodded to the album's first single by featuring an apricot scarf and a hat that could be dipped below one eye. At the end of the session, however, Caraeff was not convinced that he had finished the job. Hence, he followed her as she returned to the Portobello Hotel, on Stanley Gardens in Notting Hill, and he continued snapping on the street (see the photo on the right below). It was this impromptu session, unplanned and late in the day, that ultimately yielded the album's cover shot.







The papparazi style of the cover photograph proved to be a fine match for the album's title. It was No Secrets that set in motion rock music's most enduring mystery: who is the subject of "You're So Vain"?  On the cover, Carly looks appropriately glamorous (for a woman involved with that song's jet-set playboy) and the delicate way in which she holds her left hand hints at some of the refinement in her wealthy family background. At the same time, though, the candid nature of the photograph suggests that none of this is studied or formal. She is front and center, and clearly the star, but her everyday clothing and the visibility of her nipples suggest that there is no snobbery or exclusivity at work here. There are no barriers, and - as the album title promises - there are no secrets between artist and audience. Similarly, the distinctively spiky but intermittant balustrading in the background serves as a reminder of a barrier and yet represents no real obstacle to the viewer. We will be allowed access, metaphorically speaking, to the other side of these elegant, regal railings. Of course, "You're So Vain" does not actually reveal all. It is a marvellously convoluted puzzle, with a chorus (You're so vain/ I bet you think this song is about you) that goes in circles, and lyrics that are filled with references that sound like clues, but are actually some of the most  intriguing red herrings ever put to music (the apricot scarf, the gavotte, the cloud-filled coffee, and the total eclipse of the sun - in Nova Scotia, no less!). The tension here, between revelation and concealment, is perfectly captured in the cover photograph, which reveals so much, so discreetly. 

There is much more to the album than that one, stellar song. The theme throughout is confessional but the other songs are more direct in their allusions. The album's opening lines - There's nothing you can do to turn me away/nothing anyone can say from "The Right Thing To Do" - set the scene for confidences that are warm and engaging as well as studied and thoughtful. Her hushed delivery of the first lines of "Embrace Me You Child" (At night in bed I heard god whisper lullabies/while Daddy next door whistled whiskey tunes) brings this scene to vivid life. The admission in "The Carter Family" - And now at night I think of you, and the way that you undressed/and I find that I miss you more than I'd ever guessed - sets the stage for what immediately follows: "You're So Vain" and its frank recollection that You had me several years ago/when I was still quite naive. Another confession is made in the title song, where the singer admits to her lover that, as desirable as it is that We have no secrets/we tell each other everything, she finds that his intimate revelations can be deeply unsettling. Sometimes I wish that I never, never knew/some of those secrets of yours are the song's closing lines, and her voice gets ever lower and darker as she repeats them.


The songs on No Secrets are as autobiographical as popular music can be: disarmingly personal and yet infectiously melodious.  Its success marked the apex of the singer-songwriter movement, and also the moment it was infused with glamour, sex appeal and intelligence. Its cover played a key role in this. As she walks down the street, Carly Simon looks effortlessly chic and ready to confide everything, or, as the song "No Secrets" puts it, in a final, off-the-cuff coda, most everything.

6 comments:

  1. Hello;
    What a great blog! I'm a photographer and I appreciated so much this information! Some of them were completely unknown to me. I always wondered the palce the NO SECRETS cover was taken. I assumed it was London but didn't know the place. Now finally I discovered the place. In order to give some more clues; the ANTICIPATION cover was taken with a Nikon F with a 105mm (2.5). A little bit details about the camera and lenses. Also I haven't know the gate exactly this picture was taken. I thought it as Hyde Park. Thanx for you reat work! Congratulations:::!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you, Londoner. I am glad you found the blog and enjoyed it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Loving this blog! Where did you get access to these outakes? Can't believe I never stumbled into this site before.

    What I love about this album cover is the composition. The fence posts on the bottom left and upper right form a perfect diagonal. The type fills in the white space and forms its own diagonal. Look how tight the placement of her name is to her image -- it could have easily been placed more to the upper left -- it implies an intimacy and further forces our attention on the subject.

    Jack Holtzman, then president of Elektra Records, liked to give his artists a distinctive typeface, affectively branding them. (Think The Doors.) Carly's typeface was Desdemona, an art nouveau style. Interestingly, when Holtzman stepped down from Elektra, the Desdemona typeface disappeared from Carly's covers. The next time the Desdemona "logo" shows up is in a photo of Carly's mailbox on the back of the Letters Never Sent album.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's fantastic information about Holzman. Where did you learn that?

      Delete
  4. Desdemona! Thank you for that. I tried to comment on the lettering in my entry on the first album, but could not think of the name of the typeface. And you are right about the design of the No Secrets cover. It is pure genius, but its sex appeal, and perhaps the casualness of the scenario, meant that few people have noticed how carefully composed it is.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I grew up on the album in the summer as a kid. My mother who is now passed on would listen to this album on those hot summer days. It brings back such good memories growing up in the 70's with Carly Simon playing in the background of life. As she sang the words " these are the good ol days". In deed they were.

    ReplyDelete