Harper Valley PTA

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"Harper Valley P.T.A."
Harper Valley P.T.A. - Jeannie C. Riley.jpg
Single by Jeannie C. Riley
from the album Harper Valley P.T.A.
B-side"Yesterday All Day Long Today"
ReleasedAugust 1968
GenreCountry, country pop
Length3:16
LabelPlantation
Songwriter(s)Tom T. Hall
Producer(s)Shelby Singleton
Jeannie C. Riley singles chronology
"Harper Valley P.T.A."
(1968)
"The Girl Most Likely"
(1968)

"Harper Valley P.T.A." is a country song written by Tom T. Hall which in 1968 became a major international hit single for country singer Jeannie C. Riley. Riley's record, her debut, sold over six million copies as a single, and it made her the first woman to top both the Billboard Hot 100 and the U.S. Hot Country Singles charts with the same song (but not at the same time), a feat that would not be repeated until Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" 13 years later in 1981. It was also Riley's only Top 40 pop hit.

Story[edit]

Riley sings a story about Mrs. Johnson, a "Harper Valley widowed wife" whose teenage daughter, a student at the junior high school, comes home one day with a note for her mother signed by the parent–teacher association (PTA) secretary, in which they scold her for "wearing your dresses way too high", for reports about her drinking and running around with multiple men, and that she shouldn't be raising her daughter that way. Outraged, Mrs. Johnson decides to pay an unannounced visit to the PTA, who happened to be holding a meeting that afternoon.

To the PTA's surprise Mrs. Johnson, wearing a miniskirt, walks in and addresses the meeting, exposing a long list of indiscretions on the part of the members:

  • Bobby Taylor, who had asked Mrs. Johnson for a date seven times (Mrs. Johnson also mentions Bobby's wife, who "seems to use a lot of ice" in his absence);
  • Mr. Baker, whose secretary had to leave town for an undisclosed reason;
  • Widow Jones, who leaves her window blinds wide open and little to onlookers' imaginations;
  • Mr. Harper, who was absent from the meeting because "he stayed too long at Kelly's Bar again"; and
  • Shirley Thompson, who also has a drinking problem, as evidenced by gin on her breath.

Mrs. Johnson then rebukes them for having the audacity to declare her an unfit mother, referring to the town as "a little Peyton Place" and labeling the PTA a bunch of hypocrites.[1]

In the final stanza of the song, Riley states that the story is true, and in the final line identifies herself as the daughter of Mrs. Johnson when she sings, "...the day my mama socked it to the Harper Valley PTA".[1]

Cultural references[edit]

The song makes two references to short hemlines ("you're wearing your dresses way too high"; "wore her miniskirt into the room") in reference to the miniskirt and the minidress, which had been gaining popularity in the four years since they were first introduced.

The expression "This is just a little Peyton Place" is a reference to the Peyton Place television show based on the earlier novel and film of the same name where a small town hides scandal and moral hypocrisy behind a tranquil facade. The show, then in the top 20 of Nielsen ratings, was in its fourth season when "Harper Valley P.T.A." was released.[2]

The final line of the song ("..the day my mama 'socked it to' the Harper Valley PTA") was a reference to "Sock it to me!", a very popular catch-phrase frequently used in Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. According to Shelby Singleton, producer of Riley's record, this line was changed at the last minute, at the suggestion of his "wife at the time".[3]

Inspiration[edit]

In 2005, Hall noted that he had witnessed a similar scenario when he was a child in Olive Hill, Kentucky, in the mid-1940s; the mother of one of Hall's classmates had drawn the ire of local school board members for her modern ways, and the school was taking out their frustrations on her daughter. The mother gave a verbal tongue-lashing at the school, an iconoclastic move that was unheard of at the time.[4]

Legacy[edit]

Riley, who was working as a secretary in Nashville for Jerry Chesnut, got to hear the song and recorded it herself and it became a massive hit for her. The single's jump from 81 to 7 in its second week on the Billboard Hot 100 in late August 1968 is the decade's highest climb into that chart's Top Ten.[5] Riley's version won her a Grammy for the Best Country Vocal Performance, Female. Her recording was also nominated for "Record of the Year" and "Song of the Year" in the pop field.

