Among rock nerds Jim Croce seems to be a rare, successful singer-songwriter from the ’70s who’s hard to hate? Some of his contemporaries, like Jackson Browne, have achieved greater critical acclaim from the post-Me Decade crowd, yet there are those unwilling to forgive the heap of Psychic Oblivion he laid on that generation. Although Croce’s hit songs include the wedding dance with Dad staple “Time in a Bottle,” you never hear people like us cut on Croce, do you?
Among Croce’s soft-rock contemporaries, only James Taylor comes close in not having made enemies. In the case of both artists I think their avoidance of trends, their sense of decency and taste, and overall “class” contributed to their acceptance over time and regardless of mixed feelings any of us might have about their popular acceptance and airplay saturation. (The respect we have for Taylor’s soft rock also probably has something to do with the guy’s graceful acceptance of his baldness.) The other thing I think they had in common is that they were clearly fine musicians. It’s hard not to respect fine musicianship, especially when it’s presented in an unadorned fashion. Croce, especially, came off as a “musician’s musician.”
Apart from the psychic drama of the short life of Nick Drake, we also got the clear impression of fine musicianship, taste, decency, and class. I’ve never been the type to plunge into trying to learn the finger-picking styles in the music of either Drake or Croce, but it’s my understanding that each man’s music included a distinct, difficult, personal style that is both challenging and satisfying for those who try to learn it.
I don’t know that it’s happened yet, but with more personal problems and fewer record sales could Jim Croce have been America’s answer to Nick Drake?