Jim Croce – You Don’t Mess Around With Jim (1972)
Welcome back to YDCS! We have a bit of a different album this week with folk rock artist Jim Croce’s third studio album, You Don’t Mess Around With Jim. I consider Croce one of the best, if often overlooked, classic American singer/songwriters. The stories that he was able to craft through song still keep people listening to this day because of their clarity and ability to pull at memories and feelings they’ve forgotten. You Don’t Mess Around With Jim was Croce’s first big break in the music industry, and he would go on to release two more successful albums, with the last being a posthumous release after dying in a plane crash on his way to a performance in Texas.
There are two things that really stand out to me in You Don’t Mess Around With Jim. First is his ability to make a folk rock album that feels substantially like an album of soft rock ballads from the same period and not a straight folk album. Second is his ability to write and sing in a way that seems to pull you in to whichever story he’s telling. Throughout the whole album I could visualize his smiling face and the love of music that he felt and wanted to share with everyone listening. I hope you enjoy a bit of a different album, and as always, let me know what your thoughts on it were!
Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown
You Don’t Mess Around With Jim: We’re starting off with the album’s namesake and it’s a big one! This was the lead single for the record and was Croce’s first song to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” sets the feeling for the rest of the album and is a great example of Croce’s songwriting ability. That’s one of the most exciting parts of listening to a Croce album, listening to the stories that he’s telling through vivid lyrics that, unusually, shine louder than the instrumentation. “Don’t Mess” is a perfect example of this phenomena; Croce’s lyrics and vocals are the feature, and this won’t be the only song that we hear this on. Don’t mess around, this is a great song with some great songwriting and rocking backing instrumentation. Dad’s Rating 9/10
Tomorrow’s Gonna Be A Brighter Day: Normally slower songs bore me, and I find that I have difficulty focusing during them. “Gonna Be A Brighter Day” might just be the exception to that rule. There’s something about Croce’s performance that makes you feel like he’s singing directly to you. You don’t have to have experienced the failure that he’s singing about, but you can feel the passion in his voice. The slow build throughout the song was perfectly executed and was a great representation of the brighter day coming tomorrow. I can’t speak to whether that was intentional or not but it helps the song. Dad’s Rating 9/10
New York’s Not My Home: Please copy and paste my comments on “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be A Brighter Day” here. This is another fantastic example of a beautiful ballad where you can hear all the emotion in Croce’s lyrics. The strong backing strings are an interesting addition and help separate the song from others on the album while the harmonica helps the song stay true to its folk rock roots. Great song! Dad’s Rating 7/10
Hard Time Losin’ Man: “Hard Time Losin’ Man” is one of the best songs on the album and is a fantastic hidden gem. It hits every mark in the folk rock genre and harkens back to a classic Americana sound. The instrumentation almost has an infectious, bouncy swamp rock sound and Croce’s vocals slide all over the song just like the backing guitar. This is a top-notch song, and it’s been stuck in my head all week. Definitely give it a listen! Dad’s Rating 8/10
Photographs and Memories: “Photographs and Memories” is another beautiful ballad and the transition between the two musical themes in the song is really interesting and makes this one unique amongst all the others. Personally, I prefer this one less than some of the others on the album, but it’s a good song for sure! Dad’s Rating 6/10
Walking Back To Georgia: Mmm hmmm as Jim would sing! “Walking Back To Georgia” hits all the right notes. Musically, it’s probably the simplest song on the album, but it goes to show that you don’t need a large production and band to make a fantastic song. A beautiful voice, a smooth guitar riff, and lyrics written from the heart. That’s all it takes. Talent is talent, and talent has a way of shining through no matter what the case. Dad’s Rating 8/10
Operator [That’s Not The Way It Feels]: “Operator” is a thinly-veiled, heartbreaking song. The emotion in this song is almost overwhelming, mostly because I think everyone can relate to an experience of trying to get over a relationship. Musically, “Operator” has one of the best guitar lines on the album and lyrically, I almost want to cry listening to it. Give it a listen and see what it brings up for you. Croce hit the nail on the head and crafted a song that plays perfectly to the feeling of loss that so many others have felt. Dad’s Rating 9/10
Time In A Bottle: I had to really think about what I wanted to say about “Time In A Bottle” because there was no immediate impression. Going back and listening to it, that still holds true. It’s a fine song and has a very different, almost fragile sound to it, but it won’t stay with me. Dad’s Rating 4/10
Rapid Roy [The Stock Car Boy]: We’ve got another rocker on our hands! “Rapid Roy” isn’t as good as “Don’t Mess” or “Hard Time Losin’ Man” in my opinion, mostly because of the lyrics. That’s where Croce’s strengths are. They’re the hallmark of a good folk rock song, and unfortunately for “Rapid Roy,” they’re lacking here. The instrumentation is rocking, but the story just isn’t interesting. Dad’s Rating 5/10
Box #10: “Box #10” has a great build to it! That’s really the most defining feature of this song; how it builds throughout from a soft beginning to a really strong ending. Otherwise, it doesn’t have much else going for it and it blends into a lot of other folk rock songs. Dad’s Rating 5/10
A Long Time Ago: “A Long Time Ago” is such a sweet song and is another great example of Croce’s songwriting ability. He perfectly, succinctly, captures a young relationship in song in a way that many others were unable to do. Musically, this one isn’t a stunner, but it’s such a heartfelt song that it’s worth listening to. Dad’s Rating 6/10
Hey Tomorrow: We finish the album with a song that touches on subjects like addiction and recovery that we haven’t heard anywhere else on the album. I wasn’t expecting to hear that to finish out the record, but I think it’s good that he recorded a song like this as a rallying call for people in recovery. An unexpected finish, but well-performed and poignant nevertheless. Dad’s Rating 6/10
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