When people die, you can generally count on hearing one of two things said.
Either the recently deceased died before his time — or he lived a long, full life.
You never hear that someone died at the right time, that he didn't live so much as a minute more or a minute less than he should have.
Jim Croce was one of those rare individuals about whom both things could have been said.
He was young when he died — only 30 — and he only made five studio albums in his too–brief career. His breakthrough album was his third, "You Don't Mess Around With Jim," which hit the music stores in April of 1972.
As young as he was, though, he really did live a full – if not long — life. And the success "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" brought him was well deserved if short lived.
Well, the success wasn't short lived. The album contained three songs that got significant airplay, including one that went to No. 1 on the charts after Croce's death in a 1973 airplane crash.
In hindsight, he was like a comet. He had made two previous albums that never made much of a splash so, for most folks, his career was limited to two years — 1972 and 1973.
"You Don't Mess Around With Jim" was the first exposure most people probably had to Jim Croce. It didn't contain his biggest hit. That would probably be "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," which was at the top of the charts a few months before Croce's death. After his death, "Time in a Bottle" was revived from "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" and became Croce's final No. 1 hit.
It also made "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" a No. 1 album — nearly two years after it first hit the music stores.
Listen to "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" today, and you can get an idea of what could have been.
I guess everyone has a favorite from that album. The title track got a lot of airplay, and it is that kind of song — at least, it was the kind of song that was right at home on the radio at a time when Don McLean's "American Pie" was topping the charts.
My favorite has always been "Rapid Roy (The Stock Car Boy)."
It's a lot like the title track, but that wasn't the only kind of song Croce could do. As many people belatedly discovered after his death, he could do love songs, too. "Photographs and Memories" was on this album, and it is one of the best love songs you will ever hear — a song about lost love.
"Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels)" is a similar love song — also about loss.
I don't think Croce wrote many songs about how one feels when in the grip of puppy love. His songs were more about the end of a relationship.
Perhaps, if he had been given more time, he would have explored other phases of love affairs in his music. But Croce's Comet disappeared too soon.