Saturday, December 10, 2011

December 10: Jim Croce, "Time In A Bottle"

Artist: Jim Croce
Song: "Time In A Bottle"
Album: You Don't Mess Around With Jim
Year: 1972

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For a majority of bands and artists, the music in question is in a similar form throughout their catalog, as the group attempts to master a certain sound.  That is to say, a hard rock or heavy metal band may have a ballad here and there, but their primary sound is very easy to define.  It is the few performers throughout music history who are able to take their musical approach and deploy it within a wide array of tempos and moods that stand far beyond others, and amongst this group, few can compare to the sound and sheer presence found within the music of Jim Croce.  Standing as one of the most tragically short careers in all of music history, a number of Croce's songs have become absolute classics and remain just as powerful and moving today as they were nearly four decades ago.  Recording everything from more upbeat pop-styled songs to some of the most outright beautiful folk-style ballads in history, there is no arguing that Croce's sound is anything less than blissfully unique.  All across his entire catalog, there is a warm, welcoming feeling, and it is this element which has rarely been achieved by any other artist.  Due to his absolutely phenomenal voice and completely captivating musical arrangements, it is difficult to single out just one of his songs, and yet one can find everything that makes Jim Croce such a music legend within his unforgettable 1972 song, "Time In A Bottle."

The musical arrangement that comprises a vast majority of "Time In A Bottle" is nothing more than a repeated, descending pattern played on acoustic guitar.  In many ways, this progression sounds almost like a lullaby of sorts, an it is within this aspect of the song where the "warmth" that defines the songs of Jim Croce can be heard.  It is also in the guitar that one can sense an almost mystical, perhaps even a bit of a mid-even influence, and even after repeated listenings, this melody never loses any of its intrigue and appeal.  Adding further depth to the overall sound, but never becoming too aggressive, the electric piano played by Tommy West furthers this "old" sound, as the tone gives "Time In A Bottle" a somewhat Baroque feel, as well as a completely unique bounce.  The fact that this rather minimal musical arrangement is able to convey such heavy emotions throughout is a testament to the exceptional talents of Croce as a writer, and every part of the music on "Time In A Bottle" has become a part of music history itself.  However, one can also see a slightly darker side to this arrangement, as there is a sense of sorrow lying underneath much of the music, as if it is a bit of a warning to the listener.  From this, one can hear the unique bounce within the song as a death-march of sorts, and few other musical arrangements in history have shown a similar duality.

Yet while it is impossible to understate the power and outright beauty found within the music on "Time In A Bottle," few will argue that it is anything other than the voice of Jim Croce that is the focus and most lasting memory of this song.  There is a gentle, yet wise aura that comes through in every song he sings, and it has rarely been as powerful as one finds here.  One can almost hear the lament and heartbreak within his voice, and the fact that he is able to convey so much power whilst staying in a rather quiet vocal approach shows why he stands so far beyond nearly every other singer in history.  In the way that he sings the song, one can gather that Croce understood just how delicate "Time In A Bottle" was in terms of both music and lyrics, and it is uniquely serene way that he sings which cements his legacy as one of the greatest performers of all time.  However, it is also the somehow simple, yet deeply philosophical lyrics that Croce presents on "Time In A Bottle" which has made the song so timeless, and few recordings so perfectly describe what is one of the most common frustrations of humanity.  Simultaneously lamenting the fact that life is far too short and the idea that one must take advantage of the time they have, Croce is able to spin some of the most touching words of true love that have ever been penned, and it is within this final element that "Time In A Bottle" is placed into a category of greatness all its own.

In what stands as perhaps the most tragically ironic moment in the entire history of music, "Time In A Bottle" was not released as a single until after Croce's unexpected passing in a plane crash in September of 1973.  Upon release, the song shot all the way to the top of the charts, and the meaning one can interpret from the words took on an even deeper and more chilling meaning in the light of those events.  Yet the fact of the matter is, the song was actually written for a celebration entirely opposite of what most people believe.  Croce penned "Time In A Bottle" after learning that he was to be a father for the first time, and in this, both the lullaby-like tone, as well as the warning as to the briefness of life make far more sense.  This overall tone has not diminished in the least with the passage of time, and few other songs can boast a similar longevity.  Furthermore, "Time In A Bottle" has been covered countless times over the decades, and everyone from Glen Campbell to Lena Horne to The Muppets have taken their turn on this beautiful ballad.  However, it is due to the way that Croce navigates the delicate roots of the song that makes his version impossible to duplicate or better, and the song is able to hit just as hard today as it was almost forty years ago.  Though he had a number of hits during his short career, there is simply not another recording in history that can even remotely compare to the power and presence found within Jim Croce's unforgettable 1972 song, "Time In A Bottle."

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