We Still Don't Know What Happened In Bobbie Gentry's 'Ode To Billie Joe'

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Album cover art for 'Ode To Billie Joe,' and a publicity portrait of Bobbie Gentry. Source: Amazon; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Bobbie Gentry's "Ode To Billie Joe" was a head-scratcher. The 1967 single, which went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, told the story of Billie Joe McAllister, a young man who commits suicide for unspecified reasons. But Bobbie Gentry's "Ode To Billie Joe" has a complex structure: The story unfolds around the dinner table, where a family is discussing Billie Joe's death, and directing occasional comments toward the daughter, who narrates the song and who knew the deceased. We know how her family feels about the young man's death, we can tell the narrator is shaken and at a loss for words, and of course we'll never get Billie Joe's side of the story.

It's a mysterious Southern tale; it has something to do with love, and youth, and loss, and death. But what exactly happens is mysterious. As it turns out, what happens to Bobbie Gentry herself is mysterious too.