The 50th anniversary of Jim Croce’s death came and went without much fanfare. No television specials or star-studded tribute shows. Jim is remembered by his great songs, not by how great he was. With his distinctive ability as a storyteller and his multi-genre song crafting, Croce was unlike any act of his era. He was poised to reside among names like Dylan and Springsteen. Instead, Jim had a handful of hits and died at the age of 30.
The Philadelphia born Croce was killed in a 1973 plane crash resulting from pilot error. And though he has been dead for more than fifty years, his songs live on. Tunes like “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song” are pop culture staples. His should be a household name, but that’s not the way it feels. With each passing generation, the greatness of Jim Croce dissolves a bit more into memory.
From 1972, You Don’t Mess Around with Jim is Croce’s breakout album. The project contains some of his finest work but is dominated by three charting hits. The title song and “Operator”, which were released as singles, reached number 8 and 17, respectively. The third song, “Time in a Bottle”, was not originally released as a single. However, after Jim’s abrupt death, fans demanded it. “Time in a Bottle” reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1974. It was only the third ever instance of a posthumous Billboard #1 song.
There have been few musical artists that can match the range of Jim Croce. A 1990 Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee, Croce could traverse seamlessly between a mid-tempo rocker, blues shuffle, and heart wrenching ballad. He only produced five albums in seven years, but his songbook is as deep as any of the singer/songwriter epoch. 1972 captures Croce at his burgeoning best. Here are five lost classics by Jim Croce from that year.
“Tomorrow’s Gonna Be a Brighter Day”
A true anthem of penitence and optimism. The fast-paced number, which features some great picking by Croce, also displays his penchant for honest introspection. True life parallels apply as Jim paints the portrait of a man who knows he can do better and vows to be better. The lasting sentiment of the song conveys the belief eternal hope resides upon the next horizon.
“New York’s Not My Home”
Croce’s version of big city woe. When Jim and wife Ingrid moved to New York in 1968 to pursue their music career, professional success eluded them. Croce felt out of place, as the song states, “I lived there ’bout a year and I never once felt at home”. Jim penned the tune on the couple’s way out of town, back to Pennsylvania.
“Hard Time Losin’ Man”
This up-tempo number is an interesting confluence of folk and blues. It paints the picture of the typical tough luck story and includes some of Croce’s most sardonic lyrics. None better than the lead character’s disappointing experience with something “super fine from Mexico”. Turns out he spent “all that night just tryin’ to get right on an ounce of Oregano”.
“Box No. 10”
Once again, Croce’s small-town protagonist sets his sights on the big time. Once again, it’s a tale of urban calamity. The subject also conveys a strong desire to get back home, which Jim absolutely had. Elements of ragtime highlight the melody while the lyrics employ a distinctly blues feel. The tune is covered by the Charlie Daniels Band on the 1997 album Jim Croce: A Nashville Tribute.
Originally written as a duet with wife Ingrid, Jim re-recorded “Hey Tomorrow” for the 1972 album. Ingrid refers to the tune as a celebration of “the love that kept us going”. The song also revels in the merit of resiliency, which Jim knew all too well. In the years preceding Croce’s formal mainstream success, he provided for his family through a series of blue-collar gigs including construction and truck driving.
He just didn’t have enough time. Shortly after Croce’s unexpected passing, Rolling Stone Magazine stated that Jim “was riding a wave of overdue success before tragedy struck”. A.J. Croce has become a talented professional musician in his own right. He sums up the career of the father he never knew like this: “He just wanted to make a living playing music. And he did so for just 18 months. He had this spurt of three albums of really good songs, all in a row. And then that was it”.
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