"Ode to Billy 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

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"Ode to Billy Joe" as written by Bobbie Gentry

Lyrics © Spirit Music Group

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Ode to Billy Joe song meanings
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  • +1
    My InterpretationI believe Billy Joe and her daughter were lovers who got pregnant. They used a coat hanger or something to abort the baby, or found someone local who would abort it. They were on the bridge throwing the baby in to the water, probably wrapped in a blanket. Billy Joe couldn't forgive himself for what he had done and killed himself. The girl is having a hard time with it too, as well as dealing with Billy Joe killing himself, so that she can't eat. The mother's words in the song and the things she is talking about show that she is totally unaware of what went on between her daughter and Billy Joe.
    BobDoon December 05, 2014   Link
  • 0
    My Opinionwhat were they throwing off the bridge?!?
    stevie443on October 29, 2012   Link
  • 0
    jordanelliotton April 10, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentQuite an inventive interpretation! However, it is way too much of a stretch. As the other reply pointed out, it does not fit with the other lyrics. For another example, the line referring to the "frog down my dress", seems like exactly what a boy might to do to tease a girl, not anther boy. Another boy would likely not be repulsed by the frog, like a girl usually would be.

    The much more likely story, is some sort of love affair between the narrator ( WHO IS FEMALE!), and Billy Joe. For some reason they feel compelled to keep the relationship a secret. That is the great mystery, along with why he killed himself. The abortion theory, makes some sense. However, why did they keep the relationship such a secret? Was he so much of an outcast ( wrong side of the tracks syndrome), that she could not have an open friendship? Was he just depressed like many teenagers?
    greg100869on October 21, 2017   Link
  • -2
    My InterpretationThe song is full of non-specific gender wording, and the song is sung by a woman, so naturally we assume the narrator is a woman. The narrator is actually a young man and he and his brother are working in the field together.
    The mom doesn’t have a daughter to help her, so she cooks all morning long to have dinner ready. A girl would not have to be told to wipe her feet. Her son, the narrator, and Billy Joe are lovers.

    Since the report is that he jumped off the bridge, everyone assumes that Billy Joe committed suicide. The Dad’s comment “never had a lick of sense” indicates he thinks the reason for Billy Joe’s suicide was stupid. Mother’s comment “it was a shame about Billy Joe, anyhow” sounds like she too thinks the problem could have been solved without resorting to suicide. Her words are filled with pity.

    “Seems like nothing ever comes to no good on Choctaw Ridge.” This is where the saw mill is located, and at night it is where there is drinking, gambling, prostitution, etc. This is the reason no one is dramatically upset about the situation, nor speculating why Billy Joe would commit suicide. He could’ve had a gambling debt he couldn’t pay, or was fearful because he found himself in a situation he couldn’t get out of without horrible consequences. The parent’s feel bad but at the same time, they’re thinking “it’s his own stupid fault…”

    Growing up as friends, the narrator’s brother and Tom were probably closer in age, as were the narrator and Billy Joe. It appears that the narrator’s brother is fondly recollecting a time from the past, when they all went to the picture show and Billy Joe put a frog down the narrator’s back (not down her dress or her blouse). Then he makes a comment about the narrator talking to Billy Joe at church last Sunday night. The brother goes on to say that he just saw Billy Joe at the saw mill yesterday and everything seemed fine. So Billy Joe committing suicide doesn’t seem right or make sense. On the surface the brother’s words seem lighthearted but in fact they are a cryptic message to the narrator that he has known about their relationship for awhile. He’s been spying on them.

    The mother’s term of endearment “child” can be used toward a boy or a girl. Since the narrator is a boy, the mother doesn’t make the connection that the news of the suicide and her brother’s words have affected him profoundly.

    Yesterday, the narrator went to see Billy Joe at the saw mill and the brother secretly followed and saw them in a compromising position. This was the final straw, so he returns to Choctaw Ridge that evening to find Billy Joe. He then kills Billy Joe by pushing him off the bridge and he breaks his neck in the fall.

    The narrator’s brother isn’t the only one in the know. Yesterday, Brother Taylor saw the narrator and Billy Joe coming from the saw mill on Choctaw Ridge after their tryst. He continued to observe them in secret while they were on the bridge. This was a ritual for the lovers, spending time together throwing flowers into the muddy waters. Since he saw them from behind, he couldn’t see what they were throwing into the river, only the motion of them doing it.

    Brother Taylor is the one who brings the news about Billy Joe’s suicide. But he is also warning the narrator that he knows about the affair. If he recognized Billy Joe on Choctaw Ridge, he would have recognized the narrator as well. Instead, Brother Taylor makes reference to a girl who resembles the narrator a lot. Once the brother hears this news about Brother Taylor and his wanting to come to dinner, he gets nervous about whether Brother Taylor knows that he killed Billy Joe.

    A year later, everyone still thinks Billy Joe committed suicide. The brother got away with it, but he made the choice to marry and leave his hometown. The father knows what happened, so he sells a good portion of his land to give his son money to start over in a new town. The guilt and stress of it all weakens the dad and he succumbs to the viral infection. He’s been dead for about 2 months now.

    The mother also knows what happened and she is wracked with guilt and hatred toward her son, the narrator, because it is all his fault that their family has fallen apart.

    The narrator cannot bring himself to leave his hometown because to do so would be to abandon his love. Instead he spends a lot of time on Choctaw Ridge picking flowers and dropping them into the muddy waters as a memorial to Billy Joe. Every day he lives with the knowledge that his love is what killed Billy Joe.
    justsaying99on July 23, 2013   Link

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