Happy 40th Anniversary to Carly Simon’s seventh studio album Boys in the Trees, originally released in April of 1978.
In June 1976, Carly Simon released her highly anticipated sixth studio album Another Passenger. Simon had every reason to believe that this new collection of songs would be as eagerly embraced as her previous five albums had—Carly Simon (1971), Anticipation (1971), No Secrets (1972), Hotcakes (1974), and Playing Possum (1975). Simon's career was red hot and so it was shocking when the buying public went cold on Another Passenger. Only decades after its initial reveal would this effort get its due for its superb songcraft and sonic infrastructure.
Had Simon stretched herself too far (stylistically) with Another Passenger or was it general audience fatigue? One can never tell in these instances. Still, Simon's artistic appetites did not dull. By the next year, she had moved on to record Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager's “Nobody Does It Better,” a creamy, string and brass laden number used as the theme for the James Bond event of 1977, The Spy Who Loved Me. It gifted Simon with a hit single and bought her time to keep tinkering on what was soon to be her forthcoming seventh LP Boys in the Trees.
Boys in the Trees was the third movement in what hindsight now shows as a long running—and rewarding—arc of experimentation within Simon's canon that started with Playing Possum (1975), her fifth set. Playing Possum's subtle, but exacting aim was simple—widen the limited “singer-songwriter” label by infusing it with other aural textures. And so, Simon's staples of folk and rock strains were partnered with expressive swaths of jazz and rhythm and blues.
Another Passenger elaborated upon this enthusiastic amalgam and left Boys in the Trees with the job of keeping this creative fire burning bright. Simon did not lose her progressive footing, in fact, it translated enviably to this new offering with an ease and looseness that characterized her past endeavors.
Simon's seductive mix of pop-soul—ingredients included jazz, disco, and R&B—thrill the aural palate on the lively, expressive pieces like “In a Small Moment,” “Tranquillo (Melt My Heart),” and “You Belong to Me.” The latter’s initial genesis actualized as an unlikely album side on the Doobie Brothers' Livin' on the Fault Line (1977). The track's music and title owed themselves to the Doobies’ de facto leader, Michael McDonald. But, the spicy and stormy romantic lyrics came courtesy of Simon's pen at McDonald's request. She selected it as the first single from Boys in the Trees in the spring of 1978—the album following closely behind it—and ended up with a chart sensation on her hands.
Within the context of the record itself, “You Belong to Me” signals topical continuance relating to love and sex, detailed with Simon's erudite mystique. But, while the title track is an elaborate, autobiographical study—and confrontation—of her interactions with the opposite sex, it also functions as an indicator that the exploration of emotional complexity is a prominent lyrical touchstone for portions of Boys in the Trees too.
In other places motherhood, and her marriage to fellow songwriter icon James Taylor, guide Simon's seventh affair. Under the veneer of peculiar calypso (“De Bat (Fly in Me Face)”) and seductive disco (“Tranquillo (Melt My Heart)”) were the all too common tales of child rearing. The Simon and Taylor union is idyllically rendered with two covers—the Everly Brothers’ “Devoted to You” (refashioned as a husband-wife duet) and Taylor's own “One Man Woman.” These bucolic entries spoke of a fortified romance, yet, when coupled with the noirish cinematic pop of “Haunting,” there was a feeling that the Simon/Taylor dynamic had a darker undertow than what was then known.
Overseeing the arrangement of this miscellany of elements was Simon herself, bringing integration out of the needed shuffle and chaos of artistic creation. Aid was enlisted from her husband, Jacob Brackman—a friend and familiar collaborator—and the late Turkish-American maestro Arif Mardin. Mardin, known for his genius ability at steering albums for the likes of Hall & Oates, Roberta Flack, Bette Midler and the Bee Gees, among others, was the perfect foil for Simon and they'd work together again on Spy (1979), the follow-up to Boys in the Trees, and parts of Film Noir (1997).
Boys in the Trees put Simon back onto her commercial perch—it certified platinum stateside—and behind “You Belong to Me” birthed two more singles in “Devoted to You” and “Tranquillo (Melt My Heart).” Setting aside all the commercial chatter for a moment, it's important to recognize that Boys in the Trees was another musical milestone—in a sequence of them—that challenged the conventional wisdom of what it meant to be a “singer-songwriter” of the female persuasion. Simon, ever the pop chameleon at heart, never shied away from this challenge and Boys in the Trees was confirmation of that.