In September 1968, country music singer Jeannie C. Riley made history when she claimed both the country and pop music charts’ No. 1 spot. Thanks to her spirited rendition of Tom T. Hall’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” she became the first woman to score such on both charts with the same song. She held such title for over a decade until Dolly Parton claimed the crown in 1981 with her hit “9 to 5.” Before Riley, Margie Singleton first recorded the song. It was Riley’s follow-up cover though that brought the song to instant international fame. Her version was released just a month after Singleton’s original record.
“Harper Valley P.T.A.” and Its Inspiration
Although “Harper Valley P.T.A.” made history in America’s country and pop music genres, it wasn’t the first record of a woman to top the country music chart. A year earlier, “Ode to Billy Joe” by Bobbie Gentry set the same record. It even surpassed the Beatles’ sweet victory on the pop chart. It was this particular success of a song that inspired the creation of “Harper Valley P.T.A.”
Accordingly, Margie Singleton approached the prolific songwriter and musician Hall and asked if he could write a song similar to Gentry’s big hit. Drawing inspiration from an elementary school’s name for its title, Hall came up with “Harper Valley P.T.A.” Both songs, however, tackled different stories and addressed different issues. Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe” recounts a boggy Delta blues mystery. On the other hand, “Harper Valley P.T.A” is the narrator’s voice about certain social issues.
The song came out at the time Nashville was suffering from turmoil. Political conflicts and student protests were rampant during this period. Several country songs that became No. 1 hits at that time are those showing close relevance with these societal issues. Loretta Lyn’s “Fist City” and Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” were among these songs. Given the fact that the public listeners accepted those songs, it’s highly possible they’ll do the same for Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.” They did embrace the song and took it to the charts’ pinnacle.
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