About the song

If you are a fan of country music, you probably know the song “Harper Valley PTA” by Jeannie C. Riley. It’s a classic tune that tells the story of a widowed mother who stands up to the hypocritical members of the Parent-Teacher Association in her small town. But do you know the history behind this song? How did it become one of the most successful country-pop crossover hits of all time? Who wrote it and why? And what impact did it have on Riley’s career and the country music scene in general? In this blog post, we will explore these questions and more, as we dive into the fascinating story of “Harper Valley PTA”.

The song was written by Tom T. Hall, a renowned country singer-songwriter who has been dubbed “The Storyteller” for his ability to craft vivid and compelling narratives in his songs. Hall was inspired to write “Harper Valley PTA” after driving past a school called Harpeth Valley Elementary School in Bellevue, Tennessee. He noted the name and imagined a fictional confrontation between a young widow named Stella Johnson and a local PTA group who objected to her manner of dress, social drinking, and friendliness with the town’s menfolk.

Hall wrote the song in 1967 and filed the original copyright on December 26, 1967. He revised the lyrics on October 28, 1968, to reflect new details he added to the story. He recorded a demo of the song and sent it to Shelby Singleton, a former Mercury Records producer who had started his own label, Plantation Records. Singleton was looking for a female singer to record the song, as he believed it would be more effective from a woman’s perspective. He heard a demo tape of Jeannie C. Riley, a young secretary from Texas who had moved to Nashville with her husband and daughter to pursue a singing career. Singleton was impressed by her voice and invited her to record “Harper Valley PTA”.

Riley was hesitant at first, as she was not fond of the song’s message or its pop sound. She preferred more traditional country music and was afraid that recording the song would ruin her chances of being accepted by the country music establishment. However, she agreed to record it after Singleton promised her that she could record more conventional country songs later. She also changed her image to match the song’s rebellious tone, trading her conservative clothes for miniskirts and boots.

The song was released in August 1968 and became an instant hit. It topped both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Country Singles charts, making Riley the first woman to achieve this feat with the same song (a feat that would not be repeated until Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” in 1981). The song also reached number one on the Canadian RPM Top Singles chart and number 12 on the UK Singles Chart. It sold over six million copies as a single and earned Riley a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and a Country Music Association Award for Single of the Year. The song also spawned an album of the same name, which reached number one on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and number 12 on the Billboard 200 chart.

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