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And now, flip on the mic, let’s Rock On …
Dog Days of Summer Distraction
Today, there are so many devices and distractions to help take your mind off the heat. August 1967 … not so much. We did have the radio, though. And this month, 50 Years Ago, we were properly distracted …
Dinner table conversations, summer BBQs, and breaks in our cruisin’ the drag, always included the questions, “What do you think Billie Joe McAllister and his girlfriend threw off the Tallahatchie Bridge?” and, “Oh, why did Billie Joe jump off the bridge?”
Bobbie Gentry’s haunting song, “Ode to Billie Joe,” whispered across heatwaves and followed us into refreshing swimming pools. While July radio listener surveys gave us a “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (Monkees), “Ode” hit the top of the charts early August, for stations like KFRC/San Francisco; though KEXO/Grand Junction, Colorado, took ‘til month’s end to run it up into the top twenty. (Featured Survey)
Throughout August 1967, we all had our suspicions. Just not all the same ones—flowers? engagement ring? drugs? even a baby, were popular theories—and Gentry let us speculate wildly, without comment.
It was a super-summer distraction though! Couple of fun facts:
♪ Says the storyline at PerformingSongwriter.com, before Capitol Records cut it down for release, “Ode” rivaled “Light My Fire,” at seven minutes long, and graced the flipside of “Mississippi Delta.” That was also, “… the days when DJs still had minds of their own, and as in the stories of so many classic hits, the B-side became the A-side.”
♪ The song’s title is spelled with “Billie” but the resulting movie in 1976, switched it to “Billy.”
♪ The old Tallahatchie Bridge barely reached twenty feet above the water; hardly enough height to cause death. But it kept local cops busy throughout the summer, plucking wayward folks intent on death, from the river.
♪ Gentry didn’t want us to go off on a tangent about what was thrown off the bridge. Her point, was the narrating family’s unfeeling, detached chatter at the dinner table that reflected how she felt about society. "Well, Billie Joe never had a lick of sense; pass the biscuits, please …”
♪ Rumor has it that Gentry wrote the song, loosely based on a local true story from a decade-plus before. But there is no definitive proof, and the reclusive lady’s not talkin’.
Do we ever learn the answers to the questions? Uh … no. Like, “what happened to Bobbie Gentry” after Billie Joe’s success … we may never know what they tossed off the bridge, or why he jumped … or where the songwriter retired to and why she left the music biz.
Featured Radio Survey: KEXO’s streetfront window was pretty hip for a 1,000-watts-to-250-watts-at-sunset, station. It kept Grand Junction hoppin’ in its early Rock & Roll days. Were you listening to KEXO, August 26, 1967? Who was your fave jock? Cousin Phil, Ron Conley, or … there’s more …
Celebrate JULY 1967: 50 Years Ago and … Rock On!
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