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Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels)

by

Jim Croce



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

Ingrid Croce, who was married to Jim from 1966 until his death in 1973, told us: "'Operator' is one of my favorite songs. I think it's a pretty interesting song in the way in which it was composed. It's probably like a lot of songs of Jim's, but it's one that I think a lot of people relate to in a whole bunch of different ways. Jim and I had gotten married in 1966, and we had been waiting for him to go in the service. He was a National Guard, which he had joined with the hope that he would not be sent over, and he would be able to continue his education and his music career. So he signed up for the National Guard, and just as soon as we decided to get married - in August of 1966, the week before our little wedding - he got a letter that said that he would be leaving within 2 weeks for his National Guard down in South or North Carolina, so he was leaving with a very heavy heart. My dad had been very ill and shortly after that passed away. And we had just waited... wanted to get married and have some time to be together after all those years of waiting. And all of the sudden here he is National Guard, where Jim is not very good with authority. And he's in the south, and they were not very good with making pasta. He was missing good food, he was missing me, he was missing life in general. He's one of the few guys I think who went through basic training twice... he really couldn't follow the system. He'd always find things that were funny, like a handbook that he put together in dealing with the service with a whole bunch of quotes of how to deal with people in the Army. But anyway, he was standing there in the rain at a payphone. And he was listening to these stories of all these guys, the 'Dear John' stories, that were standing in line waiting their turn in the rain with these green rain jackets over their heads - I can just picture it, all of them in line waiting for their 3-minute phone call. Most of them were getting on the phone and they were okay, but some of them were getting these 'Dear John' letters, or phone calls. I think that was the most important aspect of the song, because it was just so desperate. You know, 'I only have a dime' and 'You can keep the dime' because money was very scarce and very precious, and I think if you look at the words to the song there are so many aspects of our generation that are in it.

'Operator, could you help me place this call?' I'm picturing Jim out in the rain and this long line of guys where they're really trying to reach somebody. It was hard to get through, so you always had the operator do it for you."
Jim Croce had a way of relating to a diversity of people, which was reflected in his songs. Ingrid explains how some of his life experience came into play on this song: "We used to work at this place called The Riddle Paddock which was a bar out in Lima, Pennsylvania, and it was absolutely the wildest most unusual bar in that it had everything... the kind of people that would come there would be, like, sheepherders from the towns nearby that were from Australia, and then they'd have people that were from the mushroom paoli which was, I think, the center of mushrooms in the United States. And then they'd have your normal city folks that would come out to The Riddle Paddock. All these people would hang there, and it was a real bar atmosphere, and people would come in every single night to hear Jim play, and most of the time he wouldn't repeat a song - he had a repertoire of over 3,000 songs. Many of them got to know Jim and me pretty well, and they'd come and tell stories, or you'd know stories about who wasn't with someone that night, and so Jim would always sing a special song for them. And I think that part of that story is kind of engaged in 'Operator,' where people would kind of break the relationship up. We never knew who would go into the Paddock that night, because if Jim was playing they wouldn't want to see each other. That's one of those sad kind of stories, and I think that anybody can relate - everybody has to have their heart broken at least once or twice before they have a real relationship."
Ingrid Croce opened a restaurant and bar of her own in 1985 that serves to honor Jim's memory. See a photo and read about it in Song Images.
In 2000, the Martin guitar company produced 73 guitars in honor of Jim Croce. In each of these guitars, an uncirculated 1973 dime was inserted in the third fret fingerboard in honor of this song and the final line, "You can keep the dime."
Having the last name Croce made things interesting for Ingrid when she needed the services of an operator. She told us: "You can imagine how many operators over the years have said to me, 'Are you any relation?' You don't get in touch with operators very much any more, but in the olden days when you'd call up and you'd say, 'Can you help me?' 'Oh, what's the name?' I said, 'Well, my name is Croce.' 'Like in Jim? Oh, we just love that 'Operator.' Hey Sadie, this is Ingrid Croce - you know, Jim Croce's widow. And oh, we just love that song so much. He wrote it for us, we know he did..." I mean, from every aspect the song is truly Americana. And I think it really hits all generations, but certainly that one." (Read more in our interview with Ingrid Croce, and at Croces.com.)
This was the second single from Croce's breakthrough album, You Don't Mess Around with Jim. Croce was broke and working construction when he wrote the songs that would appear on the album, and he even asked his manager to shop them to other artists hoping for any kind of payday.

