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Bobbie Gentry – Ode To Billy Joe lyrics

Words and Music by Bobbie Gentry
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"
'n' Papa said to Mama as he passed around the blackeyed peas
"Well Billy 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"
'n' Mama said it was shame about Billy 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
'n' 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 talkin' 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 ya tell me Billie Joe's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"
'n' 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 Billy Joe was throwing somethin' off the Tallahatchie Bridge"
A year has come 'n' gone since we heard the news 'bout Billy Joe
'n' 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 wanna 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

Lyrics taken from /lyrics/b/bobbie_gentry/ode_to_billy_joe.html

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Ode To Billy Joe meanings Post my meaning

  • U
    + 6
    I'm not sure where this "mixed race" theory comes from--maybe just the era? But I don't know any blacks named "macallister. " if anyone was black, it was the girl. I also don't understand the "gay" theory. Her and billie joe are obviously in love, but her mama is pushing her towards the "nice young preacher. " I'd say choctaw ridge is the "white trash" part of town because "nothing good" ever came out of it. It sounds to me like the movie people are describing took a lot of liberties. If the preacher was close enough to recognize the girl, he would have been close enough to recognize a dead body of a grown man. An aborted or suffocated baby, however, would be a nondescript little package. To tell the truth though, I think this song is much more powerful, because it doesn't spell it out. These lyrics have haunted me for years!
    Add your reply
  • U
    + 4
    Ahem. My theory, By Tomina. Ahem (Sorry I love Monty Python) It was written in the time of Vietnam, many young men were doing almost anything to avoid the draft. I believe they were seeing each other in secret. The narrator got pregnant on purpose so they could get married. She must not have been too far along because nobody noticed she was pregnant. She miscarried and they threw the little one in the water. He may have already been called up and the marriage would have saved him. Now it was too late. He committed suicide. The narrator sat with her family talking casually about Billie Joe. Listening as they talked about someone she loved and she was falling apart inside. She never got over it. The End.
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  • U
    + 4
    Take it as a simple song, and a song where something minor is blown up to tragic proportions, although similar things happen every year.
    The narrator refused to have a romantic relationship with billy joe. The song notes things two friends might have done together -- talk after church and go with a group of friends to see a movie -- and even a move that a teenage guy might do if he was interested in a girl: put a frog down her dress. What the preacher saw was billy joe and the narrator talking a possible romantic relationship and the narrator refusing. What they tossed into the river has something to do with them being together.
    Billy joe could not handle the rejection and committed suicide. The narrator doesn't think too much about it -- presumably she likes billy joe as a friend but not that kind of friend -- until she is told that billy joe has committed suicide. Thus she loses her appetite.
    It couldn't be a pregnancy -- at least in the 60s. Pregnancies tend to show and the narrator would be showing long before billy joe jumped off the bridge. Also, in a rural area like the part of mississippi where the song is set, there weren't readily available back alley abortion providers. So, it has to be something more simple and I believe that teenage angst over a rejected romantic overture is the answer.
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  • U
    + 3
    Em says:.
    The only ethnicity in this story was your basic southern white folks. No need to go any further than that. Plenty of drama to be had without adding things that aren't there. I remember when this song came out. That wasn't in there.
    As for a baby, it would have needed to be within the first trimester or it would have been noticed.
    Could billy have been g**? Possibly. But you know after all these years, the mystery is what makes this song still resonate.
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  • U
    It's about unrequited Love.

    The Nov. 6 Poster hits the nail on the head.

    The melancholy of the song is that it's something so trivial that others don't even consider it, yet it meant everything to Billy. Indeed, even more than his Life.

    The girl just saw Billy as a friend, not as a romantic partner. Billy gives her something to show his true feelings but she rejects it, and by extension him.
    In torment he commits suicide.

    The girl is stunned by this, and feels guilty.

    The last image sums this up- she liked him, sadly for Billy, not with the same intensity he felt.
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    • U
      + 6
      I'm not sure where this "mixed race" theory comes from--maybe just the era? But I don't know any... Read more →
    • U
      + 4
      Ahem. My theory, By Tomina. Ahem (Sorry I love Monty Python) It was written in the time of Vietnam,... Read more →

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