Harper Valley PTA

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"Harper Valley P.T.A."
Single by Jeannie C. Riley
from the album Harper Valley PTA
B-side "Yesterday All Day Long Today"
Released August 1968
Genre Country, Country pop
Length 3:16
Label Plantation
Songwriter(s) Tom T. Hall
Producer(s) Shelby Singleton
Jeannie C. Riley singles chronology
"Harper Valley P.T.A."
"The Girl Most Likely"

"Harper Valley PTA" is a country song written by Tom T. Hall and was a major international hit single for country singer Jeannie C. Riley in 1968. The song was originally recorded in July 1968 by Margie Singleton on Ashley Records A 5000. Riley's record sold over six million copies as a single. The song made Riley the first woman to top both the Billboard Hot 100 and the U.S. Hot Country Singles charts with the same song, a feat that would go unrepeated until Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" in 1981.


The song tells the story of Mrs. Johnson, a widowed mother of a teenage girl. The singer is the daughter recalling her mother's (Mrs. Johnson) story. Mrs. Johnson becomes outraged one afternoon when her junior-high school daughter brings home a note from the Harper Valley PTA, decrying Mrs. Johnson's allegedly scandalous behavior, which they view as an affront to their moral standards. In the letter, signed by the Secretary of the Harper Valley PTA, the claim is that Mrs. Johnson is setting a bad example by wearing risqué clothing and her (reported) dalliance with men and unspecified "wild" behavior. In response, Mrs. Johnson attends the PTA meeting being held that afternoon—wearing a miniskirt, to the surprise of the PTA members in attendance. Mrs. Johnson then exposes a long list of indiscreet behavior, at least as severely afoul of the town's alleged moral standards as the PTA's accusations against Mrs. Johnson, on the part of numerous meeting attendees. She concludes her smackdown by calling Harper Valley "a little Peyton Place" and calling the PTA a bunch of hypocrites.[1]

Cultural references[edit]

The song makes two references to short hemlines ("you've been 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 in 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 PTA" was released.[2]

In the final line of the song the singer reveals herself as Mrs. Johnson's daughter, with the line: "The day my mama socked it to the Harper Valley PTA", referring to the popular phrase of that period "Sock it to me" from Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. According to producer Shelby Singleton, this line was changed at the last minute at the suggestion of his "wife at the time".[3][4]


"The country singer Margie Singleton asked Tom T. Hall to write her a song similar to Bobby Gentry's Grammy-winning hit "Ode to Billie Joe", which she had covered the previous year, and which Gentry wrote and recorded in 1967. The melody is essentially the same as that of the Gentry song, but Gentry seemingly was never informed or given any credit by Hall. After driving past a school called Harpeth Valley Elementary School in Bellevue, Tennessee, Hall noted the name and wrote "Harper Valley P.T.A." about a fictional confrontation between a young widow Stella Johnson and a local PTA group who objected to her manner of dress, social drinking, and friendliness with town's men folk. Jeannie C. 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." [5]

Tom T. Hall reportedly first offered the song to Skeeter Davis, who declined. Plantation Records, the label on which Riley recorded the song, rush-released the single when they learned that both Billie Jo Spears and Margie Singleton had just recorded the song as well. Riley's record was an immediate smash; Capitol Records did release Spears' version the same week, but it failed to chart.

Hall later stated that his inspiration for the song came when one day he was passing by the Harpeth Valley Elementary School in Bellevue, Tennessee, not far from his then-home in Franklin. He liked the sound of the name and decided to write a song using a similar place name. He also reportedly wrote the song about Olive Hill, Kentucky, where Hall grew up.

The song was later the inspiration for a 1978 motion picture and a short-lived 1981 television series, both starring Barbara Eden, playing the heroine of the song, Mrs. Johnson—who now had a first name, Stella.

Several other songs in the Harper Valley PTA album also told stories of some of the other characters from the song, including Mayor Harper, Widow Jones, and Shirley Thompson.

The classic Harper Valley PTA album cover shows a minidress-clad Riley—portraying Mrs. Johnson with PTA note in hand—standing beside a girl, who is portraying the teenage daughter of Mrs. Johnson.

Jeannie C. Riley's recording of the song 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.

In the 1970s, Riley became a born-again Christian, and started to sing gospel music and briefly distanced herself from the song. However, she never dropped the song from her concerts and it was always her most requested and popular number.

Riley titled her 1980 autobiography From Harper Valley to the Mountain Top, and released a gospel album in 1981 with the same title.

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.[6]


Riley recorded a sequel song, "Return to Harper Valley", in 1984 (also written by Hall) but it was not a commercial success.

In the sequel, Riley sings as Mrs. Johnson (instead of her daughter as in the original). After purchasing a ticket to the high school dance (with the winner receiving a Stray Cats album) she decided to attend. This time she decided to wear a full-length dress and mentions how some folks changed, some for the good (Bobby Taylor, who repeatedly asked her for dates, was now paying attention to his wife, while Mr. Harper and Shirley Thompson became sober and later married) and others for the bad (Mr. Kelly never stopped his alcohol abuse and died from cirrhosis as a result, while "Widow Jones" and an unnamed young man died in a traffic accident as a result of her missing a curve due to speeding).

However, she noticed prevalent substance abuse among the youth, and initially decided to get a gun, but decided to pray instead. After remembering her own wild behavior, she decides to attend the PTA meeting the following day and share her concerns.

Chart performance[edit]

Cover versions[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Harper Valley PTA Lyrics". Metrolyrics. Retrieved 24 August 2017. 
  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. ^ Though Shelby Singleton did not mention his then-wife's name, it apparently was not Margie Singleton, since they had divorced by 1965.
  5. ^ Songfacts of Harper Valley P.T.A. by Jeannie C. Riley
  6. ^ ”Billboard Hot 100 Charts – The Sixties/The Seventies”, Record Research Inc, 1990
  7. ^ [ Flavour of New Zealand, 8 November 1968]
  8. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 291. 
  9. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 205. 
  10. ^ Cash Box Top 100 Singles, September 14, 1968
  11. ^ "Go-Set Magazine Charts". www.poparchives.com.au. Barry McKay. January 2007. Retrieved 13 July 2017. 
  12. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". collectionscanada.gc.ca. 
  13. ^ Musicoutfitters.com
  14. ^ Cash Box Year-End Charts: Top 100 Pop Singles, December 28, 1968