Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge and right into the hearts and minds of listeners as the subject of Bobbie Gentry’s gothic mystery in song, “Ode to Billie Joe.” The 1967 single from the country songstress – recorded far from Chickasaw County, Mississippi, in Hollywood, California – went to No. 1 on the U.S. Hot 100 while also charting on the Easy Listening, Country, and R&B (!) surveys. It topped the charts in Canada, and made an impressive No. 13 showing in the United Kingdom, and picked up four Grammy Awards out of eight nominations. It’s no wonder that, almost a decade later, Hollywood set out to answer the question of why Billie Joe took his fatal plunge. In 1976, director/producer Max Baer, Jr. (The Beverly Hillbillies‘ Jethro) and screenwriter Herman Raucher (Summer of ’42) spun off Bobbie Gentry’s four minutes of drama into a 105-minute motion picture. The soundtrack to that film, penned by the great Michel Legrand and incorporating Bobbie Gentry’s classic song, is receiving its first CD release from Kritzerland.
Robby Benson (Beauty and the Beast) starred as the subtly re-spelled Billy Joe in Ode to Billy Joe, opposite Glynnis O’Connor as his love interest, Bobbie Lee Hartley. James Best had a key role as the sawmill boss whose secret shared with Billy Joe figures into his untimely demise. The movie opened on June 4, 1976, as close as possible to the “third of June” date in the song.
To score the drama, Baer turned to Michel Legrand, an Oscar winner for his score to Raucher’s Summer of ’42. The versatile Frenchman proved an ideal match for this Mississippi story (partially shot on location), and his short score – largely consisting of variations on his central, beautiful theme – was issued on LP by Warner Bros. Records. Gentry re-recorded her seminal song to open the movie, and it was issued as a single by Warner Bros. Capitol, wanting a piece of the action, reissued Gentry’s original recording, stifling the new version’s chances as it climbed the charts. Bobbie Gentry would only record one more single – 1978’s “Steal Away” b/w “He Did Me Wrong, But He Did It Right” – before retreating three years later into a self-imposed retirement that continues to this day.
Kritzerland’s CD premiere of Ode to Billy Joe features Legrand’s score as well as the Gentry re-recording and some country-and-western source cues. It’s been remastered from the original tapes and is limited to 1,000 units only. Ode to Billy Joe will ship by the third week of June (close enough to the third day!) but pre-orders directly from Kritzerland typically arrive three to five weeks early. You can pre-order this chronicle of this not-so-sleepy, dusty Delta day at the link below!
Michel Legrand and Bobbie Gentry, Ode to Billy Joe: Soundtrack From Max Baer’s Film (Warner Bros. BS 2947, 1976 – reissued Kritzerland, 2017)
- Ode to Billy Joe (Main Title) – Bobbie Gentry (New Recording)
- By the Pond
- On the Bridge
- Morning Stillness
- There’ll Be Time (Love Theme)
- Magnolia Turn-Around (Thurman Box)
- Rattle Snake Daddy (Hoyt Ming)
- Standing Pine Breakdown (Morgan Gilmer)
- Memphis Thelma (Sherrill Parks)
- Ode to Billy Joe – End Title (Instrumental Version)