The song later inspired an eponymous 1978 motion picture and short-lived 1981 television series, both starring Barbara Eden as the heroine of the story, Mrs. Johnson, who now has a first name: Stella.

In the 1970s, Riley became a born-again Christian, and though she briefly distanced herself from the song when she began singing gospel music, she never excluded it from her concerts, and it was always her most requested and popular number. She titled her 1980 autobiography From Harper Valley to the Mountain Top, and released a gospel album in 1981 with the same title.

Sequel[edit]

In 1984, Riley recorded a sequel song, "Return to Harper Valley", which was also written by Tom T. Hall, but failed to chart. In the sequel, Riley sings as Mrs. Johnson, who is now a grandmother. She observes that some townsfolk conquered their vices while others did not.

Norwegian translation[edit]

"Harper Valley PTA" was translated by Terje Mosnes [no] into Norwegian as "Fru Johnsen" (lit.'Mrs. Johnsen'). A recording by Inger Lise Rypdal was released in 1968.[6] It charted for 16 weeks, peaking at first place, which it held for nine weeks in a row.[7] However, the song faced controversy over its lyrics as they discussed double standards in Christian milieu, leading to serious debate over the song in the Storting (Norwegian Parliament).[8]

Chart performance[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Harper Valley PTA Lyrics". Metrolyrics.com. Archived from the original on 2016-08-23. Retrieved 24 August 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  2. ^ Haralovich, Mary Beth (1999). Television, History and American Culture. Duke University Press. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-8223-2394-5.
  3. ^ Jarrett, Michael (2014). Producing Country: The Inside Story of the Great Recordings. Wesleyan University Press. p. 119. ISBN 9780819574657. Retrieved April 22, 2017.
  4. ^ "In the Words of Tom T. Hall". Country Music Television.
  5. ^ "Billboard Hot 100 Charts – The Sixties/The Seventies", Record Research Inc, 1990
  6. ^ Rakvaag, Geir (23 April 2014). "Fra innerst inne i en fjord" [From the very heart of a fjord]. Dagsavisen. Retrieved 5 August 2022.
  7. ^ "INGER LISE RYPDAL – FRU JOHNSEN (SONG)". Norwewgian Charts. Retrieved 7 August 2022.
  8. ^ Løken Larsen, Svend Erik (1999–2005). "Inger Lise Rypdal". SNL (in Norwegian Bokmål). Retrieved 7 August 2022. Riktig kontroversiell og enda mer populær var oppfølgeren, Fru Johnsen, en oversettelse av den amerikanske “Harper Valley P.T.A.”. Den norske teksten, av Terje Mosnes, omhandlet i likhet med originalen temaer som hykleri og dobbeltmoral i kristne miljøer; den ble prompte oppfattet som blasfemi, krevd forbudt fra indremisjonshold og seriøst debattert i Stortinget, hvorpå den solgte i over 50 000 eksemplarer. ["Fru Johnsen", a translation of the American "Harper Valley P.T.A.", was quite controversial and even more popular than the original. The Norwegian text, by Terje Mosnes, like the original, dealt with themes such as hypocrisy and double standards in Christian mileu; it was promptly perceived as blasphemy, demands that it be banned from inner mission were made and the song was seriously debated in the Storting, after which it sold over 50,000 copies.]
  9. ^ Flavour of New Zealand, 8 November 1968
  10. ^ "SA Charts 1965 – March 1989". Rock.co.za. Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  11. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944–2006 (Second ed.). Record Research. p. 291.
  12. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961–2001. Record Research. p. 205.
  13. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 Singles, September 14, 1968". Archived from the original on August 12, 2014. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  14. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Harper Valley PTA". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  15. ^ "Go-Set Magazine Charts". Poparchives.com.au. Barry McKay. January 2007. Retrieved 13 July 2017.
  16. ^ "Item Display – RPM – Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca.
  17. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1968/Top 100 Songs of 1968". Musicoutfitters.com. Retrieved 21 August 2021.
  18. ^ "Cash Box Year-End Charts: Top 100 Pop Singles, December 28, 1968". Archived from the original on October 9, 2016. Retrieved July 14, 2017.

External links[edit]