In this song, Jesse, one of Carly Simon's ex-lovers, is coming back to town, and she's getting prepared. He broke her heart, and she knows he'll do it again if she lets him. Simon enlists her friends and family for support, and prepares a speech to let him know where he stands. That's the chorus of the song, which contains Simon's trademark imagery, letting Jesse know all the things she won't be doing for him:
Cut fresh flowers
Chill the wine
Change the sheets
Put on cologne
Sit by the phone
But midway through the song, the plan goes out the window; she just can't resist his charms. "Jesse, I'll always cut fresh flowers for you," Simon tells him.
Unlike her 1972 hit "You're So Vain
," Jesse doesn't seem to be about a real person, and Simon hasn't attributed it to anyone in particular. In real life, she had been married to James Taylor for eight years but the bloom was off the rose and they were headed for divorce. He doesn't fit the description of Jesse, but traces of him may have crept into the lyrics.
"Jesse" is a great name to sing, so it's over-represented in songs. The first hit with that name was Roberta Flack's cover of Janis Ian's "Jesse,"
which went to #30 in 1973. Carly Simon's "Jesse" went to #11 at the end of 1980 and was followed the next year by "Jessie's Girl
," a #1 hit for Rick Springfield (the name can refer to either a boy or a girl and came be spelled different ways). Other popular songs to use the name include "Jessie
" by Joshua Kadison, "Just Like Jesse James
" by Cher, and "Dear Jessie
" by Madonna.
"Jesse" was the lead single from Carly Simon's ninth album, Come Upstairs. It became one of her best-known songs and one she would usually play in her rare concert appearances.
Simon gets very anxious when performing live, so she'll only do so under controlled settings, typically smaller, familiar venues. This was a handicap when it came to promotion because there were no tours to support her albums. Without that visibility, she couldn't come close to the sales figures of her peers, including her husband James Taylor, who was a road warrior.
But Simon was proud of "Jesse" and the rest of the Come Upstairs album, so she put her fears aside and went on tour to support it. Bad idea. A few shows in, she played the Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh where she had an anxiety attack on stage. She got through the set, but couldn't go on the next day and had to cancel the tour.
At the time, Simon was not only struggling with her marriage but trying to raise her two young children, Sally and Ben. The next time she needed a promotional push was in 1987 for her Coming Around Again album. Instead of touring, she played two private concerts in the friendly confines of Martha's Vineyard that were packaged into an HBO special. She did tour again in 1995 but kept it short and managed it carefully.
Simon wrote the lyrics and composed the music with her producer, Mike Mainieri, who is best known in the world of jazz.
Simon's daughter Sally, 6 years old at the time, sang the "la la" section near the end. She's credited (for "Lalas") under her birth name, Sarah Maria Taylor. James Taylor is also in the mix singing background vocals.