The song has a haunting melody and draws on her rural upbringing in Mississippi. The family had been working out the fields and came in for dinner, where at the table, the mother casually mentions that "Billy Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge."
The conversation between the mother, father, son and daughter (the narrator of the story) goes back and forth from the mundane to the young man's mysterious action. There is Gothic suspense to the tale as Gentry weaves in subtle clues as to what happened on the "third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day."
And near the end of the song she throws in this revelation:
"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."
What a great story and song!
Ode to Billie Joe lyrics