Hey Tomorrow: You Don’t Mess Around With Jim Turns 50

Celebrating the classic debut of Jim Croce, a legendary singer-songwriter taken far too soon

Jim Croce on the back cover of 1972’s You Don’t Mess Around With Jim (Image: Discogs)

It’s ironic that Jim Croce’s first solo album, released in April 1972, after the otherwise obscure pair recorded with his wife Ingrid, was initially rejected by more than three dozen record labels until it was finally scooped up by ABC Records at the urging of one of their promotion men. 

Then again, it wasn’t the first famous slight. Didn’t Decca Records famously pass on the Beatles until EMI decided to sign them? 

It’s easy, of course, to shame others in hindsight, and indeed, one or two companies might not have been blamed for passing on Croce initially. After all, it was the era of the Southern California singer/songwriter and the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, and so many others of that ilk had already managed to gain radio dominance, leaving little room for up-and-comers. It wasn’t that Croce lacked the talent, but rather that there were so many others artists topping the the popularity polls long before he came along.

Jim Croce You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, BMG 1972

Still, 40 rejections? That’s more than a slight. That’s absolute ignorance.

Fortunately, Croce got in the last word once the album climbed to the top of the charts and managed to nestle there comfortably for nearly two years. It also produced its share of hit singles — the rugged title track, the yearning ballad “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels)” and the sweetly sentimental “Time In A Bottle,” the latter released posthumously, accompanied by a profound sense of irony given the tragic fate that would befall Croce when he perished in a plane crash less than a year and a half later.  


VIDEO: Jim Croce “Time In A Bottle”

Consequently, Croce would see only one more album released during his lifetime, that being Life and Times, its title an unintentional reflection of the fact that his life and times were destined to be severely abbreviated when they came to a tragic end approximately a dozen weeks after the album’s release.

Still, You Don’t Mess Around With Jim provides a suitable epitaph all its own, given that its songs represent the essence of Croce’s song craft. While some branded him a novelty artist courtesy of the title song and, later, “Bad Bad Leroy Brown,” the album’s other offerings —  “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be A Brighter Day,” “New York’s Not My Home,” “Hard Time Losin’ Man,” and “Hey Tomorrow” in particular — reflect the sentiment and sincerity of an artist looking to make a mark with an oftentimes dismissive audience. 


VIDEO: Jim Croce “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”

Sadly, Croce himself wouldn’t have long to reap the benefits of the adulation and appreciation that would eventually come his way. However his son A.J., who wasn’t yet two years old when his father perished, has managed to develop a formidable career of his own, not only fulfilling his dad’s promise but sharing that legacy via a current tour that finds him focusing on the elder Croce’s songs, mostly those that graced You Don’t Mess Around With Jim in particular. It’s a decidedly bittersweet experience, but one can also imagine that Jim would be pleased that his music may regain the prominence it ultimately attained some 50 years ago.

It also provides for the comeuppance suggested in the title track:

“You don’t tug on Superman’s cape /
You don’t spit into the wind /
You don’t pull the mask off that ol’ Lone Ranger /
And you don’t mess around with Jim.”

Indeed, you ought not underestimate Jim either. Half a century later, his heavenly mettle is still undeniable.


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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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