Ode to Billie Joe

The mystery of what Billie Joe McAllister and his girlfriend threw off the Tallahatchie Bridge still intrigues Mississippi music lovers.

Ode to Billie Joe is song No. 3 on The Ultimate Mississippi Playlist. The Southern Gothic ballad drew 63 percent of the vote over Kryptonite by 3 Doors Down, Porcupine Meat by Bobby Rush and Tupelo by Crooked Lettaz.

Gentry, a Chickasaw County native, wrote and sang Ode to Billie Joe, which was rare double duty for a female country artist at the time. The song was a No. 1 hit in 1967 and earned her Grammy Awards in 1968. It sold sold tens of millions of copies. Gentry headlined in Las Vegas.

And then she disappeared from public view in the early 1980s, adding her own mystery to Billie Joe’s.

Ode to Billie Joe joins The Thrill is Gone by B.B. King and Cross Road Blues by Robert Johnson, selected in the first two rounds of voting, on the playlist, which salutes the significance of Mississippi music during our state’s bicentennial celebration.

Next up, four new nominees: Black Water by the Doobie Brothers, Blue Yodel by Jimmie Rodgers, Come Monday by Jimmy Buffett and Down in Mississippi by Mavis Staples.

You can listen to the new entries and vote for your favorite on mississippitoday.org. You also can vote on our Twitter account. Every two weeks, a fresh ballot of four new nominees will be published. The top vote-getters will be revealed on The Ultimate Mississippi Playlist in December.

To be nominated, songs must be about Mississippi or performed by Mississippi artists. All of the contenders were selected by Mississippi music experts, Mississippi Today and The ‘Sip magazine.

Contenders in Round 4:

• Black Water was recorded by the Doobie Brothers in 1974 for the album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits. The song became a No. 1 hit single in spring 1975. Patrick Simmons, a guitarist and original band member, wrote the song while in New Orleans and took inspiration from his lifelong love of Delta blues and reading Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer as a child.

“Catfish are jumpin’, that paddle wheel thumpin’,
Black water keeps rollin’ on past just the same.”

• Jimmie Rodgers is known to many as The Father of Country Music. The Meridian native recorded a series of 13 Blue Yodel songs, based on the 12-bar blues format and featuring Rodgers’ trademark yodel refrains, from 1927 until his death in May 1933. The original Blue Yodel No. 1 (“T” for Texas) sold more than half a million copies. The term blue yodel sometimes is used to differentiate earlier Austrian yodeling from the American form introduced by Rodgers.

• Come Monday, written and recorded by Jimmy Buffett, was first released on his 1974 album Living & Dying in ¾ Time and was his first Top 40 hit single. Buffett, a native of Pascagoula and graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, wrote the song to his wife while he was on tour. Although it may not be as synonymous with Buffett’s island escapism as MargaritavilleCome Monday is one of the performer’s more popular songs and is part of “The Big 8” that Buffett plays for his Parrotheads at almost all of his concerts.

• Down in Mississippi is the opening track for We’ll Never Turn Back, the 11th studio album by gospel and soul singer Mavis Staples. The album was named one of the best albums of 2007 by several music writers and publications, including Rolling Stone, which placed it among the Top 50 Albums of 2007. Down in Mississippi is one of several songs on the concept album that contain lyrical themes relating to the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Though Staples was born in Chicago, she has deep Mississippi roots as a member of the family gospel group The Staple Singers, led by her father and Mississippi native “Pops” Staples.

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