"Ode To Billie Joe" as written by and 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"

And 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"
And 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

And 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"

And 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 and gone since we heard the news 'bout Billy Joe
And 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 want to 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 submitted by fLiCkErBiTcH

"Ode to Billie Joe" as written by Bobbie Gentry

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Ode To Billie Joe song meanings
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  • +2
    My InterpretationOzquonk is right. Having lived through the original songs release, it was wildly popular, with everyone wanting to know what they threw off the bridge. Capitalizing on this popularity, the artist (Bobby Gentry) said in several interviews that she hadn't thought that part out yet. End of story. The original HAD no specific meaning. BUT, people wanted more, and there was money to be made, so the TV movie was made with then "modern" themes of forbidden love and young teen boy confused sexuality resulting in a homosexual tryst he immediately felt so shamed about, that it (in the TV movie version) ultimately led to his arguing with his girlfriend on the bridge (of his being "I am so unworthy" sort) that in anger, despair, confusion, and self-loathing, he grabs her doll and throws it off the bridge (This plot device simply to give the answer everyone wanted to regarding what was thrown off the bridge). Later, he kills himself. REALLY END OF STORY. However, the cool thing about trying to figure out song, poem, novel meanings, etc. is how we can interpret the artists vision. I especially think that the pregnancy, stillbirth, abortion, etc. visions are as good an interpretation of what it could be about, whether by artist design or not, as any other.
    arslongaon September 17, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThe bad movie had nothing to do with the original song (think Godfather III).
    In the time the song seems to be taking place, there were no Oprah’s or Dr.Phil’s. People just didn’t delve into the “meaning of life”at the table. Adults talked about adult things and kids were not to talk about adult subjects.When Bobbie Gentry was asked about the meaning of the song, she pretty much said it is what it is.(Not unlike Dylan said about HIS lyrics.In the Deep South, farm life was harsh. People were divided into useful (Brother Taylor), and useless (Billy Joe). There was no place for in between, no reason to spend a lot of time on the “useless”.
    When this song first came out, there was an immediate association with Hamlet’s Ophelia with references to water and flowers. (Were people more literate in ’67?) Ophelia was driven mad with the empty love of Hamlet and the death of her father.
    Ophelia’s Flower speech from Hamlet: "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that's for thoughts," said Ophelia to her brother Laertes. "There's fennel [empty fulfillment] for you, and columbines [foolishness]. There's rue [bitterness] for you, and here's some for me; we may call it herb of grace o' Sundays. O, you must wear your rue with a difference. There's a daisy. I would give you some violets [humility] , but they withered all when my father died."
    To me the song is about the quiet pain in the human heart, and how little it means to those around us.
    Muckeron June 21, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI think the meaning of it has to do with the fact that Billy Joe was her boyfriend, but the family was clueless about that fact. The girl obviously didn't want them to know, either. That was obvious by the mom mentioning her being seen with Billy Joe, as if it was a surprise that she would have been with him?Could be cause she knew her father and brother didn't really care for him, so didn't want the hassle, maybe too young, the old south, or whatever. They start to make it seem like her cover is blown, due to the fact that Brother Taylor "said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on choctaw ridge". The other irony is the indifference the other family members express toward a young man in their community committing suicide, as if it is so insignificant. The father and brother couldn't resist throwing a dig at Billy Joe. The Mom, of course is portrayed as a typical caring mother who felt bad and had the maternal instincts and some compasssion. Of course, the girl is suffering, but doesn't want to blow the cover, so she stays quiet. It's certainly not about an abortion, misscarriage, baby being thrown off.
    ANTHONYMASOon August 09, 2011   Link
  • +2
    Song MeaningI too, like at least one other commenter here, think the spelling of “Billie Joe” is a hint to the meaning of this song. It is the female spelling and yet the same spelling doesn’t appear in the song. (Here I assume that the song lyrics were transcribed from the original source and reflect the intended spelling) Also , I believe it is clear that the girl telling the story had a relationship with Billy Joe (the boy who jumped off the bridge). She is, after all, very upset by the news. As well, it seems clear that her family has no idea that she had a relationship with Billy Joe as they discuss his death so callously and when she reacts they don’t seem to have any idea why. The big mystery is, of course, what did they throw off the bridge? I suggest that the girl had a miscarriage and that something about it made Billy Joe feel very guilty–perhaps it was induced in some way, either by word or deed–thus his tragic suicide and her regret. Oh yes, and the of course the fetus was girl prematurely named Billie Joe, after the father. A sad, sad tale indeed.
    poetrymanon September 12, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI love this song. It is sad and slow and touching.

    I think the implied message is that the speaker of the song, the teenage girl, was in love with Billy Joe. One possible interpretation is that they were going out, and she dumped him the day before he killed himself. This would be what the preacher would have been refering to.
    J.J.on April 10, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI always wondered if she actually pushed Billy Joe off the bridge...but the chorus keeps repeating that Billy Joe jumped. That means he willingly jumped of his own accord. It could be considered that Billie Joe and the young girl had a child outside of wedlock. It could even be that they drowned the child in order for them not to be reviled by everyone they know. Having a child out of wedlock a mortal sin back before everything became all the more liberal. All in all, this is one the best story songs ever written.
    OpinionHeadon October 31, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentMy thought is that this was a self-administered abortion. A couple clues that lead me to this thought:

    the father disapproves of Billy Jo - while not iron-clad, it reveals a reason for the singer to keep the relationship quiet

    the singer is visibly upset to hear the news - again, not a hard reason for abortion, but it implicates her directly in the reason

    the item they throw, while possibly a token of love, probably isn't -- Brother Taylor says he saw the singer AND Billy Jo thowing something. If it was a token of love, why would Billy Jo be throwing it, too? More likely he and Billy Jo are throwing something that they SHARE. Otherwise, the phrasing would be different. Something about the singer threw something off the bridge, and Billy Jo got upset, or some other phrasing.

    Lastly, the flowers. Flowers represent a lot of things, but in this context, they've got to represent life. She picks flowers - in essence, killing them - and then throws them into the river. The symbolism can't be missed. The life of the fetus, snuffed out in the same fashion, the life of Billy Jo, also ended prematurely --- and both they, and the flowers, go into the river. Notice, she drops the flowers - she doesn't throw them. If she threw them, you could maybe see that as being connected to the throwing, pushing, or killing of Billy Jo. Instead, she's simply dropping them. Adding their terminated lives to the terminated lives of Billy Jo and the baby.
    Sir_Larrikinon December 30, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentJust heard this song after many years, and there's not a doubt in my mind that what they were throwing was something innocuous, probably flowers, marking the hopelessness of their love.
    wildwilly1111on March 10, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIm almost certain the song is about the girl and billyjoe having a child which was either stillborn or died soon after ,this was what was thrown off the bridge and billyjoe couldnt live with guilt, I once saw the film and am sure thats what happened
    cloverleafon June 10, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentGood analysis Sir_Larrikin. Pretty insightful.

    Cloverleaf mentions a movie, and it's true in the 70's they did make one based on this song. From what I understand, in the film Billy Joe jumps because he thinks he's gay and what he throws off the bridge is a doll. There's nothing in the song that implies either of these things. I don't see the film as offering the "true" meaning of the song's story.
    J.J.on February 18, 2005   Link

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