The early 1970s was a magical time for singer and songwriters. You had Carole King, James Taylor, John Denver, and Carly Simon, to name a few. Jim Croce was in that group, too.
Croce was just starting to become successful when he died at the age of 30. Jim, the pilot, and other members of his group, were killed when the plane crashed into a pecan tree at the end of the runway in Natchitoches, Louisiana in 1973. It was just an hour after a concert he had played there. He was on his way to Texas to do another concert. I was doing the dishes when I heard the news on the radio, and I was in shock.
I got his album Photographs & Memories, and the songs from the album still pack a punch. Billboard magazine editors wrote, "It is hard to believe one man poured out a fountain of excellent work in barely two years, but this LP offers proof of the greatness of Croce's career and is, in all respects, truly a greatest hits album. They're all worthwhile and this magnificent collection makes one realize just how greatly this man will be missed. The beauty of music, however, is that he will always be heard.
The world is indeed lucky to have his recordings to listen to, and this album shows just how talented Jim was, and how his songs could touch the listener. Jim songs had humor, emotion, and great lyrics and music as well.
Here are the songs from the album these songs will give you a glimpse of the man, and make you wonder what he could have accomplished in his career if he had been given more time.
Bad Bad Leroy Brown is the first song on the track and the first song I remember hearing him do on the radio. The song was released in 1973 and went to number one on the Billboard charts for two weeks. This song starts off with a rollicking piano, and then the story begins. We hear about the bad side of Chicago and this bad man named Leroy Brown. You are instantly hooked into the song. Who is this guy and what is going to happen next? IT is a song that never gets old. Leroy learns a lesson about messin with a jealous wife of a jealous man.
The inspiration from the song was explained by Jim on the Helen Reddy show, This is a song about a guy I was in the army with... It was at Fort Dix, in New Jersey, that I met this guy. He was not made to climb the tree of knowledge, as they say, but he was strong, so nobody'd ever told him what to do, and after about a week down there he said "Later for this" and decided to go home. So he went AWOL—which means to take your own vacation—and he did. But he made the mistake of coming back at the end of the month to get his paycheck. I don't know if you've ever seen handcuffs put on anybody, but it was SNAP and that was the end of it for a good friend of mine, who I wrote this tune about, named Leroy Brown
This song is a classic and it helped Jim to become famous.
Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels) this song was released in 1972 and it was on the album You Don’t Mess Around With Jim. The song made it to numbern17 on the charts and stayed up there for twelve weeks. This is another great song that tells a story. The man on the line is asking to Operator to help him get in touch with his former girlfriend who left him for his best former best friend Ray.
Operator starts off with beautiful guitar playing that brings the listener in with Jim singing poignantly about his lost love and how he really hasn’t taken things as well as he pretends he has done. When one has to name a Jim Croce song nine times out of ten this is the song that will be brought up. It is said that fans leave dimes on his tombstone because the last line of the song Jim tells the operator that she can keep the dime. The song is perfect in every way.
Photographs and Memories is a song that that wasn’t released as a single, but it is a great song just the same. The song has the singer looking at photographs of a love that has ended and reminiscing about all the good times they had and the photographs are all that remain. There are beautiful guitars playing that whiffs throughout the song enhancing the lyrics of a love that ran its course.
Rapid Roy (The Stock Car Boy) is a fast moving song that fits with the story of this stock car racer named Roy who learned how to race by running shine out of Alabam. You can see this guy with his tattoos and his cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve sliding around the race track enjoying himself. Jim has the song moving with Beach Boys sounding licks on the guitar. It is a very cute song.
Time in a Bottle Jim slows things down with this thoughtful, touching song. It was written in 1972 and became a hit in 1973. Jim wrote the song when he found out his wife Ingrid was pregnant with their song Adrian. They had tried for five years to have a child and she finally became pregnant. She said the look on Jim’s face was one of terror and delight when she revealed the news to him. This song became a number one hit for Croce 14 weeks after he had died in an airplane crash. The song is so poignant because he sings about saving time in a bottle and just spending time with the ones he loved. It was autobiographical because Jim had to go on tour and it got to be too much. He just wanted to be home with his wife and his two year old son. Sadly, he didn’t get the chance to. It is a heart touching song, and one to remember. We should be happy just being with the ones we love.
