Ode to Billie Joe – Bobbie Gentry (1967)

1960s: Days of Rage


“Money, Mississippi, has a population of about 100. The settlement is famous for two things. One is real: in 1955, a 14-year-old boy, Emmett Till, was lynched, a murder referred to in songs by The Staple Singers and Bob Dylan. The other is fictional: Bobbie Gentry’s ‘Ode to Billie Joe’. An atmospheric production that mixed country music with funky R&B, ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ is an enigma. Its storyline is clear enough; some of the details are not. Billie Joe McAllister has jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge in Money into the river below and, over dinner, a family offer opinions about their deceased acquaintance. Gentry sings of apple pie, cutting cotton, a prank involving frogs and, eventually, the death of the family’s father from a virus. Gradually the closeness of the song’s narrator to Billie Joe becomes apparent; she and Billie had been seen throwing something off the bridge on…

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