Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry

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Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry

Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry
Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry
Ode to Billie Joe is the debut solo studio album by Bobbie Gentry. It was released in 1967. It was produced by Kelly Gordon and arranged by Jimmie Haskell and Shorty Rogers. It was the only album to displace The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from its 15-week reign at the top of the Billboard 200 album chart.
Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry
1.
“Mississippi Delta”
3:05
2.
“I Saw an Angel Die”
2:56
3.
“Chickasaw County Child”
 2:45
4.
“Sunday Best”
2:50
5.
“Niki Hoeky” (Jim Ford, Lolly Vegas, Pat Vegas)
2:45
6.
“Papa, Woncha Let Me Go to Town With You?”
2:30
7.
“Bugs”
2:05
8.
“Hurry, Tuesday Child”
3:52
9.
“Lazy Willie”
2:36
10.
4:15
Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry
Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry
 “Ode to Billie Joe” is a 1967 song written and recorded by Bobbie Gentry, a singer-songwriter from Chickasaw County, Mississippi. The single, released in late July, was a number-one hit in the United States, and became a big international seller. Billboard ranked the record as the No. 3 song for 1967 (the other two were #2 “The Letter” by the Box Tops and #1 “To Sir With Love” by Lulu). The song is ranked #412 on Rolling Stone‘s list of “the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time“. The recording of “Ode to Billie Joe” generated eight Grammy nominations, resulting in three wins for Gentry and one win for arranger Jimmie Haskell.
The song is a first-person narrative that reveals a Southern Gothic tale in its verses by including the dialog of the narrator’s family at dinnertime on the day that “Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.” Throughout the song, the suicide and other tragedies are contrasted against the banality of everyday routine and polite conversation.
The song begins with the narrator, her brother and her father returning, after agricultural morning chores, to the family house for dinner (on June 3). After cautioning them about tracking in dirt, “Mama” says that she “got some news this mornin’ from Choctaw Ridge” that “Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge,” apparently to his death.
Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry
Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry
 At the dinner table, the narrator’s father is unsurprised at the news and says, “Well, Billie Joe never had a lick o’ sense; pass the biscuits, please” and mentions that there are “five more acres in the lower forty I got to plow.” Although her brother seems to be somewhat taken aback (“I saw him at the sawmill yesterday … And now you tell me Billie Joe has jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”), he’s not shocked enough to forgo a second piece of pie. The brother recalls that while he was with his friends Tom and Billie Joe, they had put a frog down the narrator’s back at the Carroll County Picture Show, and that he had seen her and Billie Joe together last Sunday speaking after church. Late in the song, Mama questions the narrator’s complete change of mood (“Child, what’s happened to your appetite? I been cookin’ all mornin’ and you haven’t touched a single bite”) and then recalls a visit earlier that morning by Brother Taylor, the local preacher, who mentioned that he had seen Billie Joe and a girl who looked very much like the narrator herself and they were “throwin’ somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”
 In the song’s final verse, a year has passed, during which the narrator’s brother has married Becky Thompson, and moved away (“bought a store in Tupelo”). Also, her father died from a viral infection, which has left her mother despondent. (“And now mama doesn’t seem to wanna do much of anything”.) The narrator herself now visits Choctaw Ridge often, picking flowers there to drop from the Tallahatchie Bridge into the murky waters flowing beneath.
Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry
Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry
 Questions arose among the listeners: what did Billie Joe and his girlfriend throw off the Tallahatchie Bridge, and why did Billie Joe commit suicide? Speculation ran rampant after the song hit the airwaves, and Gentry said in a November 1967 interview that it was the question most asked of her by everyone she met. She named flowers, an engagement ring, a draft card, a bottle of LSD pills, and an aborted baby as the most often guessed items. Although she knew definitely what the item was, she would not reveal it, saying only “Suppose it was a wedding ring.” “It’s in there for two reasons,” she said. “First, it locks up a definite relationship between Billie Joe and the girl telling the story, the girl at the table. Second, the fact that Billie Joe was seen throwing something off the bridge – no matter what it was – provides a possible motivation as to why he jumped off the bridge the next day.”
 When Herman Raucher met Gentry in preparation for writing a novel and screenplay based on the song, she confessed that she had no idea why Billie Joe killed himself. Gentry has, however, commented on the song, saying that its real theme was indifference:
Those questions are of secondary importance in my mind. The story of Billie Joe has two more interesting underlying themes. First, the illustration of a group of people’s reactions to the life and death of Billie Joe, and its subsequent effect on their lives, is made. Second, the obvious gap between the girl and her mother is shown when both women experience a common loss (first Billie Joe, and later, Papa), and yet Mama and the girl are unable to recognize their mutual loss or share their grief.
 The bridge mentioned in this song collapsed in June 1972. It crossed the Tallahatchie River at Money, about ten miles (16 km) north of Greenwood, Mississippi, and has since been replaced. The November 10, 1967, issue of Life Magazine contained a photo of Gentry crossing the original bridge.

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