May 7, 2011

From 1968: The Most Haunting Song Ever Recorded

Today Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge...

On The Smothers Brothers Summer Show in July 1968, Bobbie Gentry performs her hit "Ode To Billy Joe" live.

It captured the mood that had engulfed the nation at that point: Bobby Kennedy had been murdered a mere month before, Martin Luther King, Jr., had been gunned down in April, racial unrest continued to tear the very fabric of the United States apart, and disenchantment among young and old alike about the Vietnam War continued to spread. And roughly a month after this broadcast, Chicago would erupt in violence at the Democratic National Convention.

"Ode To Billy Joe" was a smash hit in 1967, this odd little song with just Bobbie Gentry's sweet voice and her guitar accompaniment. There is speculation even today as to what the narrator and Billy Joe were " the Tallahatchie Bridge."

Some say it was a veiled antiwar anthem; that the girl and Billy Joe were throwing his draft notice into the murky waters, and that Billy Joe committed suicide rather than be deployed to Vietnam.

A more common interpretation is that it is a tale of love gone wrong; that the narrator had had an illegal abortion, ostensibly Billy Joe's child, and that after throwing the aborted fetus off the bridge into the murky waters that would keep their secret, Billy Joe committed suicide in remorse.

Whatever the scenario, whatever the song's meaning, the ending is just perfect:

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



  1. Anonymous07 May, 2011

    Your blog continually sets the bar higher for other blogs.

  2. DiscoDollyDeb08 May, 2011

    I seem to recall that someone said that it was an old Southern custom to throw flowers in the river (or lake or pond or bayou or creek) to symbolize the end of a relationship. I've lived in the South off and on for decades and never heard anyone confirm this. I actually think the song is better for us not really knowing what they were doing.

    BTW, if you've never seen the dreadful movie made from this song in the 1970s, do yourself a favor and don't bother.