Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bobbie Gentry: Ode to Billie Joe

Choosing another track in August, I wrote:
The genius of Blow-Up is that, though the mystery remains unsolved, you feel that if you watch the film just once more you will crack it. The Draughtsman's Contract has the same quality.
And Ode to Billie Joe has the same quality. Listen to it once more and you are sure you will understand what is going on.

Wikipedia claims it know the reason for the mystery:
The original recording, with no other musicians backing Gentry's guitar, had eleven verses lasting seven minutes, telling more of Billie Joe's story. The executives realized that this song was a better option for a single, so they cut the length by almost half and re-recorded it with a string orchestra. The shorter version left more of the story to the listener's imagination, and made the single more suitable for radio airplay.
However, I can find no authoritative source for this claim and the lost verses seem never to have emerged. All of which makes the song even more mysterious.

Bobbie Gentry was 23 when this song, which she wrote, reached no. 1 in America and no. 13 in the UK. This video shows her singing it for the BBC the following year.

I remember it from those days and would still like to solve the mystery.


Anonymous said...

Something I read recently. 'How to give a tutorial on writing short stories. Enter room, play Ode to Billie Joe, leave.'

wolfi said...

I remember that song very well, it was one of my favourites and I also remember trying to decipher it in the late 60s.
They throw something down into the muddy water - could that be a still born baby?

wolfi said...

What I also find a mystery:
"The enigma of her best-known song is nothing compared to that of Bobbie Gentry herself. In the early ’70s, she was riding high—headlining in Vegas, duetting with Glen Campbell on several hits, hosting her own TV series. Then around 1975, after contributing music to a movie based on “Ode,” she simply checked out. She has not been heard from in over 35 years. All requests for interviews, recordings and performances have been denied. She is said to be living in the Los Angeles area."

wolfi said...

Hi Jonathan!

I'm back and I found an interesting site with a lot of info and some theories - now you/we just have to choose one:
Makes for interesting reading!