Ode to Billie Joe
Nancy Wilson Lyrics


Jump to: Overall Meaning ↴  Line by Line Meaning ↴

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin' cotton and my brother was balin' hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And Mama hollered out the back door "y'all remember to wipe your feet"
And then she said "I got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge"
"Today Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"

'N' Papa said to Mama as he passed around the blackeyed peas
"Well Billy Joe never had a lick of sense, pass the biscuits, please"
"There's five more acres in the lower forty I've got to plow"
'N' Mama said it was shame about Billy Joe, anyhow
Seems like nothin' ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge
And now Billy Joe MacAllister's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

'N' Brother said he recollected when he and Tom and Billie Joe
Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show
And wasn't I talkin' to him after church last Sunday night?
"I'll have another piece-a apple pie, you know it don't seem right"
"I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge"
"And now ya tell me Billie Joe's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"

'N' Mama said to me "Child, what's happened to your appetite?"
"I've been cookin' all morning and you haven't touched a single bite"
"That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today"
"Said he'd be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh, by the way"
"He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge"
"And she and Billy Joe was throwing somethin' off the Tallahatchie Bridge"

A year has come 'n' gone since we heard the news 'bout Billy Joe
'N' Brother married Becky Thompson, they bought a store in Tupelo
There was a virus going 'round, Papa caught it and he died last Spring
And now Mama doesn't seem to wanna do much of anything




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

Overall Meaning

The lyrics of Nancy Wilson's song Ode to Billie Joe tell the story of a family gathered around the dinner table discussing the news of a young man named Billy Joe MacAllister who had jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge. The conversation illustrates how small talk between family members can be used to mask the deeper emotions that come from trying to understand and cope with a tragedy. Despite the almost casual tone of the conversation, it becomes clear that the news has affected each family member in a different way. The singer struggles with eating while her mother tries to connect her with a preacher who recently visited and claims to have seen her on Choctaw Ridge where Billy Joe was seen throwing something off the bridge. Meanwhile, the other family members share their memories of Billy Joe, with the singer's father even saying "Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense, pass the biscuits, please."


Line by Line Meaning

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
The day was a typical, hot and dry day in the Mississippi Delta region.


I was out choppin' cotton and my brother was balin' hay
The singer and her brother were working on the farm, doing chores such as cutting cotton and baling hay.


And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
The singer and her brother took a break from their work to go back to the house for dinner.


And Mama hollered out the back door 'y'all remember to wipe your feet'
Their mother reminded them to clean their feet before entering the house.


And then she said 'I got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge'
Their mother had received some news from a nearby ridge called Choctaw Ridge.


"Today Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"
The news was that a man named Billy Joe MacAllister had committed suicide by jumping off a nearby bridge called the Tallahatchie Bridge.


'N' Papa said to Mama as he passed around the blackeyed peas
Their father brought up the subject of Billy Joe MacAllister while they were having dinner.


"Well Billy Joe never had a lick of sense, pass the biscuits, please"
Their father made a comment about Billy Joe's lack of intelligence.


"There's five more acres in the lower forty I've got to plow"
Their father changed the subject to talk about his work on the farm.


'N' Mama said it was shame about Billy Joe, anyhow
Their mother expressed sadness about the news of Billy Joe's suicide.


Seems like nothin' ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge
The singer's family believes that the area of Choctaw Ridge has a bad reputation or brings bad events.


And now Billy Joe MacAllister's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge
The artist's family continues to discuss the news of Billy Joe's suicide.


'N' Brother said he recollected when he and Tom and Billie Joe
The singer's brother shared a memory of a prank they played on the singer involving a frog at a picture show.


Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show
The singer's brother reminded her of a time when they put a frog on her back at a movie theater in Carroll County.


And wasn't I talkin' to him after church last Sunday night?
The singer remembered speaking to Billy Joe after church on a recent Sunday night.


"I'll have another piece-a apple pie, you know it don't seem right"
The artist changed the subject to ask for more pie while feeling that the recent events are uncomfortable.


"I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge"
The artist remembered seeing Billy Joe at a sawmill on Choctaw Ridge.


"And now ya tell me Billie Joe's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"
The singer's brother connected the news of Billy Joe's suicide with his recent sighting.


'N' Mama said to me "Child, what's happened to your appetite?"
The singer's mother noticed that she had not eaten much despite cooking all morning.


"I've been cookin' all morning and you haven't touched a single bite"
The artist's mother expressed concern for her lack of appetite despite her efforts in cooking.


"That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today"
The artist's mother shared the news of a visit from a friendly preacher named Brother Taylor.


"Said he'd be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh, by the way"
The artist's mother invited Brother Taylor over for dinner on Sunday while mentioning it casually.


"He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge"
Brother Taylor mentioned seeing a girl on Choctaw Ridge who resembled the singer.


"And she and Billy Joe was throwing somethin' off the Tallahatchie Bridge"
Brother Taylor saw the girl and Billy Joe throwing something off the Tallahatchie Bridge, possibly related to Billy Joe's suicide.


A year has come 'n' gone since we heard the news 'bout Billy Joe
A year has passed since the news of Billy Joe's suicide reached the singer's family.


'N' Brother married Becky Thompson, they bought a store in Tupelo
The singer's brother got married and he and his wife opened a store in Tupelo.


There was a virus going 'round, Papa caught it and he died last Spring
Their father caught a virus that was circulating and he passed away the previous spring.


And now Mama doesn't seem to wanna do much of anything
Since their father's death, their mother has lost interest in doing much of anything.


And me, I spend a lot of time pickin' flowers up on Choctaw Ridge
The artist spends a lot of time on Choctaw Ridge, possibly to remember Billy Joe and the events surrounding his suicide.


And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge
The singer drops the flowers she picks into the muddy water below the Tallahatchie Bridge, where Billy Joe ended his life.




Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
Written by: Bobbie Gentry

Lyrics Licensed & Provided by LyricFind
To comment on or correct specific content, highlight it

Genre not found
Artist not found
Album not found
Song not found

More Versions