Bobbie Gentry's Ode to Billy Joe is one of those songs that sticks with you the first time you hear it. And on this day 53 years ago, listening audiences were hearing it for the first time. They enjoyed this unusual (and at the time controversial) country ballad so much, that the album and single went all the way to the top of the billboard singles charts, making it one of the biggest crossover hits of the decade.

To celebrate, here are some fun facts about Bobbie Gentry and her tale of Billy Joe.

  • The song describes Billy Joe McAllister jumping off the Tallahatchie Bridge in Mississippi. Billy Joe is fictional, but the bridge is real. It is located in Money, Mississippi, and crosses the Tallahatchie River.
  • Bobbie wrote the song herself. In fact, she wrote most of her own music and is widely considered a trailblazer for women in country music.
  • Ode To Billie Joe made history in 1967, by becoming the only album to knock off the Beatles Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band from the number one spot on the Billboard Album Charts.
  • A movie with the same name (and loosely based on the song) was released in 1976, starring Robbie Benson and Glynnis O'Connor.
  • To this day, no one knows what was thrown from the Tallahatchie Bridge. Gentry said she left it open for interpretation intentionally.
  • Bobbie Gentry quit performing, recording, and the music business entirely in the late 1970s. She's barely been seen or heard since, however, some reports have her currently living a quiet life in Los Angeles.
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