A small town with small-town minds, a teenage girl’s widowed mother who’s accused of scandalous behavior, minkskirts, and an exposé of the real goings on in the town. As the lyrics say, “This is just a little Peyton Place and you’re all Harper Valley hypocrites.” What’s not to like? The song was written by singer, songwriter, novelist Tom T. Hall. (Hmm, there is certainly a resemblance in the tune to Bobby Gentry’s “ode to Billie Joe,” but never you mind.) Hall offered it first to Skeeter Davis, but she turned it down. Then Plantation Records hurried up Riley’s release of the song because they found out that Billy Jo Spears and Margie Singleton had recorded it. Riley’s rendition was the smash, though; it was one of the big country music hits of the Sixties. In 1968, the song topped many charts, including #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles, Canadian charts, and in Australia. It was #4 on the U.S. Adult Contemporary chart and #12 in the U.K. Until Dolly Parton topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and Country charts in 1981 with “9 to 5,” Riley was the first woman to do so. “Harper Valley PTA” won Riley a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Female. Sock it to them, mama!
There have been numerous covers, including versions by Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Norma Jean, Bobbi Martin, Lynn Anderson, Jeannie Seely, Dottie West, Martina McBride, Sheb Woley (as parody by persona “Ben Colder”), and Squeeze, to name a few.
Jeannie C Riley was born Jeanne Carolyn Stephenson in Stamford, Texas. She has been a singer many decades, since the late 1960s, in the country music and gospel genres.