According to the website ultimateclassicrock.com , A week after Jim’s death, his widow, Ingrid, received a letter he had mailed while on tour. In it, Croce sounds wearied by his time on the road and expresses a desire to quit the music business and take up other pursuits (movie scripts, short stories) that wouldn’t take him so far from his family. In closing, he wrote, “Remember, it’s the first 60 years that count and I’ve got 30 to go. I love you.”
New York’s Not My Home this song came from the album You Don’t Mess Around With Jim. It was never released as a single but it is another outstanding song by Jim Croce. The website Songfacts.com stated that, according to Ingrid, the idea for this song came when they were driving away from New York City toward their new home in Lyndell, Pennsylvania (population at the time: 138). Somewhere in New Jersey, they parked in a Howard Johnson's parking lot and slept in their car for the night. The sight of the New York City skyline gave Jim the idea for the song.
The song sounds as though you were reading Jim’s diary and it states clearly that he felt he didn’t belong in New York City and it didn’t feel like home even though he had been there for about a year.
The song was never released as a single, but with the harmonica and guitar, and the introspective lyrics it could have been a hit.
Working at The Car Wash Blues the song was recorded in 1972 and released as a single in 1974. It reached number 32 on the top 100 Billboard Hot 100. This is one of my favorite songs by Jim. I heard it back in 1974, I loved it then and I love it now. Jim stated, this song had a funky street feel. It has that bluesy sound, but on the upbeat side even though he has the steadily depressing, low down mind messin, working at the car wash blues. The character in the song thinks he should be doing more than working at the car wash, he sees himself working in an office with a secretary, hitting on her, but instead he is walking home in soggy old shoes. There is something wonderful when a song can sound happy even though the lyrics are going in the opposite direction
I Got a Name (song) this song is unusual because it was a song that Jim recorded and he didn’t write the song. The song was written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox. The song was released in 1973 and it peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Top 100. Wikipedia stated that the writer Jim Gimbel said Jim recorded the song because he felt his father had a dream for him, and his father died before Jim’s first success.
The song lyrics are very visual starting out with the words “like the pine trees lining the winding road”, the song pulls you in. It’s lyrics seem to be written out in the country with the singer wanting to be free and wanting to live his dream no matter what. You can see why Jim chose this song, it fit his feelings of determination to make his dream happen which was singing and performing. He did do it his way and I bet he felt proud of all he had accomplished.
I’ll Have to Say I Love You In a Song was written by Croce in 1973 and released after his death in 1974. It got to number 5 on the Billboard Top 100. The song is a tender love song. It was written for is wife Ingrid. She revealed in her autobiographical cookbook Thyme in a Bottle,
"One weekend, after being on the road for many months, Jim got a chance to come home to relax with his family. We settled in to enjoy our time alone together. Though Jim was expecting company the next day, avoiding confrontation he never told me that we were to be joined by an entire film crew! The next morning, 15 people from Acorn Productions descended upon our house to record a promotional film of Jim Croce at Home on the Farm.
"I prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner for the whole film crew and after the group left, I questioned Jim about our finances. After a year and a half of his working so very hard on the road, we were barely making ends meet, but Jim wouldn't talk about it. He hated questions as much as he hated confrontation, especially about money. He stormed out of our bedroom and went down to the kitchen table to brood. The next morning he woke me gently by singing his new song. 'Every time I tried to tell you the words just came out wrong. So I'll have to say "I love you" in a song.'"
Jim did what he did best put his feelings into a song and in this way his true feelings were brought out in a way that Ingrid and the listener could understand. It is a fabulous love song.
