Song: Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry

 Place: Tallahatchie Bridge, Choctaw Ridge, Mississippi

The bridge over the Tallahatchie River
Lyrics passage And papa said to mama, as he passed around the blackeyed peas
'Well, Billie Joe never had a lick of sense; pass the biscuits, please.
There's five more acres in the lower forty I've got to plow.'
And mama said it was a shame about Billie Joe, anyhow.
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The bridge over the Tallahatchie RiverThe bridge over the Tallahatchie River
Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we are about to present the facts of what happened in and around the vicinity of Choctaw Ridge, Mississippi, on the day of April 22nd, 1960. These are the facts of the case, and they are undisputed.

We're just kidding, of course. To this day, there is not a shred of evidence to back up the events of the story told by Bobbie Gentry's 1967 smash hit "Ode to Billie Joe." To the amateur sleuths and wanna-be Agatha Christies out there: we're sincerely sorry to bust your bubble. But that's the point of Southern Gothic; to make you wonder.

Oh, sure, even though Bobbie Gentry is not her real name (Roberta Lee Streeter holds that honor), she really did grow up in Mississippi, and Choctaw Ridge, Carroll County, Tupelo, and the Tallahatchie River are all real places in Mississippi. There are, in fact, seven bridges spanning the Tallahatchie River, at least two of which are within reasonable distance of Choctaw Ridge. It would seem that all you have to do is go dredge the river for the body.

But, see, there isn't any real body. And, if you insist on taking every word of the song for the Gospel truth, then you also have to allow for the fact that the whole town is talking about the suicide of Billie Joe MacAllister, including the whole family buzzing about it around the dinner table. Presumably, nearly-identical conversations are going on all over town at every family's dinner table. The preacher, Brother Taylor, knows about it. This is not a cover-up. Everybody was seen in public, and the river would have already been dredged for the body, the body buried, and anything else that was thrown in the river would have been found, too.

People seem to have a hard time accepting the fiction of this song. In a world where novelists routinely fabricate hundreds of pages of made-up characters and events, why is it so hard to accept that a five-verse song is fiction? But then, Southern Gothic is like that sometimes. It's meant to be compelling and intriguing.

Seeing as how Goth culture gets so much attention and following in the United States, it is ironic that the Gothic style of that culture reflects the European flavor of Gothic, while we have our own home-grown flavor of Gothic which largely gets ignored. Southern Gothic is a fiction style that takes classical Gothic character and situation types and superimposes them onto Deep South American culture, particularly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A dash of the grotesque is mandatory. Works which fit into the Southern Gothic genre include novels such as Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, and films such as Deliverance and Wild At Heart. Most American horror is Southern Gothic style.

Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe" is a very artful work of the Southern Gothic style. The story implies much, much more than is told, leaving the listener with more questions than answers by the end. Clearly, something is not quite right, and furthermore it is going on under everyone's nose, with only the singer knowing the rest of the story and keeping her secret. That's how Gothic works; you don't show the monster. You keep the door locked and suggest that there might be a monster behind it. When Sinead O'Connor did her cover version, she punctuated the line "and she and Billie Joe was throwing somethin' off the Tallahatchie Bridge" with the sound of a baby crying is missing the point.

Because you were already imagining something even more dreadful.
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COMMENTS: 27pages [ 01 ] 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 >

Bill from Raleigh, NCI recently heard this song again and was hooked into it ... and still am. In reading possibly-true trivia about the song, I heard the original was 11 verses that was nearly cut in half on the released version. I'd love to see the original lyrics of all 11 verses!
PieCatLady from Walton County, GAThanks, Bill Bruton, for the fascinating info. Turner Classic Movies just showed the 1976 film based (sorta) on Bobbie Gentry's song, my first time seeing it. Still wonder what REALLY happened (what Ms. Bobbie had in mind). I've heard she said she had no idea). The movie's explanations seemed off-whackedy there, although the two young actors (Robbie Benson and Glynnis O'Connor) showed true teenage angst about a couple of issues (premarital sex and homosexuality) that nowadays don't seem too big a deal to mainstream America. Anyway, you answered my question about the "real" bridge and about Bobbie Gentry's early life. They say she just won't do any more shows or records (CD's anyone?) now. Hope she decided to take the money and run and just enjoy a comfortable life. The song is fresh and compelling after all these years.
Daniel R. Drown from ohioCan it really be 50 years? The decades have been kind. Over 50 million records, scores and scores of covers and immortality as an important slice of Americana.Bobbie's other great story song too, has achieved immortality. Fancy has passed the 25 million mark on a score of covers. The Reba McEntire cover alone has over 600,000 downloads and has been featured on albums with sales of over 15 million copies. Both story songs made last years Rolling Stone magazine issue of the top 100 country songs of all time. A feat only equaled by Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.
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 Video: Ode to Billie Joe


 Place: Tallahatchie Bridge, Choctaw Ridge, Mississippi


 SongFacts


Song : Ode To Billie Joe

This song had an impact on the Country chart, going to #17. The following year, Gentry teamed up with Glenn Campbell to release an album of duets called Bobbie Gentry and Glen Campbell, which went to #1. She had a few more minor hits, including "Okolona River Bottom Band" (#54), but "Ode To Billie Joe" is by far her best-known work.

Album : Ode To Billie Joe
Released : 1967
US chart position : 1
UK chart position : 13

More facts for Ode To Billie Joe @songfacts.com
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