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Friday, June 29, 2012

Nobody Does It Better: Carly Simon's Movie Songs

It's hard to know where to begin when discussing Carly Simon. In a career that started almost fifty years ago she has done pretty much everything it's possible to do in music. I could wax lyrical for days on her virtues, her wonderfully initmate songwriting, her unique interpretations of great standards, her opera (no, really, she's written an opera), but today I want to focus on the music she has made for movies. Carly's first major foray into movie music came when she was asked to sing the title song to The Spy Who Loved Me, the 1977 instalment in the James Bond series. It is quite an honour to be asked to sing a Bond theme and Carly's entry, Nobody Does It Better, is considered one of the best. Since then Carly has made movie songs something of a speciality, both as a writer and a performer, and they have provided some of her career highlights. Here then is a guide to the best of Carly at the movies.

Why (Soup For One - 1982)

A few seconds listening to this track will reveal its heritage. That bass line and funky sound could only be the brainchild of the classic Disco producers Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, best known for their own band Chic and for making Sister Sledge cool for a while. The film itself was a pretty forgettable saucy rom-com, but the soundtrack was a much bigger success. Quite how Carly came to provide the vocal is lost in the mists of time, but it was an inspired decision. Carly has a singular voice, it has a rich deep tone, it reminds me of a 'cello and like that instrument it can sweep you from a low rumble to an airy high note. The lyrics here are direct, "why does your love hurt so much?" and Carly sings them with restraint, but a clear underlying hurt. There is a lovely counterpoint to this angst, with a "la-di-da-di-da" hook that Carly sings as if she's resigned to her fate. The track is the equal of the other Chic-produced classics and was a top ten hit in the UK, although it struggled in the lower reaches of the Billboard chart. It continues to fill dancefloors and is periodically rediscovered by new generations of DJs. One of my all-time favourite grooves.

Coming Around Again (Heartburn - 1986)

There is no questioning the pedigree of the movie that this Carly classic comes from. Written by the recently departed Nora Ephron and based on her own divorce from her cheating husband, Heartburn saw stirring performances by the wonderful Meryl Streep and the mercurial Jack Nicholson. After hearing Carly's track The Wives Are In Connecticut, a tale of suburban marital infidelity, Ephron approached Carly and asked her if she would score the movie. Carly agreed, the first time she had taken on such a project. She was an inspired choice, as being of similar age and background to Ephron, Carly was able to craft music that perfectly matched the mood of the movie. The main theme provided the melody for Coming Around Again, a song that describes the circular nature of relationships and how the good times will roll around if only you can make it through the bad. Carly perfectly captures the everyday mundanity of a long marriage and how, if not cared for, relationships can fall apart. The song is almost a lullaby at first, before it grows into an affirmation, "I do believe, I do believe, I believe in love". Carly delivers a great, dynamic and emotive vocal that wholly conveys the song's meaning. It provided her another big international hit when it was released a single in 1987 and established her as a talented and much in-demand film composer.

Let The River Run (Working Girl - 1988)

The next movie Carly would score was the Mike Nichols classic Working Girl, starring Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver. It is a great rom-com, with Griffith's nice girl triumphing in the battle of office politics against Weaver's meanie. The film earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, with both Griffith and Weaver also nominated in the acting categories. However, it was Carly who would walk away with the little gold man for her simply stunning opening theme, Let The River Run. Carly wanted to write a hymn to New York and looked to the poetry of Walt Whitman for inspiration for the stirring lyrics.The musical backdrop is a melding of deep rhythms and choral chants, with Carly trying to capture the energy and diversity of the Big Apple. It is an extraordinary and powerful song and when combined with the cityscapes of Manhattan in the movies opening shots it is movie magic. Carly not only won the Oscar for Best Original Song, but also a Golden Globe and a Grammy, making her the first to win all three awards for a song composed and performed by a single artist. It wasn't a big hit when released as a single, which is hard to understand, but it has persisted and found its way into many commercials and even another movie, 2004's Little Black Book, which featured a number of Carly's greatest songs on its soundtrack.

Love Of My Life (This Is My Life - 1992)

Carly reunited with Nora Ephron to score the writer's directorial debut This Is My Life, which featured the voice of Marge Simpson, Julie Kavner in the leading role. The tale of a cosmetics counter assistant who dreams of being a stand-up comedian, but in her ambition neglects her children, is not the most memorable movie, but Carly once again adds class with her sympathetic soundtrack. A number of original songs appear in the film, including one of my favourite Carly compositions, Love Of My Life. Carly sweetly sings a list of the things she loves, including avocados and ukeleles, but it is the song's subject, her child, that is the love of her life. Carly is famously proud of her children, Ben and Sally, who are both accomplished musicians in their own right, so she has little trouble tapping into her maternal feelings on this most beautiful ballad. The first half of the song is delicate, but the song gradually builds to a truly emotive chorus, that Carly sings at full pelt. The emotions pour out before she ends with a tingly break in her voice as she admits "you are the love, the great love of my life". Outstanding, even by Carly's standards.

Two Little Sisters (Marvin's Room - 1996)

Carly wrote a gorgeous theme for this Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton movie, which deals with estranged sisters coming together in dramatic circumstances. Meryl even provides backing vocals on the song, which totally captures the essence of the film. There is a wonderful line for anyone who's ever had issues with a family member (which I'm guessing is everybody), "I didn't choose you and you didn't choose me", but the song concludes finally that "my love will be your remedy". It is a deceptively simple melody, as many of Carly's seem to be, but it gets under your skin and, before you know it, has hooked itself deeply in your soul. Two Little Sisters is a textbook example of a how to compose a film theme.

Amity (Anywhere But Here - 1999)

It's fitting for a film that deals with a mother/daughter relationship that Carly joined forces with her daughter Sally Taylor to write and perform this duet. Amity takes the central theme of the movie about family bonds breaking apart and creates a wistful, nostalgic tone poem. Carly and Sally blend their voices beautifully and create a real air of regret tinged with hopefulness. The movie starred Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman and is a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon. My recommendation is you spare yourself 106 minutes and just listen to this great song, which arguably is the better exploration of the themes in question.

With A Few Good Friends (Piglet's Big Movie - 2003)

Carly has a passion for entertaining children, she has written a number of children's books and even turned Coming Around Again into a sweet version of Itsy Bitsy Spider. Disney approached Carly and asked her to provide the music for a new cinematic adventure for Winnie the Pooh and his chums, called Piglet's Big Movie. Carly did a delightful version of the famous Pooh theme and also wrote a number of original songs for the movie, including the whimisical With A Few Good Friends. As a devout Carly fan and also having a soft spot for the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood, I really enjoyed the soundtrack Carly created for this movie and the follow-up Pooh's Heffalump Movie. It is a real art to create music for children that isn't patronising or, to adult ears, excrutiating to listen to. With A Few Good Friends has a classic Carly hook and I defy you not to tap your toes. There's a lovely cameo by Carly at the end of the movie and she clearly seems to be enjoying herself playing these songs. Not for everybody I know, but a treat for her fans and children young and old.

So that's a brief introduction to Carly's music from the movies, there is an excellent page on her official website that lists her many contributions in full if you would like to explore further. Writing compelling music for films is a real art and Carly has proved time and again that this is just one of her many, many talents.

If you enjoyed reading this blog, please consider forwarding it or linking to it from your Facebook or Twitter account. You can post feedback below or to my Twitter account, @divasblogger. Sign up for alerts at or follow me on Twitter. Also you can hear some of the tracks mentioned in this week's blog on my Spotify account at the following link: Nobody Does It Better

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