Continuing on my quest to review/experience every piece of roller derby minutiae I can din, today we turn our eyes to Jim Croce’s 1972 album, Life and Times. Croce’s album containing the clearly derby-inspired track, “Roller Derby Queen.” Unlike, say, my forays in the past such as this one.
Now I know what you’re all thinking, “Roller Derby Queen?” Is that even possible? To somehow combine the raw, physical excellence of roller derby with the musical intricacy of Queen? All brought to life through Jim Croce’s larger than life characters? I know, I know, I thought and hoped the same exact thing when I bought it. The songs aren’t by Queen though (nor even modeled after any of their hits!), instead relying on the pop tunefulness of folk music’s most underrated badass, Jim Croce.
Don’t believe my Croce character assessment? Well, does “Positively 4th Street” have a line about hiding “a razor in [a] shoe?” No, it doesn’t. But “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” sure does, and, by song’s end, Brown’s even used it!
Besides its fiendish, if gently crooned, brutally, Croce’s hit “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” also serves as “Roller Derby Queen”‘s musical counterpoint. Each side of the record has an unofficial theme: one “Good,” and the other “Bad.” (Side B clearly for “Bad,” Side A for “Apostlistic” or something silly like that.)
The nameless “Roller Derby Queen” serves as the fighting song on the “good” side; as the Queen protects her surprisingly slanderous (we’ll get to this later) folk-singing, boy toy. Leroy Brown, as everyone who either owns or has listened to any Oldies station knows, is a well-dressed hustling pimp who enjoys picking up ladies already in a relationship. That’s why he’s doubly bad.
Coming in on a level almost too deep for a Croce song to deserve, both songs then manage to strengthen their thematic connection while playing on roller derby’s love for nicknames. Leroy Brown is called both “Tree Top Lover” and “Sir” in his song, while the Derby Queen is called “Tuffy” by her fans, and “Spike” by her buds.
As Croce already clearly has derby’s love for pseudonyms down, the rest of his appraisal gets really rough. At first coyly blaming that it was the derby program that called his girl “a ‘frigerator with a head.” Before finally admitting that:
“She might be nasty
She might be mean
But I never met a person
Who would tell her that.”
A questionable charge considering Croce’s own album attire. Okay, I’ll give him a pass on his bushy mustache only because it was ’72, and ‘staches are apparently meme-worthy now. But the quarter-sized chest tattoo? Truly unforgivable, especially given modern roller derby’s love for body art.
What does this all mean? If you’re a big Croce fan, then you’ll probably appreciate his contribution to the sport’s periphery. If you’re not, well, you can always watch it on Youtube while secretly thankful you saved yourself a dollar.