It’s time to shine the Vinyl Spotlight! Every now and then on Paloozapalooza, I like to focus on a random LP from my collection. This week, we have:
Jim Croce – You Don’t Mess Around with Jim (1972)
Jim Croce had a surprising amount of difficulty getting his career off the ground in the late 60s and early 70s. He stuck with it, though, and was eventually rewarded with a three-record contract from ABC Records. In 1972, he released the first two albums of that deal—You Don’t Mess Around with Jim and Life and Times—and while they’re both spectacular, I tend to view You Don’t Mess Around with Jim as the superior effort.
You Don’t Mess Around with Jim gave the world its first taste of the Jim Croce we all know and love today. The beautiful, calming guitar parts played by Croce and guitarist Maury Muehleisen; the upbeat, catchy melodies; the spare, focused arrangements; the sweet smile and museum-worthy mustache—it’s all here and ready for the spotlight.
A number of Croce’s most well-known songs are on this album, including the title track, highlighted by its oft-quoted lyrics about how one doesn’t tug on Superman’s cape, “Photographs and Memories,” “Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels)” and “Time in a Bottle.”
Each one of these songs is outstanding and they all sound even sound better in the context of the album than when you randomly hear them on the radio. The sweet, sincere “Time in a Bottle” is especially powerful, managing to perfectly capture that feeling of never wanting to forget a specific time or place without being too melodramatic. (And, yes, it gets bonus points for appearing in key scenes of both The Hangover Part II and X-Men: Days of Future Past.)
Instead of focusing any more on those songs, however, I wanted to bring up a few of the album’s deeper cuts. “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be a Brighter Day,” for instance, features a sneaky-good bassline and a chorus that can get stuck in your head for days. And tomorrow’s gonna be a brighter day, Croce sings. There’s gonna be some changes/ Tomorrow’s gonna be a brighter day/ This time you can believe me. I’ve also always had a soft spot for “Box #10,” which revolves around a downright funky drum break and is about a young kid calling home for money.
And then there’s “Hey Tomorrow,” the final song on the record and perhaps my favorite of the bunch. Hey tomorrow, where are you goin’? he asks. Do you have some room for me?
‘Cause night is fallin’ and the dawn is callin’/ I’ll have a new day if she’ll have me. Croce’s vocals are particularly strong here; he tends to sing in a very precise, straightforward manner, but he sounds more passionate here, like it the lyrics were really speaking to him as he was recording.
Overall, You Don’t Mess Around with Jim is a fantastic singer/songwriter record. I can’t recommend it enough. Croce tragically died in 1973, but we’ll always have those three classic albums he made for ABC.
Listen to the full album below, thanks to the almighty Spotify …