Song: “Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels)”
Artist: Jim Croce
Album: You Don’t Mess Around With Jim (1972)
Jilted vulnerability and self-rationalization occupy the late Jim’s Croce’s 1972 ballad, “Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels)”. An acoustic-folk historian’s staple, the spill-all song recounts the impulse of checking up on an old lover—and the bittersweet memory-flood that comes with it. While Croce vents to a faceless operator, a scratchily-fretted acoustic instrumental echoes his lament.
Though one of soft rock’s most definitive artists to this day, Jim Croce’s calling card was modest: a rare kind of melodic un-adornment—often entwined with storyteller profundity…(e.g., the classic “Time in a Bottle”).
While “Operator” mirrors all of the above, it quietly generates a heart-stinging effect unlike anything else in Croce’s discography.
The song intros in usual ’70s folk form; an arrestingly pretty, rustic guitar riff whines its way to our attention–and preludes the singer’s grainy-voiced telling of a love lost. And the live narration of restless operator-redial commences.
After a bitterly murmured backstory of the woman in question—one who ended up residing in LA with a “best old ex-friend Ray”—Croce regains his cool, until all residual hurt is laid bare…
“Well, let’s forget all that…
And give me the number if you can find it;
So I can call just to tell ’em I’m fine and to show…
I’ve overcome the blow, I’ve learned to take it well
I only wish my words could just convince myself
…That it just wasn’t real
But that’s not the way it feels…”
While retaining homespun simplicity, the track exists as—in purer, goosebumps-delivering form—an anomaly amidst orthodox love-song mush of the 70s.
Over four decades after its release, “Operator” upholds its gem status and serves as a top-tier sample of Croce balladry—and one of music’s most comforting songs of lovesickness-sympathy.