A third single, "Time In a Bottle," was released in late 1973 after Croce died in a plane crash.
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Comments (18):

Croce and Buddy Holly died for similar tragic reasons: Both were fast-rising singers who were forced to go on the road more than artists of their status should have had to. Both were being cheated out of royalties by their labels and needed the money from the appearances to stay above water.
- esskayess, Dallas, TX
My Mom was an operator and my Dad's name is Ray, born and raised in LA of course...they loved this song!
- Joe, Ontario, CA
I wonder if young people today could relate to this song. They have no experience with phone operators or pay phones. But who among us can't relate to the experience of trying to hold it together when talking to your ex who dumped you when really you are collapsing inside?
- Jeff, Boston, MA
Every time I heard this song I always anticipate the lyrics 'You can keep the dime'; what a great ending to a great song!!!
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
I was in the Navy when this song came out. I know what it is like putting scarce change in the pay phone, trying to talk to your sweetheart--then running out of change and having to say goodbye. This was the early 1970's, Vietnam times. I can relate. This sweet song takes me back every time.
Ed, Alabama
- Edward, Birmingham, AL
This is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. This song defined my experience of moving to LA after my father tried to take his own life... "Over coming the blow" I was the one "Living in LA with my best old ex friend whos love I thought would save me"
- Kerri, Manchester, NH
I was ten years old when this song was popular. My older sister loved Jim Croce and told me how he died. She always sang along with "Time In A Bottle." Over my years, as I have listened to Croce's songs, I have been able to appreciate the depth of his lyrics. They can bring tears to my eyes. Over twenty years ago, I really began paying attention to the lyrics of "Operator" and I have been captivated by that song ever since. John Martin, 46
- john, Fort Worth, TX
I really love this song and everything Jim Croce has done. He was an amazing artist with an amazing voice. This has to be my favorite of his. And Aiedail, a lot of people do die in plane crashes, but do many people outside of Jim Croce fans know how he died? Or do they even know he exists. Probably not. He was a great guy and great artist. His voice is so haunting and beautiful. It's a shame he couldn't continue making good music.
- meg, blahblahblah, LA
I got quite a bit out of the DVD "Have you seen Jim Croce Live" because Ingrid his wife does an entire audio track talking about the various songs and how they came about. Jim also does as he sings them. The DVD is excellent. On to the background to this song. As Ingrid tells it Jim would use a compilation of many different stories from people to make up a song. The inspiration from this one came while he was in the Army and listening to his buddies make calls home. One of my favorites
- Pat, Austin, TX
Jim Croce was one of my favorite male singers. It's unfortunate he died so young in a plane crash but Operator is one of his best works. It's more of a folk song.
- Howard, St. Louis Park, MN
This song definitely flew to the top of the list of my favorite songs when i heard it. Get it? Flew? Because he died in a plane crash?lol, i love irony
- John, Woburn, MA
Something that Buddy Holly and Jim Croce had in common, other than being amazing, innovative musicians and dying in plane crashes: At the time of their deaths, both were scrambling and hustling to make money because lousy, no good, scumbag music-industry @#$%&*'s had their earnings tied up and they had to go out and make more $.
- Frank, Westminster, SC
A) Musicians fly a LOT....constantly traveling.
B) Musicians often take crappy puddle jumpers
That's my theory of why so many of them die that way.
- Kelli, Cedar Rapids, IA
Aiedail, Jim Croce was more than a famous person, and he DEFINITLEY did not deserve to die in any way that soon, especially in a plane crash.
- AJ, Cleveland, GA
Sad that his career ended so soon.
- Andrew, Springfield, MO
yeah, a lot of people die in plane crashes. we just hear about the famous people
- Aiedail, Carnation, WA
Croce managed to capture the truly devastating feeling that you get when you want to talk to someone, but they have turned to someone new, ending with the "Aw . . .forget it" type of end to the attempt.
- Keith, SLC, UT
All the great muscians die in plane crashes! What's up with that?
- Cadence, Sacramento, CA
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