Harper Valley P.T.A.

Album: Harper Valley P.T.A. (1968)
Charted: 12 1


  • The country singer Margie Singleton asked Tom T. Hall to write her a song similar to "Ode To Billie Joe," which she had covered the previous year. After driving past a school called Harpeth Valley Elementary School in Bellevue, Tennessee, he 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.
  • A "PTA" is a Parent Teacher Association. Popular in small towns of the United States, the organizations work to improve school conditions and encourage communication between parents and teachers. In some cases, the members of PTAs can be righteous and petty, and the characters in this song are depicted as such. The song struck a nerve with many women who felt some empathy with the character Stella Johnson.
  • Tom T. Hall is known as a Country music storyteller and he has racked up a number of solo hits, including 7 #1 Country singles. In 1974 he had a #12 pop hit in the States with "I Love," a sentimental list of things he likes. He recalled to The Boot in a 2011 interview that the song was based on a true story. Said the songwriter: "I chose the story to make a statement but I changed the names to protect the innocent. There were 10 kids in our family. We'd get up in the morning and my mother and father would get bored with us running around and we'd go terrorize the neighbors up and down this little road we lived on. After we had done our chores, of course.

    I was just hanging around downtown when 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 and read them the riot act so to speak, was fascinating."
  • This won the 1968 Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Vocal Performance. It was also voted the Single of the Year by the Country Music Association.
  • This had the then biggest chart leap in American history, going from #81 to #7 in one week.
  • This topped both the Pop and Country charts in America, the first song by a female country artist to achieve this feat.
  • This proved to be Riley's only major Pop hit single, though she had further success on the Country charts. In the mid-'70s Riley became a Christian and began recording on the God's Country label. In 1981, she recorded the gospel album From Harper Valley To The Mountain Top. Throughout the '80s and '90s, she continued to be a popular contemporary Christian recording and performing artist.
  • This hit inspired a 1978 film and a 1981 spin-off television series, both starring Barbara Eden playing Stella Johnson.
  • Tom T. Hall, who wrote this song, had planned a career as a journalist or novelist until the success of this song threw him into the spotlight. He told The Boot: "That song was my novel. I had been reading Sinclair Lewis. As a young man I read Lewis' novels Babbitt and Elmer Gantry, which is about hypocrisy. Babbitt is, of course, about the social structure of the small town. So being a big Sinclair Lewis fan, when I wrote 'Harper Valley' I incorporated elements of Elmer Gantry into the song."

Comments: 17

  • Ladyinblack from MiamiIn 4th stanza, it is supposed to be EYES, not ICE. It means she is unfaithful.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyPer: http://www.oldiesmusic.com/news.htm {11-08-2018}...
    The Songwriters Hall of Fame announced the nominees for induction in 2019 Thursday (November 8th)...
    They include Tommy James, Lloyd Price, Cat Stevens, Beach Boy Mike Love and Jeff Lynn of ELO in the performer category and Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, L. Russell Brown & Irwin Levine (who wrote many hits for Tony Orlando & Dawn among others), Jerry Fuller (most of Gary Puckett’s hits), Jack Tempchin (many Eagles hits), P.F. Sloan & Steve Barri (“Eve Of Destruction” and hits for the Grass Roots), Tom T. Hall (“Harper Valley PTA”), Roger Nichols (several hits with Paul Williams, including some for the Carpenters) and Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham (“Cry Like A Baby” and “I’m Your Puppet”)...
    Winners will be inducted June 13th, 2019 in New York City.
  • Bill from Nashville,tnRichard....The record you remember of Harper valley pta was Ricky Page. I think on the Spar label.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaRichard, go to wicipedia with the title of this song, and it will give you other names of people who recorded it, usually.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaMr. Tom T. you must have lived in my home town when it was little. Loved the movie it was funny.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 9th 1969, Jeannie C. Riley performed "There Never Was a Time" on the CBS-TV program "The Ed Sullivan Show"...
    Fourteen days later on March 23rd, 1969 it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at #86, it remained on the chart for four weeks, peaking at #77...
    It reached #5 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart...
    On the same 'Sullivan' show she also performed "Harper Valley P.T.A." {See next post below}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn January 16th 1981, the 30 minute sitcom 'Harper Valley P.T.A.' debut on the NBC-TV network...
    The series ran for two seasons with a total of 30 episodes...
    Thirteen years earlier on August 18th, 1968 Jeannie C. Riley's "Harper Valley P.T.A." entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; and on September 15th, 1968 it peaked at #1 (for 1 week) and spent 13 weeks on the Top 100...
    It also reached #1 (for 3 weeks) on September 22nd, 1968 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart...
    Plus it peaked at #1 on the Canadian RPM Top Singles chart and RPM Country Tracks chart...
    King Curtis released an instrumental version of the song later in 1968; his version peaked at #93...
    And Ben Colder did a parody of the song, "Harper Valley PTA (Later the Same Day)", it reached #67 on the Top 100...
    R.I.P. King Curtis, born Curtis Ousley, (1934 - 1971), Mr. Colder, aka Sheb Wooley, (1921 - 2003), and Ms. Riley, born Jeanne Carolyn Stephenson, celebrated her 68th birthday three months ago on October 19th (2013).
  • Karin from Berlin, Germany@Richard: I've got a version of the song from Bobbie Gentry.
  • Mark from London, EnglandMy favourite country song.Is it possible to get a video or DVD of the film that would work on a British DVD player?
  • Richard from Norwich, CtA question about this song; I remember as a kid going with family to a rummage sale, and finding an LP record which had this song on it, but it wasn't Jeannie C Riley, or any other singers I can find on the internet; It was a female singer, but with a bit of a deeper voice, and it didn't seem to be "country" in style....

    The record since got lost or scratched...and years later I hear this song, and it just isn't the same....would anyone know who else might have sang it besides JC Riley, Loretta Lynn, or Dolly Parton?
  • Camille from Toronto, OhExactly right, Stephanie. It can sum it all up. Of course it's not understood by the younger generation; I just used the expression yesterday and my teenage son was like, "Huh? What?"
  • Stephanie from Wigtown, United KingdomI love this song. You can use it as a phrase to explain a situation and people know just what you mean.
  • Chomper from Franjkin County, PaJeannie C. Riley followed up with several other songs that followed "Haper Valley PTA" ; including "Mister harper" , about the principal or teacher , and "Little Town Square" , about the town where the Harper Valley School is located. ...Both are on her "Harper Valley PTA" album.
  • Donna from College Station, Txsong was No 2 Oct 1968 Top Singles, source Billboard 20 years ago list Oct 8, 1988
  • Madison from Norway, MeI remember watching a few episodes of the TV show but I don't ever remember a movie about this song...
  • Farrah from Elon, NcThis just goes to show that you'd better take a good look at yourself before you judge someone else.
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnThis was one of the most memorable story songs of the late 60s. I remember owning the 45 when I was seven years old on the green and white Plantation label. The flipside was titled "Yesterday and All day Long Today." It's probably the only Top 40 song to make a reference the prime time saop "Peyton Place."
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