Carly Simon: Playing Possum
This is the first in our series of five seminal album covers by female artists
Carly Simon lead the life of 70′s dreams. The daughter of Richard L. Simon, a cultural mogul and musician, and Andrea Simon, a civil rights activist and singer, she had the perfect lineage to take a leading part in an era of progression and creative explosion.
She dated Cat Stevens, Warren Beatty, Mick Jagger and Kris Kristofferson before marrying James Taylor, another successful singer-songwriter. In fact so prolific was her list of famous and egocentric ex-boyfriends that it still remains a mystery who she wrote “You’re So Vain” about.
As a multi-award winning chart topper, she was a part of the early 70′s group of important female singer-songwriters that included Carole King and Joni Mitchell.
1975′s Playing Possum was a commercial disappointment and the album that put an end her chart domination. Today it also doubles as one of the most important record covers of all time and a great example of the power of a talented photographer and a brave subject.
Simon’s previous covers had been forgettable, showcasing her good looks and natural appeal in unremarkable settings.
No one expected that one year after Hotcakes the happily-married mother of one would reappear in nothing but negligee, fuck-me boots and a pair of stockings. Oh – and in a rather suggestive pose that brings to mind fellatio.
As it happens, neither did she. Simon arrived at the studio of legendary photographer Norman Seeff wearing an outfit that was consistent with her previous image. As she tells it, after a couple of glasses of wines, “Norman said: ‘Well don’t you have something on under that?”
It all sounds a little creepy – like the beginning of a bad (or possibly really excellent) porno. But keep in mind that this was one of the world’s most famous pop stars: there was no imbalance of power. In the resulting shoot Simon got “caught in the moment. I was dancing, I was all over the place… I was being Martha Graham.”
A transformation from squeaky clean singer to uber-sexualised vixen has become a cliche for many female (and indeed male) pop stars. A couple of raunchy shoots and some suggestive lyrics and you’ve graduated to an “edgy, adult artist.” In 1975 it was something else entirely.
With the cover of Playing Possum, the personally contented Simon embraced her sensuality and gave expression to a key part of herself.
There was no stylist on hand or rack of lingerie to choose from, she simply peeled off a layer and let go. While the front cover’s clenched fists speak of power and containment, the back cover is an equally telling image. Her smile and joy seem far more natural than the previous covers.