Friday Song: “Operator”

A 1972 classic, written by an artists whose potential was cut short far too soon.

Friday Song: “Operator”

Jim Croce’s Photographs & Memories: His Greatest Hits was a perfect record for a little boy. It had “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” and “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” on it. Along with an Elvis album containing “Burning Love” and “Suspicious Minds,” I was off to a good start.

I forget when I learned that Croce had died in 1973 in a plane crash, which also claimed the life of his friend and collaborator, Maury Muehleisen, but it is the first death of an admired celebrity I recall. Both were excellent singers, songwriters, and guitarists.

The clip below from a Canadian talk show was filmed less than a year before both perished.

Released in 1972, “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels)” tells its story in spare, heart-wrenching lyrics. Written in G and with a sprightly tempo of 130 bpm, the song has a strained energy reflecting the false cheer of the protagonist. It reached #17 on the charts.

Recently, Rick Beato went through the song with a younger artist to show how dated some of the lyrics have become — after all, who uses operators, matchbooks, and dimes anymore? — but these details are easily ignored when the story about a guy whose love ran off with his old best friend is so riveting:

She’s livin’ in L.A.
With my best old ex-friend Ray
A guy she said she knew well
And sometimes hated

In the clip below, the two guitarists play complex and complementary parts while singing superb harmonies. The song is notorious for how difficult it is to play, how many chords it contains, and how tricky the lyrics are.

Yet, the end result is a very approachable and memorable classic.

In 2000 as a tribute, guitar-maker Martin produced 73 Jim Croce signature guitars with a 1973 dime for the 3rd fret marker.