You Don’t Mess Around with Jim was written by Croce in 1972 and released in 1972. It made it to number 8 on the Billboard Top 100. It is one of those story songs that Jim Croce did so well. The song introduces us to Big Jim Walker who is a pool hustler. No one wants to mess with Jim, but one day a new guy arrives in town named Slim and he wants his money back that Jim hustled from him. The end of the song has a new man to be feared and you don’t mess around with Slim is announced at the end of the song.
Jim Croce was helping his wife Ingrid get through school at the time, and he got a job selling air time for the radio. He used to go to the south side of Philadelphia hanging around the pool halls in the bad part of the city. It was while he was at the pool hall that he actually met a man named Jim Walker a pool hustler. You never know where song inspiration can come from, and Jim had a hit with a memory of his time in the pool halls of south Philly.
Lover’s Cross this song was on the I’ve Got a Name album released in 1973. This song wasn’t released as a single, but it is a catchy song just the same. The song moves at fast pace with the singer saying he can’t hang upon no Lover’s Cross. The song finds Jim deciding that he has had enough of the toxic relationship he has been a part of. The most memorable lyric was “for every time that we spend laughing there were two times that I cried...” the pain wasn’t worth the few good times.
One Less Set of Footsteps came from the album Life and Times. This song was released as a single in 1973 and reached number 37 on the Billboard Top 100. This song is another song of break up, but this time Croce isn’t that heartbroken about it. The song has a great guitar playing going on throughout the song. The songs final lyrics say it all,
But tomorrow's a dream away and today has turned to dust
Your silver tongue has turned to clay and your golden rule to rust
If that's the way that you want it well that's the way I want it more
Cause there'll be one less set of footprints on your floor in the mornin'
Oh there'll be one less set of footsteps on you floor in the mornin'
The end of the relationship has come and it is goodbye baby.
Roller Derby Queen the last song from the album Photographs and Memories is another song from the album Life and Times. The song tells a story as only Jim could do. This time the object of his affections is a Roller Derby Queen. The best lyrics in the song describe this vivacious lady,
She is a five foot six and two fifteen
A bleached-blonde mama with a streak of mean
She knew how to knuckle
And she knew how to scuffle and fight
And the roller derby program said
That she were built like a 'fridgerator with a head
The fans called her "Tuffy"
But all her buddies called her "Spike"
According to Songfacts.com it is based on a person Jim met. As Croce explained on his album The Final Tour, this is a song about a woman Jim met doing a gig at a local country and western bar. As they sat and drank together, he came to find out she used to be in the roller derby and that her husband was a state trooper. He described her as being about 400 pounds, saying, "Every time I watched her clap, I could see the fat on her arm jiggling back and forth. It was a beautiful sight." He also pointed out her penchant for hair spray, and how he would see her toting cans of Spray Net back from the supermarket. Croce also claimed that he wouldn't play the song locally, as her husband could "really mess up a nice day."
This song has a country and bluesy feel to it. It took a little while for me to get into this song, but now I really enjoy it. I guess the Roller Derby Queen will get to you either quickly as it did to Jim, or it may take a bit more time, like it did for me, but one way or another Tuffy will win you over.
Photographs and Memories is an album that will show you the essence of the man Jim Croce. He was a talented man that brought love, humor, and storytelling to his songs. He was a performer who made you feel the emotions of a song like Time in a Bottle, and Photographs and Memories, the humor of a song like Working at the Car Wash Blues, The Roller Derby Queen, or the love he reveals in songs such as These Dreams, and I Have To Say I Love You in a Song.
Jim Croce left the world way too soon, but his songs have kept him alive for the listener and he still entertains us, and brings us memories we can hold on to, in doing that he attained the dream he chased, and that would have made him smile.
© 2017 cfjots
cfjots (author) from Conway, SC on August 13, 2017:
Thank you FlorishAnyway I appreciate your comments. Jim Croce was so young, it is so sad he didn't get to give us more of his wonderful songs or to be able to enjoy his wife and child.
FlourishAnyway from USA on August 13, 2017:
It's so sad he was taken so soon. What a talent! You did so much research on this, and it shows. Well done.