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September 13

The Revolutionary Musical Stance of Bobbie Gentry

Did you know that Bobbie Gentry, the pioneer artist behind Ode to Billie Joe, led a quiet revolution for country music?

When the song Ode to Billie Joe was released by Capitol Records in 1967, the frightening track from then-unheard of an artist, Bobbie Gentry became an instant hit. At the time of its release, the song did not have any special promotions to help its impressive rise to the charts. It surpassed the Beatles, Aretha Franklin, and the Doors until it finally snagged the number one spot. The lyrics of the song went, “That nice young preacher Brother Taylor dropped by today/ Said he’d be pleased to have dinner on Sunday/ Oh, by the way, said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge/ And she and Billie Joe was throwin’ something off the Tallahatchie Bridge”, was enough to stir the imagination and curiosity of all the listeners.

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They were left with two major questions spinning in their minds: One, ‘Who is Bobbie Gentry?’ and two, ‘What did the song’s narrator and Billie Joe McAllister throw off the Tallahatchie Bridge?’

In the fifty years that the question was left open and unanswered, speculations of a ring, a baby and any other symbolization of a secret affair surfaced as what the song was saying that was thrown into the water. But, after Gentry clarified things, it was revealed that she simply “left it open so the listener could draw his own conclusion.”

Meanwhile, Bobbie Gentry had been depicted by magazines, profiles, and media as a country bumpkin pin-up with a one-hit wonder—something that is the total opposite of the real Bobbie Gentry. While Gentry was working on the songs to include in her debut album, she told friends that she wanted to make sophisticated country music.

Gentry was a DJ on the Armed Forces Radio and also the first woman to host a variety show on BBC. There were also rumors of her artistic gift in painting, stating that she was the one who painted the covers for her albums like Patchwork and Fancy. After Ode to Billie Joe became a massive success, Gentry continued working on a career that exceeded the initial hillbilly persona that was created from her debut song.

She likewise remained elusive to interviews and the spotlight and turned away from the industry around 15 years after her initial musical achievement. Still, Bobbie Gentry’s music and mysterious yet outstanding presence in the industry of music influenced generations of listeners, young musicians, songwriters, producers and singers through time.


Tags

Bobbie Gentry, ode to billy joel


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