Song of the Day Jan 30

January 30, 2024

This month I’m focusing on some great hits from the 60s.

Today our song is:  Ode to Billie Joe

Wikipedia tells us this about the song:

 "Ode to Billie Joe" takes the form of a first-person narrative by the young daughter of a Mississippi Delta family. It offers fragments of dinnertime conversation on the day that a local boy, an acquaintance of the narrator, jumped to his death from a nearby bridge. The account is interspersed with everyday, polite, mealtime conversation. The song's last verse conveys the passage of events over the following year.

The song begins on June 3 with the narrator, her brother and her father returning from farming chores to the family house for dinner. After reminding them to wipe their feet, the mother announces she received news from Choctaw Ridge: "Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge." The verse is repeated through the song as the story develops to "heighten the mystery." Unmoved, the father comments that "Billie Joe never had a lick of sense" before asking for the biscuits and adding "there's five more acres in the lower forty, I've got to plow." The brother then expresses his surprise, but continues eating his meal.

The mother notices her daughter is distraught and not eating. She mentions the "young preacher" Brother Taylor visited the house earlier and that they would have dinner with him on Sunday. As an afterthought, the mother adds the preacher saw Billie Joe with a girl that "looked a lot" like the daughter and that "she and Billie Joe was throwin' somethin' off the Tallahatchie Bridge." A year later, the brother marries and moves to Tupelo, Mississippi, while the father dies of an unnamed virus. Even though she expresses no sadness over her father's death, the daughter notices her mother is still distraught by it. Rather than consoling her, she routinely picks flowers and throws them off the bridge.

The song became a success because it created listener curiosity, given that Gentry did not mention what was thrown off of the bridge or why Billie Joe committed suicide. It features perfect rhymes from the first to the sixth line of every verse. Meanwhile, the fifth and sixth lines of the song repeat the rhyme of "ridge" and "bridge" in every stanza. The composition does not have a chorus. The musical phrases begin with pickup notes, while melismas and downbeats are used for the rhymes.



  1. I was eleven when this came out, and I was just transfixed by this song.


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