Bobbie Gentry ‎– Ode To Billie Joe

Capitol Records ‎– 5950
Vinyl, 7", 45 RPM


A Ode To Billie Joe 4:13
B Mississippi Delta 3:00

Companies, etc.



This version has the A-Side title on two lines.

Barcode and Other Identifiers

  • Matrix / Runout (A side deadwax): 45-57529-T2(scribed) #4(stamped)
  • Matrix / Runout (B side deadwax): 45-57421-T2(scribed) #4(stamped)
  • Matrix / Runout (Stamped in deadwax on both sides): IAM (inside a triangle)
  • Matrix / Runout (Side A Label): 45-57529
  • Matrix / Runout (Side B Label): 45-57421
  • Rights Society: ASCAP

Other Versions (5 of 35) View All

Cat# Artist Title (Format) Label Cat# Country Year
CLF 5960 Luxe Bobbie Gentry Ode To Billie Joe / Mississippi Delta(7") Capitol Records CLF 5960 Luxe France 1967 Sell This Version
CP-11240 Bobbie Gentry Ode To Billy Joe(7", Promo, RE) Capitol Records CP-11240 Australia 1976 Sell This Version
CL 15882 Bobbie Gentry Ode To Billy Joe(7", Single, RE) Capitol Records CL 15882 UK 1976 Sell This Version
5950 Bobbie Gentry Ode To Billie Joe(7") Capitol Records 5950 US 1967 Sell This Version
CL 15511 Bobbie Gentry Ode To Billy Joe(7", Single, Promo) Capitol Records CL 15511 UK 1967 Sell This Version


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December 31, 2017
edited 2 months ago

It was such a hot summer in 1967, the summer Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge, and apparently to his death, because we’ll never know for sure. And just like in the song, so many families across America were discussing this southern gothic tale over dinner, trying to piece together the clues, trying to make sense of a tragedy, trying understand things that appeared to be left unsettled, trying to answer that nagging question of “Why?”, and as in the song, it was all done so matter of factly and politely over the dinner table as the potatoes are being passed.

This was a most fertile eerie minor key haunting talking blues story for my young mind, a song that stood in stark contrast to the psychedelic 60’s, as there were bigger questions that dovetailed into this song as the war in Viet Nam raged on, as male friends were getting draft notices, then up and disappearing, never to be heard from again, as black & white televisions across the land doled out body-counts, and that nagging question of “Why?” ate away at the insides of all of us, yet through it all in those early years, we remained calm and polite, sure that there was an answer that would connect all of the dots to both the war and this song as it turned it’s way over and over in my head as I stained my feet green from cutting the grass barefoot in the middle of the day that July, where I’d get a shower, threw myself across the bed and let my hair dry, praying for a breeze of any sort to move my barkcloth curtains.

The clues and timeline I could figure out from dozens of spins of that beautiful 45 that I penned in my diary were as such (the song’s narrator is a young girl):
-Mama lectures Pa and her son about tracking dirt from the fields into the house …
-Then off handedly says that she got news from kin out at Choctaw Ridge, saying Billie Joe McAllister had jumped off of Tallahatchie Bridge …
-Now sitting around the dinner, the narrator’s farther says that he’s not surprised, because Billie Joe never had a lick o’sense, and then asks that the biscuits please be passed …
-Though not taken aback enough to pass up a piece of pie, the narrator’s brother says that he’d just seen Billy Joe down at the sawmill the day before … then goes on with a fond memory of he, Tom and Billie Joe putting a frog down the back of the narrator's dress at the picture show, and quickly pivots with remembering almost accusingly that he saw the narrator and Billie Joe talking privately after church last Sunday …
-At this point the narrator is asked by her mother why her mood has changed, why she’s apparently lost her appetite, and then, as if nothing’s really happened, goes on to say that the local preacher, Brother Taylor had suggested that he had seen Billie Joe and someone who looked much like the narrator throw something off the Tallahatchie Bridge, and that she’d invited the Preacher to dinner next Sunday, suggesting that the narrator’s mother was doing a bit of matchmaking between her daughter (the narrator) and the Preacher …
-Flash forward a year or so and we find that the narrator’s brother has married Becky Thompson and bought a store in Tupelo, along with her father dying of an infection, all of which has left her mother washed of life …
-And finally there are many return visits to the bridge, where the narrator drops flowers into the murky waters of the river …

The real story and question for most people is “What was thrown off the bridge?”, though the underlying question that was missed by so many, and missed in relation to the war in Viet Nam, was the indifference, the fact that a young man could be killed, or vanish, and life goes one, no one is actually touched with emotion, because it didn’t happen to them, and there was no one to bear witness, as all of this happened outside of the camera’s lens.

“Ode To Billy Joe” was a skillful, timely, powerful and masterful recording. Feeling that it would be better to leave things more vague and imaginative, the song was cut from its original eleven minutes and more inclusive running time, and filled it with descending scales that symbolized falling, along with full orchestration, all of which cast an intoxicating spell over the music world. “Ode To Billy Joe” is the epitome of simple grace and musical elegance. My sincere regret is that I never purchased the album, merely the 45, which I still treasure.

*** The Fun Facts: The enigma of this, her best known song, is nothing when compared to that of Bobbie Gentry in real life. In the early ’70s, she was riding high, headlining in Vegas, duetting with Glen Campbell on several hits, hosting her own TV series, and then around 1975, after contributing music to a movie based on the song, she simply checked out, becoming the J.D. Salinger of pop music, going full Norma Desmond, even if she’s living comfortably secluded just a few miles from where the bridge she made so famous once stood. She has not been heard from in going on 50 years. All requests for interviews, recordings and performances have been denied. She was said to be living in the Los Angeles, had child, has been divorced and moved back to her roots.

I’ve always felt that there was a connection to the killing of Emmet Till hidden within the lyrics of this number, as Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child” came out at about the same time, and involved an interracial couple.

There’s also the thought that Billy Joe, was actually Billie Jo, a girlfriend of the narrator who’d gotten pregnant, had an abortion and then killed herself.

The Tallahatchie Bridge collapsed in June of 1972, just five years after the infamous song.

Review by Jenell Kesler


October 27, 2013
Bobbie Gentry won Best Female Vocal and Best Contemporary Female Solo Vocal Grammy Awards for "Ode To Billie Joe".

Jimmy Haskell won a Best Arrangement Accompanying A Vocalist Grammy Award for "Ode To Billie Joe".