Saturday, October 4, 2008

Some Bobbie Gentry Love with The "Ode to Billie Joe"




The "Salute to Bobbie Gentry Week" continues but since it is Saturday, I guess it is already over and oh yeah, I never told anyone it was our local favorite Bobbie Gentry's week to begin with. So sue me-- I was busy! It's not like you needed advance warning in order to send out "Salute to Bobbie Gentry Week" greeting cards.

You should have known it was "Salute to Bobbie Gentry Week" by my post on Wednesday referring to her 1968 hit "Harper Valley PTA" which for some unknown reason she recorded under the name "Jeannie C. Riley."

So what was the suicidal Billie Joe and the narrator throwing off the Tallahatchie Bridge in the "Ode to Billie Joe?" I recall endless debates over this at the time in rural Indiana on our shared party line with most thinking it was her prom corsage or perhaps, "Jeannie C. Riley."

We once eavesdropped on party line fave Rhonda Pemberton (two rings!) and heard her speculate that it might have been the narrator's baby but we discounted this because it was clear in the song she wasn't married.

Remember I grew up in rural Southwestern Indiana and there was no premarital sex at the time. There was a plethora of premature babies born 4-7 months after the wedding that were fully developed, weighed around 8 pounds and in some cases, had the only full set of teeth in the family but we attributed that to the bracing Hoosier air, year round availability of fresh dairy and corn products and locally bottled RC Cola. Officially there was no premarital sex in the State of Indiana until it was introduced in 1984 with the arrival of the former Baltimore Colts.

By the way Rhonda "Colts" Pemberton wore an ankle bracelet so you know what kind of girl she was anyway. She smoked too. Guys: Who remembers the "S and S rule" from college?

Roberta Lee Streeter (July 27, 1944, Baltimore, MD), professionally known as Bobbie Gentry, was one of the first female country artists to write and produce her own material. She drew on her Charm City roots to compose musical vignettes of Southern Gothic United States.

Streeter married musician Bill Desire in Reno, Nevada in 1962 but the marriage lasted only briefly and was the impetus for her to change her name to "Bobbie Gentry" to avoid being known as the Streeter named Desire. In 1979, Gentry married singer-songwriter Jim "Spiders and Snakes" Stafford. Their marriage lasted 11 months. Bobbie Gentry recorded and was friends with Glen "Mac Davis" Campbell but she never saw his Phoenix rising or his lineman.

In 1967, Gentry produced the bluesy single, "Ode to Billie Joe", detailing the suicide of Billie Joe McAllister, who flings himself off the Tallahatchie Bridge. The record topped the Billboard Hot 100 for sixteen weeks in 1967 and placed #4 in the year-end chart. Rolling Stone listed it among the 50 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2001.

The LP replaced Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band at the top of U.S. charts. Bobbie Gentry won three Grammy Awards in 1967, including Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

In 1976, Max "Don't Call Me Jethro" Baer, Jr directed a feature film based on "Ode to Billie Joe" called "Ode to Billy Joe", starring Robby Benson and Glynnie O'Connor. In the movie, the mystery of the title character's suicide is revealed as a part of the conflict between his love for Bobbie "Narrator" Hartley, his emerging "homosexuality" and that whole weird Billie vs Billy thing.

In 1967 we never dreamed that there was a "homosexual" twist to the song. There were no "homosexuals" in the State of Indiana until they were introduced in 1984 with the arrival of the former Baltimore Colts.

Bobbie Gentry's re-recording of the song for the film hit the pop charts, as did Capitol's reissue of the original recording; both peaked outside the top fifty.

After a 1978 single for Warner Bros. Records, "He Did Me Wrong, But He Did It Right", failed to chart, Bobbie Gentry decided to retire from show business. Her last public appearance as a performer was on Christmas Night 1978 as a guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. After that, she retired from the business and lives quietly today in California. California is not the current home of the former Baltimore Colts.

3 comments:

lacochran said...

As a woman (Enjoli!), I'm probably not supposed to know but I am curious... what's the S&S rule? I promise I won't tell.

Herb of DC said...

Lacochran: No, sorry.

But if you run into George "Hunch" Talbot ask him. He was the one who explained it to me in one night at Indiana University.

In retrospect I suspect he had few opportunities to confirm the accuracy of the rule.

Bob said...

I don't know what the S&S rule either... but, lacochran I would guess it has something to do with some arcane, outdated reasoning suggesting that those who smoke would be more likely to engage in sexual activity. Is that correct Herb?