When Jeannie C. Riley moved from Texas to Nashville, she became a prime example of the old adage about being in the right place at the right time. She performed demos for companies in Nashville. Her office skills weren’t that good, but her interest in the music business was so keen that Jerry Chestnut gave her a secretarial job. One of her demos landed on the desk of Shelby Singleton, a producer who established Plantation Records. He thought that Riley’s voice was perfect for a song written by Tom T. Hall, “Harper Valley P.T.A..”
A Woman’s Battle
The song was about a sassy woman who lived in Hall’s hometown of Morehead, Kentucky. Tom T. Hall depicted her battle with the local P.T.A. after her daughter had been spanked at school. Hall always claimed most of the lyrics were true, except for the protagonist wearing a mini skirt. Events in the story had taken place in the early 50’s long before miniskirt was even a thing. The song’s lyrical update reflecting the current fashion trend made Riley somewhat insecure. She knew that “Harper Valley P.T.A. would be a big hit, but she had doubted its potential on country music.
When Shelby Singleton drew the contract for Jeannie, she quickly signed and was in the studio the next morning ready to record. Within hours, her second take was chosen. An advanced pressing was sent over to a radio station and the song was immediately played on air. Jeannie C. Riley went home and called her mother in Texas saying that she had recorded the nation’s next No. 1 single. Just two months after her July 26th session, the song reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard’s Country Chart.
The Song’s Success
Ten days after the release of “Harper Valley P.T.A.”, it already sold 1.6 million copies and had sold well over 8 million to date. This record was only one of four records to reach the peak of both Billboard Country and Pop Charts during the 1960s.
Jeannie C. Riley won 1968’s Grammy award for “Best Female Country Vocal Performance,” and the Country Music Association awarded “Harper Valley P. T. A.” the trophy for 1968’s Single of the Year. “Harper Valley P. T. A.” went on to become the basis for a movie and a hit television series, with Barbara Eden starring in both.
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