Jim Croce's 1973 Death, And The Music We'll Never Hear

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Left: Jim Croce performing on ABC's 'In Concert' in 1973. (Photo by ABC via Getty Images) Right: Croce on the back cover of 'You Don't Mess Around With Jim.' Source: Amazon.com

He left a treasured body of work, but we didn't get enough Jim Croce. "Time In A Bottle," "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," "Operator," "I Got A Name," "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" -- these were hits for the singer-songwriter from South Philadelphia, although some made the chart posthumously. Croce's fourth album had been out for just a couple of months when he died in a plane crash in 1973 -- musically, he was still picking up momentum. Given the strength of material on the 1972 album, You Don't Mess Around With Jim and 1973's Life And Times, it's fair to say that Croce was poised to be one of the major songwriters of the '70s and beyond, surely capable of writing dozens of more classics.

Though he could write the hell out of a love song or heartbreak song, that extra something with Croce was the everyman's world he created through his characters. The down-on-his-luck car-wash attendant of "Workin' At The Carwash Blues," "Rapid Roy, The Stock Car Boy," "Roller Derby Queen," "Speedball Tucker," and of course Leroy Brown and Jim. With his down-to-earth depictions of working-class heroes and villains, Croce might have been Springsteen before Springsteen; his sense of humor ranks with the great country songwriters; and who can say that he wouldn't have become as prolific and varied as Dylan?

Unfortunately, we'll never know how great Croce might have become -- the songs foreshadow a career that ended prematurely just after taking off from an airstrip in Natchitoches, Louisiana.