Harper Valley PTA
|"Harper Valley P.T.A."|
|Single by Jeannie C. Riley|
|from the album Harper Valley PTA|
|Writer(s)||Tom T. Hall|
|Jeannie C. Riley singles chronology|
"Harper Valley PTA" is a country song written by Tom T. Hall that was a major international hit single for country singer Jeannie C. Riley in 1968. Riley's record sold over six million copies as a single. The song made Riley the first woman to top both Billboard's 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 melody is the same as "Ode to Billie Joe" a 1967 song written and recorded by Bobbie Gentry, but this has not been generally noticed.
The song tells the story of Mrs. Johnson, a widowed mother of a teenage girl, who becomes outraged when one afternoon her daughter brings home a note from her junior high school's PTA decrying Mrs. Johnson's supposedly scandalous behavior by small-town standards, which, according to the PTA, is setting a bad example for her daughter. In response, Mrs. Johnson attends the next PTA meeting (being held that same afternoon), wearing a miniskirt, to the surprise of the PTA members. She then exposes various episodes of misbehavior and indiscretion on the part of several members of the PTA, concluding with, "This is just a little Peyton Place / And you're all Harper Valley hypocrites."
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 wildly popular television show based on the earlier novel and film of the same name wherein a small town hides scandal and moral hypocrisy behind a tranquil façade. The Top 20 Nielsen show was in its 4th season when "Harper Valley PTA" was released.
In the final line of the song the singer reveals herself as Mrs. Johnson's daughter, with the memorable 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 the sketch comedy TV series Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. According to Riley's autobiography, this line was ad libbed at the recording session at the suggestion of someone at the session.
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 obviously 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.
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 Ms. 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) and others for the bad (Mr. Kelly never stopped his alcohol abuse and died from cirrhosis as a result).
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.
|U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles ||1|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||1|
|U.S. Billboard Easy Listening||4|
|Canadian RPM Country Tracks||1|
|Canadian RPM Top Singles||1|
|Australian Singles Chart||1|
|U.K. Singles Chart||12|
- Cover versions of the song appear on albums by virtually every female country singer of the period; including Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Norma Jean, Bobbi Martin, Lynn Anderson, Jeannie Seely, and Dottie West. It has been performed by Lorrie Morgan in concert and was also covered by Billy Ray Cyrus, one of very few male artists to do so.
- Stikkan Andersson wrote the Swedish lyrics. Entitled "Fröken Fredriksson", it was Björn Ulvaeus' second solo single (Polar POS 162)
- "Harper Valley PTA" was translated into Norwegian by Terje Mosnes and performed by Norwegian singer Inger Lise Rypdal. The story of the song is the same although the setting is more Norwegian; the PTA is replaced by the Board for High Morale and is part of the church. The song was censored for some time at the national broadcasting channel, due to the line: "Is it from this group I have to hear that I'm not fit, because the rim of my skirt is closer to that heaven that none of you will be allowed to enter?"
- Country singer Martina McBride covered it for the Desperate Housewives soundtrack.
- Radio personality Fez Whatley is often heard singing his own cover version on the Ron and Fez show, a version he used to sing for his family as a child.
- Sheb Wooley, in his alter-ego of "Ben Colder", produced and recorded a parody of the song, called "Harper Valley P.T.A. (Later The Same Day)".
- Tammy Faye Bakker recorded a protest song to the tune of "Harper Valley PTA" in retaliation to the scandal in which she and husband Jim Bakker were involved in the late 1980s.
- Used in Mad Men Season 6, Episode 10 "A Tale of Two Cities"
- Haralovich, Mary Beth (1999). Television, History and American Culture. Duke University Press. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-8223-2394-5.
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 291.
- Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 205.
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