A Dive Into the Essentials in Honor of Jim Croce

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

The only thing more iconic than Jim Croce’s mustache was his music. The folk star left behind a rich catalog of bright, vibrant music made up of songs that drew from his personal life and experiences. He sang about the everyday, immortalizing the common man, making even the simplest theme extraordinary.

Dive into the essentials with us as we honor Jim Croce on the anniversary of his passing.

1. “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”

Uptown got it’s hustlers / The bowery got it’s bums / 42nd street got big Jim walker / He’s a pool shootin’ son of a gun

Croce’s skill for storytelling shines in “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” as he crafts an epic tale in song. The lyrics illustrate an underground pool hall in New York City where hustler “Big” Jim Walker reigns. The thumping rhythm adds to the walloping beating depicted towards the tune’s end.

2. “Workin’ at the Car Wash Blues”

“Workin’ at the Car Wash Blues” is another song that tells a vivid story.

Croce explained once during a performance that the song came to him during his stint in the military and was “a story about a guy who thinks he thinks he should be ruling the universe somewhere, but he is really working at a car wash.” Croce had a talent for drawing from the unique experiences in his life to create everlasting songs.

3. “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels)”

Also inspired by experiences during Croce’s military career, “Operator” was written about seeing lines of soldiers waiting to use the phone at the base, calling home to ask about recently received Dear John letters. You can feel the despondency and desperation that is thick in Croce’s voice throughout this wistful tune.

4. “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”

Well, the south side of Chicago / Is the baddest part of town / And if you go down there / You better just beware / Of a man name of Leroy Brown

Like “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” the opening lines of “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” set the scene perfectly, adding another iconic story song to the catalog.

5. “Time in A Bottle”

The sweet, tender single “Time in a Bottle” became the musician’s second No. 1 hit and would be his last. Croce passed away a year after the song’s release and the lyrics If I could save time in a bottle / The first thing that I’d like to do / Is to save every day ’til eternity passes away / Just to spend them with you have an added sadness because of it.

5. “I Got a Name”

In “I Got a Name,” Croce sings about being proud of who he is and where his life is taking him.

Unfortunately, the song was released the day after his death in a plane crash on September 20, 1973, and would be the lead single from Croce’s posthumous album of the same name.

(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

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