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This song tells the story of a guy who kills himself by jumping off the Tallahatchie Bridge. There really was a Tallahatchie Bridge in Greenwood, Mississippi, but Gentry made up the story. The Tallahatchie Bridge collapsed in 1972.
Gentry: "The message of the song revolves around the nonchalant way the family talks about the suicide. The song is a study in unconscious cruelty."
Gentry sent a demo to the record company with just her voice and an acoustic guitar. They were so impressed with this rendition of the song that instead of re-recording it, they added strings and orchestration to the original demo, resulting in the version that became a huge hit. (thanks, Bob - Grand Blanc, MI)
When this became a hit, Rolling Stone magazine reported that it was only a 20 foot drop off the bridge and the water was deep enough so you would not get hurt. Of course, lots of people went to the bridge and jumped, which drove the local police nuts.
A movie of the same name was made based on this song in 1976. Gentry re-recorded this for the soundtrack.
In the song, Billie Joe throws something off the bridge the day before he jumps. Many people speculated that it was a baby, which led to his suicide. In the movie, it he throws over a rag doll and jumps because he thinks he might be gay.
Bobbie Gentry was born Roberta Lee Streeter. She was born July 27, 1944 in Cickasaw County Mississippi. After seeing Ruby Gentry, a 1952 movie with Jennifer Jones and Charlton Heston, she started using Bobbie Gentry as a stage name. (thanks, Julio - McAllen, TX)
Gentry won the Best New Artist Grammy the year this was released.
An instrumental version by The Kingpins hit #28 US that year.
The Beach Boys did a reply to this song called "Ode to Betty Joe" on their album Unsurpassed Masters, Vol. 20 (1968-1969), released with the song "It's Time." The two songs are not Beach Boys recordings, but performed by a comedy and musical group hired by the Beach Boys called the Pickle Brothers (the support group for the Beach Boys' live performances). The two songs later became recorded, pressed, and presumably vended at concerts. (thanks, Brandon - Seattle, WA)
The Ode To Billy Joe album topped the album chart displacing the Beatles' Sgt Pepper after its 15 week run at #1.
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