Once again your crusty chronicler felt the need to resurrect his old “Listen Again” series. For those of you just joining us, the “Listen Again” series is a series in which we revisit albums that for one reason or another perhaps did not receive the attention/acclaim they deserved when they were originally released. Whether it was the recording was ahead of its time, broke away from the artist’s usual style, was poorly publicized or initially misunderstood, the “Listen Again” series urges music fans to listen again. This time we reconsider Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle—Jim Croce’s Greatest Love Songs.
James Joseph “Jim” Croce was born on January 10th in 1943 in Philadelphia (near where your rascally writer grew up). He was a singer-songwriter who left his mark from New York to Los Angeles and beyond from 1966 to 1973. He put out five studio albums and 11 singles. He is perhaps best known for the hit singles “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and “Time in a Bottle” which both took the number one slot on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
In fact, “Time in a Bottle” is also the title of his most critically-acclaimed release garnering a four-star rating from Rolling Stone magazine. Released after Croce’s death in 1973, this compilation included a dozen of his greatest hits. The songs on this folk rock album were recorded between 1972 and 1973.
The album has a running time of less than 32 minutes and Croce sings, plays guitar and writes almost every song on here. While studio musicians are credited on other albums none are highlighted here. The collection opens with the title track, “Time in a Bottle” off the You Don’t Mess Around with Jim LP. It was also his third posthumous number one hit and was written for his son, A.J.
Another cut from You Don’t Mess Around with Jim follows. This one climbed to number 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 late in 1972 and spent twelve weeks on the chart. It’s titled “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels)”.
The third selection is the first of only two tracks not written by Croce. It’s titled “Salon and Saloon” from his I Got a Name release. It was written by the American songwriter Maury Muehleisen.
Another number off I Got a Name, “Alabama Rain”, is also included. This one was never released as a single but was popular nonetheless. Unfortunately, it was somewhat overshadowed by other classic cuts on the album.
“Dreamin’ Again” and “It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way” are both from the album Life and Times. The latter was the third and final single off that LP. It rose to number 64 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent five weeks on the chart. It contains wintery images and has a seasonal theme and was eventually marketed as a Christmas cut. It was also the second single to be put out after Croce’s death in 1973.
More tracks from I Got a Name follow including “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song”, “Lover’s Cross” and “Thursday”. The latter is the only other tune on the collection not composed by Croce. It was written by Sal Joseph.
“I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song” was the second posthumously-released single. With male backup vocalists and a string section playing a counterpoint melody during the closing instrumental this piece would climb to number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was Croce’s fifth Top 10 hit. It also took the top slot on the Billboard adult contemporary chart and made it to number 68 on the Billboard country music chart. It was actually the result of a disagreement he had with his wife Ingrid. She recalls: Croce “went downstairs, and he started to play, like he always did when he wrote . . . the next morning, he came up early in the morning and sang it to me.”
“These Dreams” was the last song off of Life and Times to be included here. The last two tracks are both from the You Don’t Mess Around With Jim album. They are “A Long Time Ago” and the classic closing cut “Photographs and Memories”.
Croce had initially come to fame during a popular craze for neurotic songwriters such as Cat Stevens and James Taylor. His brag “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” was a refreshing aural pallet cleanser. When it was followed by songs such as “Time in a Bottle”, “I Got a Name”, “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels)” and “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song”, it quickly became apparent that Croce’s simple, craftsman’s sensibility was able to communicate specific feelings even better than the so–called “sensitive” songs of the wounded-soul school.
Even after his death, his singles fit in quite well on both AM and FM radio. The songs here make it clear that Croce was very comfortable with highly standardized pop-folk song forms. The subtly driven acoustic guitar arrangements and tactful melodies carry Croce’s carefully crafted lyrical lines through clever hooks into somewhat surprisingly moving music.
The record was released in 1977 on the Atlantic label. It would reach number 170 on the Billboard 200. Despite the continued popularity of Croce’s classic cuts years after his death and the fact that one of their own critics considered this work to include “his best moments overall”, Rolling Stone only gave it four stars deeming it “flawed” in an “essential way”.
Even more recently, sources such as Allmusic would only rate the recording at four and a half stars. Perhaps it was the feeling that his accomplishments might have become more imposing if he had not died. Over the years since its original release, the album has also been reissued on cassette as well as compact disc.
If you’ve never listened to Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle—Jim Croce’s Greatest Love Songs, listen to it. If you’ve already listened to it . . . listen again.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.