For some reason I have Jim Croce on the mind, so here are two of my favorite songs of his. Both are sad songs about the endings of relationships. “Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels)” is the better known of the two. It’s one side of the conversation between someone who is pining for a lost love, and the operator on the other end of the phone line as the singer searches for that lost love. Why? Not to catch up with them or to learn about their new life and new relationship (with “my best old ex-friend Ray”), but from a standpoint of vengefulness. He just wants to show them that “I’ve overcome the blow, I’ve learned to take it well”…but in the very same breath, without even a pause, he admits that he wishes his words could convince himself. He sings all this in a kind of breathless rush; Croce was very good at using different melodies and even different rhythms to suggest complex meanings in his songs.
Ultimately, he doesn’t make the call, concluding “There’s nobody there I really wanted to talk to.” He closes the call by telling the operator “You can keep the dime,” which I suppose is something that would have to be explained to listeners today, like, oh, that line from “Easter Parade”: “You’ll find that you’re in the rotogravure.”
The other song might be sadder. “Photographs and Memories” isn’t sung to some third party, like a telephone line operator. It’s addressed to a lover long gone, though it’s clear from the lyrics that the lover isn’t there to hear it. Is the singer going through old belongings and thinking about how that’s all that’s left? Maybe.
Photographs and memories
Christmas cards you sent to me
All that I have are these
To remember youMemories that come at night
Take me to another time
Back to a happier day
When I called you mineBut we sure had a good time
When we started way back when
Morning walks and bedroom talks
Oh how I loved you then
There’s a beautiful sadness to the tune in the first two verses, but then Croce does something else with the chorus: he adopts a more cheerful tune as he remembers that “We sure had a good time….” But the verse ends on an unresolved chord, and so does the song. It’s like he can only get so close to finding happiness in his old memories before he returns to sad reverie. There’s something about sad memories of relationships that ended badly, isn’t there? You can remember the good times, but somehow the sadness takes them over and you almost feel guilty for remembering the earlier times with a smile.
Anyway, here’s Jim Croce with “Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels)” and “Photographs and Memories”. Oh, and pay attention to Croce’s guitar work. There’s some very deft playing here, especially in “Operator”, where the guitar almost forms a kind of countermelody to the tune he is singing.