Jeannie C. Riley
Jeannie C. Riley
|Birth name||Jeanne Carolyn Stephenson|
|Born||October 19, 1945|
Stamford, Texas, United States
|Origin||Anson, Texas, United States|
|Genres||Country music, gospel|
|Labels||Little Darlin Records|
Warner Bros. Records
Jeannie C. Riley (born Jeanne Carolyn Stephenson; October 19, 1945) is an American country music and gospel singer. She is best known for her 1968 country and pop hit "Harper Valley PTA", which missed by one week simultaneously becoming the Billboard Country and Pop number-one hit.
In subsequent years, she had moderate chart success with country music, but never again duplicated the success of "Harper Valley PTA". In the mid 1970's she became a born-again Christian and began recording gospel music during the late 1970s.
Early life and rise to fame
Jeanne Carolyn Stephenson was born in 1945 in Stamford, Texas. As a teenager, she married Mickey Riley and gave birth to a daughter, Kim Michelle Riley on January 11, 1966. Later, they moved to Nashville, Tennessee, after receiving a letter from Weldon Myrick, who heard a demo tape of Jeannie's and believed she could be successful.
In Nashville, Riley worked as a secretary for Passkey Music while recording demos on the side.
Riley's career was stagnant until former Mercury Records producer Shelby Singleton received a demo tape of Riley's voice. Singleton was starting and succeeding with his own label, Plantation Records, at the time. He worked with Riley in the recording of the Tom T. Hall demo song that Singleton saw potential in, "Harper Valley PTA." The record quickly became one of the best-known country music songs of all time. Riley was the first woman to hold the Number 1 spot on the Pop and Country charts at the same time.
The success of "Harper Valley PTA"
"Harper Valley PTA" was released in 1968. Written by Tom T. Hall, the single immediately became a hit for Riley and went to top both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Country Songs charts, a feat not repeated by a female artist until Dolly Parton's 1981 hit "9 to 5". The track is about a widowed woman by the name of Mrs. Johnson, who confronts a group of members of the PTA after her daughter brings home a note from school that is critical of her mother's (Mrs. Johnson's) habits of wearing miniskirts, going out with men, and other behavior of which they do not approve. The climax of the song comes when Mrs. Johnson turns the tables on the PTA and exposes their hypocrisy one member at a time, noting that their private behavior is far worse than what their letter criticized her for.
Riley became an overnight sensation as the single earned her the Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and was named the Country Music Association Single of the Year. Riley also became one of the few country artists ever nominated in the major pop Grammy Award categories of "Best New Artist" and "Record of the Year". Globally it sold over five and a half million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. just four weeks after the song's release. The album of the same name sold over one million units to gain a further gold disc for Riley.
The song was a phenomenon which led to Riley making country music history in 1969 as the first female vocalist to have her own major network variety special, Harper Valley U.S.A., which she hosted along with Jerry Reed and featured performances by Mel Tillis and the song's writer, Tom T. Hall.
After "Harper Valley PTA"
—Review of Jeannie C. Riley's Greatest Hits in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981)
During the late 1960s and into the very early 1970s, Riley ranked among the most popular female vocalists in the country music industry. She had five Grammy Award nominations and four Country Music Association nominations, and performed a duet with Loretta Lynn. She had success on the country charts again, but on a lesser scale.
Other hits following "Harper Valley PTA" include "The Girl Most Likely," "There Never Was A Time," "The Rib," "The Back Side of Dallas," "Country Girl," "Oh Singer," and "Good Enough to Be Your Wife."
Riley became known as much for her sex appeal and beauty as for her music, foreshadowing Shania Twain and other contemporary female vocalists by nearly three decades. At a time when many country queens were keeping a wholesome image by wearing gingham dresses, Riley kept in tune with typical late-1960s fashion by donning miniskirts and go-go boots for her stage outfits (somewhat in the character of the protagonist in "PTA"). Her mod persona opened doors (and perhaps started a sexual revolution) in country music, as hemlines of other female country artists' stage outfits began rising in the years that followed. But Riley was not comfortable with that image, and she eventually abandoned it for a more traditional wardrobe (floor-length gowns and ankle-length dresses typically worn by other female country artists). In the 1993 CBS documentary The Woman of Country, she noted that during the "Harper Valley" period, her publicist and manager were largely responsible for creating and playing up her sexy image (matching the character pictured on the "Harper Valley" album cover).
Late 1970s and the 1980s
Riley left Plantation Records for MGM Records in 1972, recording several albums, but only two of her singles from the period, "Good Morning Country Rain" and "Give Myself A Party," cracked the top 30. Later stints at Mercury Records and Warner Bros. Records produced only a couple of charted singles, but Riley remained in demand as a concert artist well into the 1980s.
In the mid 1970s, she became a born again Christian and began recording gospel music. As result of her conversion, she distanced herself from "PTA" for a time, due to its content. However, the song remained part of her live set and she still performs it in her shows. In 1980, she published her autobiography, From Harper Valley to the Mountain Top, which told her story of stardom in pop music to moving into gospel music. The following year, she released a new gospel album with the same title.
