Jeannie C. Riley (Jeanne Carolyn Stephenson)

Harper Valley P.T.A.


Maybe this post is a little obvious for this series, perhaps even a little lazy? It seems such an obvious contender. I hope you’ll enjoy the lyrics, the twee name of the record label and the very ‘country’ name of one of the record label owners.

Signed initially to Little Darlin Records, co-owned by Johnny Paycheck and Aubrey Mayhew, Riley released the LP Sock Soul in 1968 – it didn’t chart in the US. In the same year she released a single and LP both titled Harper Valley P.T.A. on Plantation Records. The song was originally recorded by Margie Singleton, also in 1968.

Written by Tom T. Hall who was nicknamed “The Storyteller”, which is apt given he wrote many other songs and 9 books, Riley’s version of the song sold over six million copies as a single. It 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 un-repeated until Dolly Parton‘s “9 to 5” in 1981.

Hall has since said “ The story is a true story. I didn’t make the story up; I chose the story to make a statement, but I changed the names to protect the innocent. … I was about nine years old and heard the story and got to know this lady. I was fascinated by her grit. To see this very insignificant, socially disenfranchised lady – a single mother – who was willing to march down to the local aristocracy read them the riot act, so to speak, was fascinating. I wrote the song 30 years later; that song was my novel.”

On hearing this song some years after it’s release, I was taken by this strong woman Mrs Johnson, who wouldn’t take shite from anyone and had the keenest, highly-justifiable, observational put-downs. There was always a giggle to be found at the line “And if you smell Shirley Thompson’s breath You’ll find she’s had a little nip of gin”. My sister-in-law was called Shirley Thomson. Cue giggles.

I wanna tell you all the story ’bout
A Harper Valley widowed wife
Who had a teenage daughter
Who attended Harper Valley Junior High
Well her daughter came home one afternoon
And didn’t even stop to play
And she said mom, I got a note here from the Harper Valley PTA

Well the note said Mrs. Johnson
You’re wearin’ your dresses way too high
It’s reported you’ve been drinking
And a-running round with men and goin’ wild
And we don’t believe you oughta be a-bringin’ up
Your little girl this way
And it was signed by the Secretary
Harper Valley PTA

Well, it happened that the PTA was gonna meet
That very afternoon
And they were sure surprised
When Mrs. Johnson wore her miniskirt into the room
And as she walked up to the blackboard
I can still recall the words she had to say
She said I’d like to address this meeting of the Harper Valley PTA

Well there’s Bobby Taylor sittin’ there
And seven times he asked me for a date
And Mrs. Taylor sure seems to use a lotta ice
Whenever he’s away
And Mr. Baker can you tell us why
Your secretary had to leave this town?
And shouldn’t widow Jones be told to keep
Her window shades all pulled completely down

Well, Mr Harper couldn’t be here
‘Cause he stayed too long at Kelly’s Bar again
And if you smell Shirley Thompson’s breath
You’ll find she’s had a little nip of gin
And then you have the nerve to tell me
You think that as a mother I’m not fit
Well this is just a little Peyton Place
And you’re all Harper Valley hypocrites

No, I wouldn’t put you on because it really did
It happened just this way
The day my mama socked it to the Harper Valley PTA
The day my mama socked it to the Harper Valley PTA

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

mp3 : Jeannie C. Riley – Harper Valley P.T.A.

Here’s the original take on it:-

mp3 : Margie Singleton – Harper Valley P.T.A.

And, for completeness, the 1984 sequel:-

mp3 : Jeannie C. Riley – Return to Harper Valley