I Got A Name
Released: December 1973
Chart Peak: #2
Weeks Charted: 53
Certified Gold: 12/6/73
My enthusiasm for Jim Croce came late, in a movie theater, listening to "I Got a Name" during the opening and closing sequences of The Last American Hero, an excellent film about stock-car racing. It was one of the few instances I could recall in which a title song, and especially the voice singing it, served as an accurate introduction and coda to both the theme and the ambience of a film. Croce brought out the truth of a sentimental lyric -- he had a populist voice if ever there was one. Though Croce didn't write "I Got a Name," he sang it as though he had.
I Got a Name is Croce's third and last album; it is also his best. The production by Cashman and West, who also produced You Don't Mess Around With Jim and Life and Times, is a bit richer than on previous albums, but not in a way that interferes with Croce's persona, the tough-tender storyteller and philosophic realist, who naturally identifies himself with the young working class of the American heartland. Eight of the album's 11 cuts are Croce originals that divide between the philosophic and anecdotal.
In the wake of Croce's untimely death, there is an almost fatalistic aura about the philosophic songs, "Age" and "The Hard Way Every Time," both of which offer Croce's microcosmic assessment of his own life, one in which failures and successes balance each other equally, while the joy of living is vigorously reasserted.
Of the anecdotal songs, "Workin' at the Car Wash Blues," "Top Hat Bar and Grille" and "Five Short Minutes" are in the mode of "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" -- wry, earthy and pulsing with vitality. Three acoustic ballads -- "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song" (a gem), "Lover's Cross" and "Recently" -- treat aspects of love; happiness, rejection and memory, respectively. A complete change of pace for Croce is "Salon and Saloon," written by Maury Muehleisen, Croce's second guitarist, who died in the same plane crash. A slow, cabaret-styled dramatic monologue, sung with just a piano accompaniment, it shows that Croce's expressive capabilities as a singer were wider than had previously been imagined.
Croce knew the virtues of modesty. If he had lived on to enjoy the escalating recognition, it would probably not have had an adverse effect, for he had long ago come to terms with that possibility, as witnessed by the lyrics of "Age":
With this kind of honesty, simplicity and humor, Jim Croce embodied a significant positive strain of our national character, a small-scaled but very real hero of American pop.
- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 1/17/74.
The late Jim Croce triggered something always dormant in the American psyche -- something like large anti-think guns -- with such fodder as "You Don't Mess Around with Jim" and the other one about the guy who was meaner than a junkyard dog. Ideally, pop music is neither pro nor con on the subject of brains, but in America one can always attract a kind of streetcorner audience by coming out for-square (or at least appearing to) against intelligence. Politicians do it continuously and successfully, and so does television. SO there was this image of Jim Croce as the proud-to-be-dumb greaser.
But he had this other thing growing with another audience that was paying more attention to the music and less to the image. His singing style settled into something distinctive and fairly expressive, within some clear-cut limits, and his songwriting steadily improved. Such ballads as "Lover's Cross" and "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song" are particularly charming, and "mindless" in the best sense -- natural and spontaneous, felt and unfiltered.
I Got a Name is Croce's last and best album. The title song, most notable of the three he didn't write here, has a simple, straight-ahead kind of charm -- it's easily the best thing I've heard from Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox lately -- and the up-tempo numbers in the album, "Workin' at the Car Wash Blues" and "Top Hat Bar and Grill," work for the album instead of making it work for them, as might have happened in the old days. Croce's band has been a good one all along, one of those nice, airy, mostly acoustic folkie organizations, and the playing here is sharp. The album seems to say that Croce was aware he did have a name, and now he had the attention he'd been trying to attract, growth could begin. Funny place to end.
- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 4/74.
Jim Croce's last album for ABC is a tasteful and skillfully performed batch of bar room rockers and heart-breaking ballads done in Croce's distinctive tough as nails-soft as butter style. Expanding his musical direction on his third tapestry of tunes, Croce and sidekick Maury Muehleisen beefed up their arrangements with piano, background vocals, synthesizer and electric guitar. The results are gratifying, to say the very least, and I Got A Name stands as a fine musical portrait of a man and his devotion to his music: bigger than life, tragically vulnerable...Jim Croce.
- Ed Naha, Circus, 3/74.
A master of easy folk with a hook, this stellar storyteller, whose life was cut short by a plane crash at the height of his rising career, sure had a name -- it was a major part of the soundtrack to the '70s. Even today his understanding of the fragility of the human heart leaves a tear in your beer - this superlative posthumous release, featuring the gorgeous ballad "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song" speaks volumes about how precious time can be. * * * * *
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
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