“Ode to Billie Joe” by Bobbie Gentry

“Ode to Billie Joe” is a narrative song detailing an event of suicide. The first stanza portrays the setting and time of how everything unfolded. It presents a normal evening with the singer’s family about to have their evening meal. It was after they were all seated that her mum revealed she had earlier heard that Billie Joe had committed suicide.

In the second stanza the singer depicts the reaction of the family after they heard the news. Her father was nonchalant about the whole story and even blamed the deceased. As for her mother, she was rather more empathetic about the story.

And her brother, on the other hand, was also reflecting about the times he had together with the victim. Even though he was brooding over the past memories it still did not stop him from enjoying his meal.  

She further expresses how the news shocked her so much that she was unable to eat.

In the final verse she describes a year after they heard the news. In the year that passed, her brother had got married; her father died from a virus and her mother was grieving for her dad.

Gentry reportedly stated that the song talks more about lack of concern of the public for tragic news.

“Ode to Billie Joe” Facts

  • Primary Artist(s): Bobbie Gentry
  • Writing: Gentry
  • Production: B Paris and K. Gordon
  • Release: July of 1967
  • Album: “Ode to Billie Joe”

What Genre is “Ode to Billie Joe”?

It is a country classic.

Chart Performance

  • United States: 1
  • United Kingdom: 13

Covers

This song has been recreated by many artists including:

  • Sinéad O’Connor (1995)
  • Lou Donaldson (1967)

Was “Ode to Billie Joe” released as a single?

Yes. In fact, the song was one of the most successful singles to be released in the United States that year.

17 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    but why did billie joe commit suicide

    • Anonymous says:

      The preacher’s son comes in and says he witnessed the narrator and Billy Joe throwing something off the Tallahatchie Bridge — it was an aborted fetus. Billy Joe committed suicide because he assisted with an illegal abortion. 3rd of June sets the time, a year elapses but the abortion came before the 3rd of June. “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 Billy Joe was throwing somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks. But why did Billie Joe kill himself and what was it the couple threw off the bridge?

  3. Lynn says:

    Bobby joe committed suicide because he was molested by the man at the party who got him drunk. And it was a shame in Bobby joes eyes, when it was really the fault of the molester.
    They threw a rag doll off the bridge.

  4. Debra says:

    That may have been the plot of the movie. When the song was released, it didn’t mention any of that. It was assumed by the listening audience of the time that they threw a ring off the bridge because she had broken their relationship off. He couldn’t live with that and jumped.

  5. Rico says:

    If it was an aborted fetus like most people thought, why didn’t the singer jump also?

  6. Rick says:

    Why doesn’t Mama question the storyteller when it becomes clear that she was up on the Ridge with Billy Jo?

  7. Anonymous says:

    THEY LOVED EACH OTHER BUT IT NEVER COULD BE BECAUSE HER FAMILY WAS SO IGNORANT.

  8. Nij says:

    It was a miscarried foetus they threw off the bridge. Billy Joe was distraught. She was upset.

    • Eugene says:

      this is clearly right. nothing else would explain the secret sadness and remorse and the memorial visits.
      only women who have miscarried
      or aborted a wanted child (and some partners) get this.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Oh give me a break!!!! All this bulls–t about an abortion is just stupid. I grew up in this time frame and there was never any indication off why. You are all just using this to further your agenda!

  10. Stephen says:

    For all those who think the fetus explanation is so laughable , I was a teenager with a transistor radio glued to my ear at the time the song was recorded. The common thought was that it was a child or fetus… that is how people interpreted that stanza.

  11. Jeff says:

    No reason is given by the song lyrics or by the artist, Bobbie Gentry. We are left only to speculate. The movie adaptation – pure Hollywood cinematic license – indicates a 1-time drunken homosexual encounter. Again, no evidence of that, or any other reason, is given by the lyrics or the artist. Totally left to your imagination.

  12. Mort Stock says:

    I never thought of the item being thrown off the bridge could have been a ring or something similar. I always thought it was a fetus but if it was wouldn’t the girl have shown some signs of early pregnancy beforehand but even so, she was off her tucker (meal) after hearing the news. But earlier in the day was “out choppin cotton, while my brother was bailing hay.” So the likelihood of pregnancy is remote. It’s all smoke and mirrors and makes people like us hypothesis about the unknown. So a ring sounds a good suggestion.

    • KP says:

      A young girl would not necessarily show much of a belly especially if she wore loose clothing. So yes she could have been pregnant and no one noticed… but the story was about how people can be unsympathetic about tragedy even in a close knit community.

  13. Marie says:

    It’s left for each individual to draw their own conclusion. No one is right and no one is wrong. It’s how you interpret it, that’s your answer.

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