Lou Aronica: The 100 Greatest Songs of the Rock Era: #84: Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels)

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Jim Croce from You Don’t Mess Around With Jim (1972)


“I wouldn’t have let her keep the dime,” Peggy said.

“You wouldn’t have? You don’t think the therapy session – not to mention getting the number for him – was worth ten cents?”

“That’s not what I mean. They obviously had a connection, and he’d finally moved on from his old girlfriend. He should have stayed on the line and gotten to know the operator better.”

This surprised me. Peggy was as far from a romantic as anyone I knew who actually had a soul. “You wanted him and the person on the other end of the phone to hook up? We don’t know anything about her. She could have been someone’s grandmother.”

“She wasn’t someone’s grandmother. You could tell from her voice.”

“We never hear her voice.” I was beginning to wonder if Peggy knew about some alternate version of this track that I’d never discovered. “Besides, that’s not the point. He hadn’t moved on. He goes back to his request at the end of the song.”

Peggy didn’t say anything for several seconds. I wondered if she was playing the end of the song (you know, the one that everyone else knew) in her head. “What are you talking about?”

“The song goes back to the chorus after he tells her she can keep the dime. He still wants the number. He can’t get past it.”

“Are you saying that Croce wasn’t just repeating the chorus?”

“Well, of course he’s repeating the chorus. But he’s doing so for a reason. He’s doing so to show us that this guy is on an endless loop about this relationship. He’s desperate for closure, even though he’s afraid of what will happen if he actually talks to his ex.”

“I think you’re reading too much into it.”

“Said the person who hears the voice of the operator.”

“I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one.” Peggy made a sound on the other end that could have been tsk-ing me or could have been blowing me a kiss. Cell phone fidelity being what it is, I couldn’t be sure. “So what’s the deal with this song. I love it, too, but I can’t really tell why. The melody is very simple, Croce is hardly a remarkable singer, and, as we’ve already established, the lyrics are a bit vague.”

“I think it’s just very sincere. You know how basketball GMs will talk about going after unrefined big men because you can’t teach height? I think sincerity is one of those things you can’t teach singers. They either have it or they don’t. Jim Croce absolutely had it.”

“Yeah, I think you’re right about that. It allowed him to get away with songs like ‘I Got a Name.’ That song could have come off as hackneyed with a lot of other singers. So you really don’t think he should have spent more time on the phone with the operator? I thought you were a happy endings kind of guy.”

“You’ve always misunderstood me with that. I’m a right endings kind of guy. This is the right ending.”

“The operator was totally grooving on him.”

I laughed. “Maybe I should go listen to the song again.”

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In addition to being the President and Publisher of The Story Plant, Lou Aronica is a New York Times bestselling author. Visit his website.

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On June 26, 2015
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