A song written and recorded by Bobbie Gentry for the Capitol label, was recorded in March 1967 at Capitol Studio C, Hollywood, California. With the production of Kelly Gordon & Bobby Paris, the single was released on July 10, 1967, on August 26, 1967, reached number # 1 on the US Hot 100 pop charts, for four consecutive weeks, and staying in the charts for 20 weeks, also reached number # 1 on the pop charts of Canada RPM Top Singles, on September 16, 1967. On the charts of US hot country songs, reached number # 17, October 14, 1967, and remained on the charts for 14 weeks.
The song was included in his debut album, Ode to Billie Joe (Capitol 1967), the album was released on August 21, 1967, reaching number # 1, on October 7, 1967, for four consecutive weeks, on the charts of US Top Country Albums. The album was certified gold in the USA. Also, it arrived at number # 1 in the charts of US Top LP’s and US Top Selling R & B LP’s.
It genereted eight Grammy nominations, which resulted in three victories for Gentry and one for arranger Jimmie Haskell. “Ode to Billie Joe” has made from the Rolling Stone lists of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” and the “100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time” and the “200 Best Songs of the 60s” Pitchfork.
The song tells the story of a Mississippi rural family’s reaction to the news of the suicide of Billie Joe McAllister, a local boy to whom the daughter (and the narrator) is related. The rumors about the “Tallahatchie Bridge” form the narrative and musical hook. The song concludes with the disappearance of the father and the persistent and singular effects of the two deaths in the family. According to Gentry, the song is about indifference and pain not shared.
The popularity of the song was so durable that in 1976, nine years after its release, Warner Bros. commissioned author Herman Raucher to expand and adapt the story as a novel and a screenplay, Ode to Billy Joe. The slogan of the poster, which treats the film as based on a true story and gives a date of death for Billy (June 3, 1953), led many to believe that the song was based on real events.
A song so successful, could not miss versions, more than 150 versions have been made of the song.
Margie Singleton 1967 (Ashley Records)
Brook Benton 1967 (Reprise Records)
The Lennon Sisters 1967 (Dot Records)
Leon Haywood 1967 (Decca)
Tammy Wynette 1968 (Epic)
Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs 1968 (Columbia)
Diana Ross & The Supremes 1968 (Motown)
Billie Jo Spears 1968 (Capitol)
Sil Austin 1969 (SSS International)
Denise Freeman 1972 (Columbia)
Bobbie Gentry – Ode To Billie Joe Lyrics
It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin’ cotton, and my brother was balin’ hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And mama hollered out the back door, “y’all, remember to wipe your feet!”
And then she said, “I got some news this mornin’ from Choctaw Ridge
Today, Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”
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 shame about Billie Joe, anyhow
Seems like nothin’ ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge
And now Billy Joe MacAllister’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge
And brother said he recollected when he, and Tom, and Billie Joe
Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show
And wasn’t I talking to him after church last Sunday night?
“I’ll have another piece-a apple pie; you know, it don’t seem right
I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge
And now you tell me Billie Joe’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”
And mama said to me, “Child, what’s happened to your appetite?
I’ve been cookin’ all morning, and you haven’t touched a single bite
That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today
Said he’d be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh, by the way
He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge
And she and Billie Joe was throwing somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge”
A year has come and gone since we heard the news ’bout Billie Joe
And brother married Becky Thompson; they bought a store in Tupelo
There was a virus going ’round; papa caught it, and he died last spring
And now mama doesn’t seem to want to do much of anything
And me – I spend a lot of time pickin’ flowers up on Choctaw Ridge
And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge