Jim Croce wrote and recorded a lot of great music in a very short time. One of those was “Operator”, a story song about a guy who misses his ex-girlfriend something terrible, even though he tells himself he doesn’t. Oh, and just to twist the knife a little bit more, she left him for his “best old ex-friend Ray”.
He tries to call her from a pay phone and has an unexpected emotional moment with the telephone operator, telling her the whole story. But then he suddenly changes his mind and says “forget about this call” and “you can keep the dime”, which sounds like he finally seems to accept that it’s over and he needs to move on.
Recently I’ve watched two different videos featuring three different musicians detailing how great this song is, both from a creative viewpoint and from a fan’s.
First, Rick Beato and Mary Spender.
Next is Fil who also runs a great channel for analyzing popular songs.
All three of these professional musicians are just blown away by the storytelling and overall quality of this song, and by the sweet guitar playing of both Jim and his musical partner Maury Muehlheisen.
Songwriters spend entire careers trying to write a story song this good, and guitar players dream of creating such beautiful, tuneful, memorable music.
Jim and Maury created about 20 such songs with their two fingerstyle guitar technique, weaving in and around each other, playing a simple but beautiful melody, along with fills, rhythm and constant chord changes.
Simple but not easy; if it was easy, everyone would be doing it, and these two guys wouldn’t have carved out a wonderful musical legacy in a few short years.
As with most of Jim’s songs he wrote it about a real life scene he witnessed while in the Army, lined up at the pay phone to call home, and hearing another guy have this experience right before his very eyes.
Jim Croce, “Operator”
Both of these creative geniuses were killed in a tragic plane crash on September 20, 1973, when I was 14 years old. I was a huge fan, and was crushed by the news, and have missed both of them and their beautiful transcendent music ever since.
And in an amazing coincidence, my first son was born on that same date 15 years later. His name is James. It’s just a coincidence, I think.