Jim Croce: 5 Lost Classics from 1973


Last year marked 50 years since the death of Jim Croce. It was September of 1973 and the Philadelphia born singer/songwriter’s career had just begun to take off. It was then tragically grounded when Croce, along with five others, perished in a plane crash in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Jim was 30 years old. The ominous anniversary was barely noted. No big budget bio pics or Broadway plays. All that survives are his songs. And they are some of the greatest ever written.

Jim was the blue-collar bard. His tunes appealed to everybody because he wrote about everyday nobodies. Grammy-nominated artist Dale Ann Bradley remarks, “There’s just something distinct about him. He sang about real life and real emotions, and you could tell the man had lived it.” Croce certainly paid his dues on his wayward path to stardom. Shortly before his death, Jim told Rolling Stone Magazine: “I’ve had to get in and out of music a couple of times, because music didn’t always mean a living. I still have memories of those nights, playing for $25 a night, with nobody listening.”

1973 was a banner year for Croce. He released two timeless albums, garnered two Grammy award nominations, and scored his first #1 hit with “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”. This was Jim at the height of his popularity. And as fast as he arrived on the scene, he was gone. His name is nearly lost to history, but his songs don’t have to be. Here are five lost classics by Jim Croce from 1973.      

“One Less Set of Footsteps”

This tune opens Croce’s album Life and Times and was also the lead single. It illustrates the type of scathing commentary that would solidify Jim’s style. Released between the classics “Operator” and “Leroy Brown”, “One Less Set of Footsteps” often gets lost in the prodigious Croce songbook. Bottom line, it’s a great sendoff sentiment. In today’s context, the tune can easily be viewed as an affirmation of self-worth.  Later covered by country legends Jerry Reed and Crystal Gayle, “Footsteps” peaked at #8 on the U.S. Billboard Adult Contempo charts in 1973.  

“Roller Derby Queen”

Jim’s aptitude to transform his real-life acquaintances into song subjects is legendary. Perhaps the most famous example is a little ditty that he penned about an Army buddy named Leroy. But without a doubt, one of the greatest of these is “Roller Derby Queen”. Croce’s inspiration for the tune stems from the chicken wire joints that he had to play on his way up. He explains; “I met a lot of characters in these places and a lot of them I ended up putting into songs. This is a song about a woman I met one night…It turned out that she came from Texas, and she used to be in a roller derby. I knew right then that anybody that heavy and that small had to have a tune written about her.”

“Lover’s Cross”

An anti-martyr masterpiece, this is the second track off Jim’s 1973 album, I Got a Name. “Lover’s Cross” is a poignant ballad that is more redemption song than another “love done me wrong song”. It features a protagonist who refuses to accept being used any longer, making the decision to free himself from a toxic relationship. In 2007, the tribute album called A Song for My Father was released on 429 Records. The project features the offspring of popular musical artists performing their parent’s songs. Jim’s son A.J. appears on the album covering his famous father. The tune that A.J. chose to perform was “Lover’s Cross”.  

“Workin’ at the Car Wash Blues”

According to Jim, this song “is a story about a guy who thinks he should be ruling the universe somewhere. But he is really working at a car wash.” The third single released from I Got a Name, “Workin’ at the Car Wash Blues” highlights Croce’s exceptional aptitude for melody. The mid-tempo shuffle also creates a nice respite from an album largely composed of heavy, introspective songs. Croce referred to it as a “funky, street feel.” It further corroborates the age-old adage that a righteous groove and a tale of woe are ingredients for industry success. “Car Wash Blues” made it to #32 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July of 1974. It is the last Jim Croce tune to break into the top 40.  

“The Hard Way Every Time”

It is the last song off the last album ever put out by Jim Croce.  In retrospect, “The Hard Way Every Time” encapsulates the terrible significance of the album, released about six weeks after his death. Croce was only 30 when he passed; but it was a hard 30. This song is an autobiographical representation of Jim’s struggle to make it, both literal and metaphorical. It personifies blue-collar blues at its finest. He sings of good intentions, broken dreams and lessons learned. Croce always possessed grand aspirations, but fame and fortune never came easy. Always the hard way.

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