Friday, December 28, 2018

Chart Song Cinema: The Last American Hero (1973)

Songwriters Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, at the early stages of prolific careers, had no idea they were writing the epilogue for singer-songwriter Jim Croce, a man who generally manufactured his own music and lyrics. But his performance of it on record made it his own, and it served the distinction of being the last song he'd perform on this earth, at a concert in Natchitoches, Louisiana, after which his charter plane would crash during takeoff on September 20, 1973.

"I Got a Name" was scheduled for release as a single one week after that sad day and had already been assigned as the opening and closing title theme for a movie called The Last American Hero. In spite of its title, this was a fairly lightweight film starring Jeff Bridges as a charismatic and resilient Junior Johnson-style moonshiner-turned-stock car racer, the type Croce sang about on his 1972 You Don't Mess Around with Jim album ("Rapid Roy (The Stock Car Boy").

Although its down-home footage of dirt track racing will give gearheads from any era a nice cinematic buzz, nothing in the film packs enough of a dramatic wallop to call for the emotional gravitas in "I Got a Name," a song that treats rural lyrical and musical components orchestrally. The film title and theme song could both have worked better in some other film with a more heart-wrenching premise.

The song would be Croce's fifth charting single, with six more posthumous ones to come between 1973 and 1976, including the career/genre/era-apotheosis piece "Time in a Bottle." Side B assigned lyrics evoking the blue collar south to an etude-like track.

"I Got a Name" (1973)
Jim Croce

Written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox * Produced by Terry Cashman and Tommy West * 45: "I Got a Name" / "Alabama Rain" * LP: I Got a Name * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#10), Easy Listening (#4) * Entered: 1973-10-06

Side A: "I Got a Name"

Side B: "Alabama Rain"

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