Carly Simon – These Are the Good Old Days (review)

Carly Simon – These Are the Good Old Days: The Carly Simon & Jac Holzman Story

An audio testament of a long-standing friendship, lovingly curated

In the age of Taylor Swift, it seems unthinkable that there was a time, not long ago, when a woman who both sang and wrote her own songs, was a novelty. In the early Seventies, Carly Simon was a trailblazer.  Although eligible for 25 years, she only recently got inducted into the mostly-male Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Hot on the heels of this honor comes a two-disc anthology, focusing on her first three albums, called These Are the Good Old Days (Rhino/Elektra).  

The set is subtitled The Carly Simon and Jac Holzman Story, and in the liner notes we learn just how intertwined the artist (Carly) and the former head of Elektra Records (Jac) were.

Simon was a struggling musician in the late Sixties when Holzman caught her performing live with her sister – he immediately became a fan of hers. A few years later, Simon sent a demo tape to several major labels, including Elektra, but got rejected by all of them.  Holzman decided to have lunch with her personally, to see what she was all about.  And, the rest, as they say, is history.

Holzman worked very closely with Simon to help shape her into a successful artist.  Even before he got involved, Simon’s talent was obvious, as the demo for “Alone,” included here, shows. It’s a little more countryfied than the version that showed up on her debut, but still shows promise.

The standout from her debut is “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” – sparse piano and her breathy voice, and intimate lyrics about observing her two parents go through the daily routine their lives.  Then comes pounding drums, a blast of reality – marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, or is it? No guy could’ve penned such emotion.  It’s spellbinding.

Also from her first record, “Reunions,” shows off her soaring voice, wrapped in 12-string guitars and violins. “The Best Thing” is ethereal with two pianos, while the pedal steel is indicative of the times.  Although, the strange flange vocals in the middle seem silly now.  

Her second LP, Anticipation, is more represented here.  Gen Xers will remember the title song as a ketchup commercial, but hearing this again, it’s a huge leap creatively from her debut.  I love the pounding drums and loping bass, and how the music “anticipates” the lyrics.

“I’ve Got to Have You Now” is great – a slow burn, sensual track, fueled by acoustic guitar and echoed drums.  Angelic vocals on the chorus and a acid rock guitar solo elevate things too.  While “Summer’s Coming Around Again” has a bossa nova feel and Simon’s vocal is mic’d super close.  

Another highlight is the dark, character sketch, “Legend in Your Own Time.”  It sounds like a precursor to “You’re So Vain” – surprising that this wasn’t a hit single.

No Secrets, her third album, was where everything came together.  Holzman teamed Simon up with hot producer Richard Perry and the results were stunning.  

Her signature song, “You’re So Vain,” still packs a punch.  Has there ever been a hit single that starts this way?  A rumbling bass lick catches your attention, then Simon whispers “son of a gun.”  Then, the track builds with acoustic guitar and piano, and Simon weaves her tale of a narcist.  The chorus just blasts off.  The slide guitar solo is pure magic, and of course, there’s Mick Jagger’s uncredited background vocals.

But, the highlights don’t stop there – “The Carter Family” deals with taking people for granted until they’re gone, and you realize what they actually meant to you, while “The Right Thing To Do” is probably the closest Simon got to Carole King, especially with the Sixties-inspired background vocals. 

There’s also a rare version of her doing the John Prine song, “Angel From Montgomery,” where her vocals are uncharacteristically hoarse.

The accompanying booklet features interviews with both Simon and Holzman, shedding more light on these fantastic recordings.  There’s also transcripts of emails between the two over the years, showing their continued friendship.  I really like the inclusion of some of Simon’s original songwriting notes – imagine “You’re So Vain” with the lyrics “I saw you at the roller derby”!

These Are the Good Old Days is an excellent opportunity to delve into the greatness of Carly Simon. –Tony Peters