You Don’t Mess Around With Jim

Jim Croce

ABC, 1972

REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones


Chances are, if you have listened to one of the many Jim Croce compilation albums, you have heard half of the tracks from You Don’t Mess Around With Jim already. But that will not diminish the experience of listening to the album. Croce had a tragically short career and life, but between 1972 and 1974, he had an incredibly prolific period, during which he produced some of the most enduring songs of the classic singer-songwriter era. 

Croce began his career in the mid ‘60s. His first album was financed by his in-laws, who hoped that the record would flop and he would then pursue a more quotidian career. That album was a success in that all 500 copies produced were sold, but his musical career did not take flight just yet. By 1972, he had grown in confidence as a songwriter and was shopping around a demo of tunes that would appear on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 You Don’t Mess Around With Jim. Even after achieving financing for an album through Polygram, he still had trouble finding a label to release the album until ABC agreed to take it. From there, the Croce that we appreciate today was able to take off. 

While his first albums were rooted in the folk revival of the 1960s, You Don’t Mess Around With Jim was a different animal. It was reflective and fun at the same time, beginning with the title track, which uses a simple blues riff to bring to life the story of a pool hustler who hustled the wrong man and lost his life and stature because of it. Similarly, “Rapid Roy (The Stock Car Boy)” paints a picture of a character that lives a pretty normal life except that in Sundays he can tear up a dirt track.

Croce’s writing is absolutely sublime in the love songs he wrote for the album. There is some incredibly tight lyricism in “Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels),” which paints a vivid picture of a man trying to contact an old lover before giving up. “New York’s Not My Home” gives the same sense of ennui of being at the wrong place at the wrong time in one’s life. Conversely, “Time In A Bottle” conveys an overwhelming sense of satisfaction, coupled with fine guitar work that flows smoothly throughout the tune. Similar, "Tomorrow's Gonna Be A Brighter Day" conveys an effervescent hope accompanied by smooth lyrics and instrumentation.

Croce’s development as a songwriter is painfully clear with You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, and the album would begin a successful streak that would last beyond the artist’s mortality.  It is a sad counterfactual exercise to think of what could have happened had Jim Croce lived longer and assumedly developed further as a musician and songwriter. Alas, it was not meant to be.  But You Don’t Mess Around With Jim is a superb album.

Rating: A

User Rating: A



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