Song Lyric Sunday: Jeannie C. Riley, “Harper Valley PTA”

Jim got today’s prompt from Angie Trafford: "Fraud, Hypocrite, Phony, Pretender, Snob." This took a couple of minutes to come up with, but I think I got a good one…

"Harper Valley PTA" is a song by the late Tom T. Hall. He wrote it in early 1968 and the demo reached the desk of Shelby Singleton, a former Mercury Records produer who had just started his own label, Plantation Records. Singleton had just received a demo from Texas country singer Jeannie C. Riley, and thought the song was perfect for her. He and Ms. Riley worked together on the song and it was released in August 1968. It became an almost instantaneous hit, reaching the top of both the Hot 100 and the Hot Country Singles chart, something a female artist wouldn’t do again until Dolly Parton did it in 1981 with the song "9 to 5." The song sold over six million copies and inspired both a movie and TV series of the same name, both of which starred Barbara Eden.

Hall said that he was inspired to write the song from a story he remembered from when he was a boy in Olive Hill, Kentucky in the 1940’s, which was almost exactly like the song. In that case, the PTA looked askance at a young widowed mother and her modern ways and was taking it out on her daughter. The mother showed up at the next PTA meeting and gave them a piece of her mind…

The lyrics, from AZLyrics:

I want to tell you all a 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
She said, “Mom, I got a note here from the Harper Valley P.T.A.”

The note said, “Mrs. Johnson, you’re wearing your dresses way too high
It’s reported you’ve been drinking and a-runnin’ ’round with men and going wild
And we don’t believe you ought to be bringing up your little girl this way”
It was signed by the secretary, Harper Valley P.T.A.

Well, it happened that the P.T.A. was gonna meet that very afternoon
They were sure surprised when Mrs. Johnson wore her mini-skirt 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 P.T.A.”

Well, there’s Bobby Taylor sittin’ there and seven times he’s asked me for a date
Mrs. Taylor sure seems to use a lot of 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
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 P.T.A.
The day my Mama socked it to the Harper Valley P.T.A.

And that’s Song Lyric Sunday (and Song of the Day) for August 29, 2021.

30 thoughts on “Song Lyric Sunday: Jeannie C. Riley, “Harper Valley PTA”

  1. I bet Tom T. Hall could have retired and lived comfortably on the royalties from this one alone.


  2. I was just so sad when I saw the great Tom T. Hall passed. He was such a force in country music. This is a great song and performed so well by Jeannie C. Riley. God bless the storytellers. Great choice today, John.


  3. Tom T. Hall could really put a story to music. I like this one, but I love his Old Dogs and Children and Watermelon Wine. He left us just last week. RIP Mr. Hall


  4. I’ve enjoyed this song since I was a tot and my mother and dad used to listen to Country & Western on their radio. Now I do have to wonder how many younger folk will get the lyrics that say “This is just a little Peyton Place…” LOL I think that classic book is probably fairly tame these days…


    1. I was reading the Wikipedia article on the song, and it says he was thinkng about the TV show, but the TV show was based on the book. Did they ever do an actual movie on the book?

      With books from that era, it was more what they made you think was happening than what was actually happening. They weren’t obscene so much as suggestive, which was enough to put a few heads in orbit…


    1. It’s one of my favorites as well. Again, it was a country song that made the Top 10. It didn’t matter that “the kids wouldn’t like it” or that “urban audiences couldn’t relate to it,” because clearly it did.

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