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Today's Song: "Operator"

August 16, 2019

My All-Time Greatest Songs


By Songbook Volunteer: Dick Schwartz


Author's Note: This blog has its origin in my interest – maybe, obsession – with songs. It seems there is usually some song in my head at nearly any time.  When I hear certain songs, I’ll sometimes think or say “Ooh! That’s one of my all-time favorites!” The range of my favorites is broad and diverse. These songs might be popular or obscure, from Broadway or the back roads, simple or complex, ballads or rockers. 


I hope that you will enjoy my blogging exploration of contenders for my all-time-favorite songs and that you’ll be moved to consider and share your own favorites that have held a timeless presence in the soundtrack of your life, or rather, your own personal Songbook. Enjoy!


This week’s selection for My All-time Greatest Songs is Jim Croce’s “Operator.” It is sometimes described as “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels)” to distinguish it from similarly titled songs. When I hear those opening guitar notes, I feel a thrill to listen once again to this favorite of mine. Jim Croce wrote and performed a number of songs that have become popular standards, but to me this one stands out.



In writing songs, Croce drew on his extensive repertoire of folk, blues, roots, and country music that he had acquired performing in coffee shops, bars, and other small venues. His lyrics captured real-life situations, along with colorful characters. Croce wrote “Operator” in 1966 when he was on National Guard training duty in the Carolinas. Standing in line with other servicemen waiting to use outdoor payphones, he overheard many personal conversations, including emotional break-ups and attempts at reconciliations. “Operator” describes trying to make contact with a past love and the difficulty in moving on. Specific phrases, like “my best old ex-friend Ray,” “I only wish my words could just convince myself,” and “you can keep the dime,” are poignant and classic.


While Croce was himself a very good musician, his melodies and performances became more intricate and complex when he teamed up in 1970 with Maury Muehleisen, a classically trained pianist-guitarist and singer-songwriter. Their combined guitar work and harmony on “Operator,” as well as other songs, became an identifiable and much-imitated trademark.


Jim Croce and Maury Muehleisin died in a light plane crash on September 30, 1973, while on a performing tour in the south. Jim was 30 years old, and Maury was 24. They had completed their last recording session for a new album the week before. Croce’s hit singles and record albums had begun breaking out at the time he and Muehleisen died. Their music lives on in their recordings and in videos of their television appearances. Check out the links below.


“Operator” notable releases and cover versions:

  • Jim Croce (1972)
  • Tori Amos (2005)
  • A.J. Croce – Jim’s son (2012)
  • Glitterish (2014)
  • Avett Brothers (2014)
  • Diana Krall (2015)


Check back next week for the next installment of "My All-time Greatest Songs"!  In the meantime, listen to a few renditions of "Operator" featuring Jim Croce with Maury Meuhleisen, Diana Krall and Seth Avett with Bob Crawford!