by Kevin Burton
Great stories that we needed to hear wrapped in great music that we wanted to hear. Such were the offerings of one Jim Croce.
Croce died in a plane crash at age 30. Somehow he had gathered and distilled a full basket of life lessons in his twenties. We still have them today, but I wish we had more.
This is my fifth post answering the album challenge, looking at records that influenced me greatly. Today we look at Croce’s “Photographs and Memories, His Greatest Hits.”
When I think of performers who died too young, I think of Croce. What would the Jim Croce response to 9/11 have sounded like? Wouldn’t you love to have that?
Do you realize only eight Croce songs hit the Top 40? He was just getting started. It makes the gems he left with us more precious.
You couldn’t escape “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” in the summer and fall of 1973. The omnipresent story song was number one for two weeks and spent 22 weeks on the Hot 100.
It used the same pattern as “You Don’t Mess around with Jim,” a number eight song from the previous year. Both were tales of a top dog tough guy who got his comeuppance in the last verse.
Leroy Brown had us pre-teens talking about whether the chorus said “damned town” or “downtown.” Such questions fill to bursting, the minds of little boys. But Croce would leave us much more to think about.
“Time In A Bottle” is a haunting tune, made moreso by the singer’s death. When he sings about saving every day like a treasure and then, in the chorus, “there never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do once you find them,” it stops me cold.
The lyric was tragically true for Croce, but make no mistake, that bell tolls for you and for me.
Croce wrote the song the night he found out his wife Ingrid was pregnant, according to songfacts.com. That baby boy grew up to be singer/songwriter A. J. Croce. You can find his material on You Tube.
Time In A Bottle was recorded on Croce’s first album. It’s a powerful song, so different from the rest of his material that it was not considered for release as a single.
But after the song was included in an ABC-TV movie, thousands called TV stations asking where they could get the song. This story is included in “The Billboard book of number one hits.”
My other favorite is “I Got A Name.” It’s a song I wish I had written myself. Most practice days I use it as a warmup song. It tells my story better than I can.
“Operator” is a wonderful fresh take on an overdone theme. We hear one half of a conversation where the singer tries to reach an old girlfriend who ran off with his best friend. It’s a singable tune that reached number 17 on the chart. It’s very much of its time when, Croce tells the operator “You can keep the dime.”
“Roller Derby Queen” brings a smile to my face because the television at home lingered on that channel more than I would prefer to admit.
Croce does a great job fleshing out other characters on the album, such as dirt-track demon “Rapid Roy” and singing in first person, the protagonist from “Workin at the Car Wash Blues.” Croce was a master at setting a scene that makes characters pop out of songs.
His self-assessment from the Billboard book, “I’m a kind of musical psychologist or musical bouncer or a human juke box. It depends on the audience.”
The title song recalls a love gone wrong, “photographs and memories” being all the singer has left of his love. Flip the context a bit and this could be our song to Jim Croce. But because he was so good at his craft, our musical memories are timeless.