Sunday, May 15

Hotcakes (1974)

Beatles fans refer to the 1968 album, officially titled The Beatles, as The White Album. But for Carly Simon fans "the white album" is unmistakably, undeniably Hotcakes. On the cover, the heavily pregnant singer glows with happiness in a setting so gleamingly white that it immediately conveys sun-drenched domesticity. Once again, the photographer was Ed Caraeff, but this was not another session on the smart streets of fashionable London. There is nothing jet set here. Instead, she is pictured in the kitchen of the New York townhouse she shared with James Taylor, and in the months before the birth of their daughter, Sally.

The photograph and design concept perfectly represent a set of songs that opens by observing the madness of the world outside the home ("Safe and Sound"), and then extolls the virtues of daydreaming about love ("Mind on My Man"), of having a baby rock on your knee ("Think I'm Gonna Have a Baby"), of looking forward to looking back on a happy marriage ("Forever My Love"), and of turning away from angst and accepting happiness ("Misfit", "Haven't Got Time for the Pain").

This is not to say that the album represents a turn to the conventional or conservative. Her full-length white linen kaftan is one sign that the bohemian spirit lives on. Her broad smile also suggests the playful, intelligent humour found in many of these songs. And we should recall how unusual it was - and still is - for a singer to appear fully pregnant on an album cover. Had this ever been done before Hotcakes? Has it been done since?  It seems unlikely, and this cover is all the more remarkable given that, on the heels of No Secrets, she was the most popular and best-selling singer around. The autobiographical intensity of her singing and her songs has always been at the core of her appeal, though, and so it was entirely right that her pregnancy should be pictured in all its glory. Any thought of attempting to be discreet about it - for example by using the head-and-shoulders shots on the left, which came from the same session - was wisely rejected. Thankfully, the sixties-psychedelic backdrop was discarded too.

Many commentators have observed that Hotcakes can be seen as a marker of a wider social trend; that it emerged as American baby boomers, exhausted by the upheavals of Vietnam and Watergate era, settled down and hoped for quieter times. Yet the idea that this album somehow blended in, or simply reflected a wider zeitgeist, underestimates its originality. American rock music was driven by testosterone in the mid-1970s: by phallic guitars, crashing drums, and strutting popinjays. Even its more acoustic domain was dominated by drugstore cowboys. Carly Simon's music always served to expand the horizons of rock, and this ambition is proudly celebrated on the cover of Hotcakes.