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‘Ode to Billie Joe’ a Great and Timeless Song But a Terrible Movie [VIDEO]

It’s one of the greatest songs ever written. It was actually a much bigger pop hit than a country hit. But I think it epitomizes why most people begin to love country music in the first place:

It tells a great story.

Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” is the story of how a small Mississippi community–and one family, in particular–reacts to the shocking and mysterious suicide of a local teenage boy that everyone knew, and knew well.

Gentry never comes out with it and tells us exactly why he did it. She just gives us little slices of life and conversations around a dinner table and relies on us to make up our minds.

Unfortunately, when the song became a movie in 1976–starring Robby Benson, the go-to actor for troubled young men in the 70s–it gave us reasons for the suicide and it told us what was thrown off the Tallahatchie Bridge at the end. And neither were satisfactory.

Either get a good writer and interpreter, or leave this classic story-song alone. Fortunately, the film has been forgotten and the song is immortal…and one of many great old songs you’ve been hearing on this Blast from the Past Weekend. Happy Memorial Day!

The clip below is a live performance of the song from the 60s variety series The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.


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