At the height of her career, Jeannie and Mickey Riley divorced in 1970. Following her shift away from country music to gospel, they remarried in 1975 and settled in Franklin, Tennessee. After the release of Jeannie's autobiography "From Harper Valley to the Mountaintop" and a gospel album of the same name in 1980, Jeannie suffered a bout of depression and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The Rileys divorced again in 1991. Two years later, Mickey moved back in to help take care of Jeannie, who was suffering from severe depression, an arrangement that continued until he remarried three years later. In 2012 Jeannie married Billy Starnes, a childhood friend.
|Harper Valley PTA||1||12||5||Gold|
|1969||Yearbooks and Yesterdays||9||187||—||—|
|Things Go Better with Love||14||142||—||—|
|The Generation Gap||34||—||—||—|
|1971||The Girl Most Likely||—||—||—||—|
|1972||Give Myself a Party||—||—||—||—|
|Down to Earth||43||—||—||—|
|The World of Country||—||—||—||—|
|1973||When Love Has Gone Away||40||—||—||—|
|1977||From Nashville with Love||—||—||—||—|
|1979||Wings to Fly||—||—||—||—|
|1980||Greatest Hits Volume Two||—||—||—||—|
|1981||From Harper Valley to the Mountain Top||—||—||—||—|
|1986||Jeannie C. Riley||—||—||—||—|
|1991||Here's Jeannie C.||—||—||—||—|
|2000||Good Ol' Country||—||—||—||—|
|2002||The Very Best of Jeannie C. Riley||—||—||—||—|
|2013||Harper Valley P.T.A.: The Plantation Recordings 1968-1970||—||—||—||—|
|US Country||US||CAN Country||CAN|
|1968||"Harper Valley PTA"A||1||1||1||1||Harper Valley PTA|
|"The Girl Most Likely"||6||55||1||34||Yearbooks and Yesterdays|
|1969||"The Price I Pay to Stay"||35||—||22||—||Sock Soul|
|"There Never Was a Time"||5||77||12||76||Things Go Better With Love|
|"The Back Side of Dallas"||33||—||—||—|
|1970||"Country Girl"||7||106||16||—||Country Girl|
|"Duty, Not Desire"||21||—||13||—||The Generation Gap|
|"Good Enough to Be Your Wife"||7||97||22||67|
|"Roses and Thorns"||15||—||15||—|
|"The Lion's Club"||—||—||36||—||N/A|
|"Houston Blues"||47||—||—||—||Give Myself a Party|
|1972||"Give Myself a Party"||12||—||37||—|
|"Good Morning Country Rain"||30||—||—||—||Down to Earth|
|1973||"When Love Has Gone Away"||44||—||—||—||When Love Has Gone Away|
|"Another Football Year"||57||—||—||—||N/A|
|"Plain Vanilla" (with The Red River Symphony)||89||—||—||—||N/A|
|1976||"The Best I've Ever Had"||94||—||—||—|
|1977||"Reach for Me"||—||—||—||—|
|1979||"It's Wings That Make Birds Fly"||—||—||—||—||Wings to Fly|
|1982||"From Harper Valley to the Mountain Top"||—||—||—||—||From Harper Valley to the Mountain Top|
|1984||"Return to Harper Valley"||—||—||—||—||Total Woman|
|1991||"Here's to the Cowboys"||—||—||—||—||Here's Jeannie C.|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart|
- A "Harper Valley PTA" was certified Gold by the RIAA. "Harper Valley PTA" also made the Adult Contemporary Charts, hitting #4. In the UK, it went to #12 Pop.
|Year||Single||Peak positions||Original A-side|
|US Country||US||CAN Country|
|1969||"Things Go Better With Love"||34||111||3||"The Back Side of Dallas"|
|1970||"The Generation Gap"||62||—||—||"My Man"|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart|
Note: The single of "Things Go Better With Love" and "The Back Side of Dallas" seems to have been published in several different formats. Some label "Things Go Better..." as the A side while others do not letter the sides. One photo available online of an unlettered single has the "Back Side ..." side stamped "PLUG SIDE". Evidently the label changed its mind at least once about which side to promote.
|1991||"Here's to the Cowboys"|
Awards and nominations
|1968||Grammy Awards||Record of the Year, "Harper Valley PTA"||Nominated|
|Best New Artist||Nominated|
|Best Female Country Vocal Performance "Harper Valley PTA"||Won|
|CMA Awards||Single of the Year, "Harper Valley PTA"||Won|
|Album of the Year, "Harper Valley PTA"||Nominated|
|Female Vocalist of the Year||Nominated|
|1969||Grammy Awards||Best Female Country Vocal Performance, "The Back Side of Dallas"||Nominated|
|CMA Awards||"Female Vocalist of the Year"||Nominated|
-  Archived August 26, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
-  Archived June 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
-  Archived August 26, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
- "Jeannie C. Riley". IMDb.ciom. Retrieved October 3, 2019.
- Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. pp. 246–247. ISBN 978-0-214-20512-5.
- "Harper Valley, U.S.A. (1969)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2015-08-20.
- Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: R". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved March 12, 2019 – via robertchristgau.com.
- "Jeannie C. Riley". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2015-08-20.
- Murphy, Brien. 'Harper Valley' singer finds strength in faith. Archived 2008-06-12 at the Wayback Machine Abilene Reporter-News, August 12, 2000. Retrieved 2008-02-09.
- https://roundtop.com/culture/jeannie-c-rileys-road-to-love/ "Jeannie C. Riley's Road to Love", Lorie A. Woodward, Roundtop.com
- "Single Reviews" (PDF). Billboard. July 20, 1991.
- "Jeannie C. Riley - The Back Side Of Dallas". Discogs.
- https://www.tcmhof.com/latest-inductees/42-2019-jeannie-c-riley Riley's entry on the TCMHF website
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jeannie C. Riley.|
- Jeannie C. Riley at IMDb
- Jeannie C. Riley at AllMusic
- From Harper Valley to happiness: Jeannie C. Riley has a new lease on life and a new-old love Williamson Herald article by Donna O’Neil, 15 August 2012