Day 7: A song that wrenches your heart out from sadness

“Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels)” — Jim Croce*

D Minor may be the saddest of all keys (shame on you if you don’t know the reference) but a song doesn’t have to be written in Dm to rip your heart out.

Jim Croce had a career that was incredibly short, but very successful. He released his first solo album in April 1972 and died in a plane crash on September 20, 1973. In that short time, he released two albums (and recorded another that was released posthumously in December 1973) and scored two #1 singles.

He’s classed primarily as a folk singer, I guess, but elements of other genres obviously influence his music. For example, “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”is hardly what I would call a folk song. So I guess I would call him a “singer-songwriter” and leave it at that. You should, too.

While he could belt out a foot-stomper, he had a knack for the ballad, as well, which is where the undeserved “folk singer” pigeonhole comes in. Today’s song (which, incidentally, appears to be in the key of G, but I’m open to corrections) is an example of one of those ballads.

It’s amazing, but in three short verses (and I mean short: they’re only four lines each) with a matching number of chorus refrains, the narrator goes from hopeful, standing tall, confident he’s overcome the heartache of a love who betrayed him to once again heartbroken and beaten. You can feel him getting a little more sad and desperate in each verse, as he relates the events to the unheard operator, and your heart breaks along with him. If you can get to the last verse where he quietly tells the operator “you can keep the dime” without feeling some heartache, you’re in desperate need of an emotional overhaul.

This, and the other songs on his Photographs & MemoriesGreatest Hits album, is some of the earliest music I can remember. I recall listening to it in the living room of our house in Willoughby, Ohio. We moved away from there in June of 1977, so I was no more than six at the time.

It was actually an 8-Track tape (and kids, if you don’t remember cassettes, you really won’t remember 8-Tracks). I can still picture it, partly because its plastic housing (at least the copy we had) wasn’t the typical black or white, but a brownish color more in line with the album cover art.

It was also notable because it was one of the extremely rare places where the musical tastes of my brother and my mother intersected. It was my brother’s tape, but my mom played it far more often. I still enjoy it to this day, and recommend you check it out.

Incidentally, Croce died when his chartered plane crashed during takeoff while traveling from one tour stop to another. He was a talent who was taken far too early. Hopefully, he’s not forgotten.

* Another in a long series of changes I made from my original list. My original selection was “You Can Finally Meet My Mom” by Train. Which still rips my heart out, but its recitation of celebrities that have passed on before mentioning the narrator’s lost mother is overall a little cheesy, even if the last line of each verse gets me every time.