Song of the Day: Bobbie Gentry – “Ode To Billie Joe”



This track sat atop the Billboard Hot 100 50 years ago this week, the first of four weeks it spent at the top of the charts. Originally intended as a B-side to the song “Mississippi Delta”, “Ode To Billie Joe” knocked “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles out of the top spot after it spent a week at No. 1. The song centers around the suicide of Billie Joe McAllister, who jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge, and the conversation regarding his suicide. McAllister and the story was fictional, but the bridge is real, and as a matter of fact, the song caused people to want to jump off the bridge themselves. Fortunately the bridge in real life wasn’t too high so people weren’t getting hurt, but some of them did get a $100 fine. Per Wikipedia, Gentry once admitted she doesn’t know why Billie Joe jumped off the bridge, but that wasn’t the real meaning behind the song. “Those questions are of secondary importance in my mind. The story of Billie Joe has two more interesting underlying theme,” McAllister said. “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.”

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