Monday, July 16, 2012

Story Songs: Harper Valley P.T.A.

Kentucky-born Tom T. Hall is known as The Storyteller because of his ability to weave stories into memorable songs. One of his biggest story songs was "Harper Valley P.T.A.," a tune recorded by Jeannie C. Riley that reached No. 1 in the pop and country charts in 1968.

For those unfamiliar with P.T.A, it stands for Parent Teacher Association as plays an integral part in involving parents in schools.

The song is about morals and double standards in a small community. Some P.T.A. members don't approve of a widow's lifestyle and send a note home with her teenage daughter expressing their displeasure:

"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."

That didn't sit too well with Mrs. Johnson and she attends the next meeting of the P.T.A., held the same afternoon. She addresses the group and proceeds to say that one member has asked her out seven times, insinuates one had a shady affair with his secretary, a female member may be an exhibitionist, and two members could have drinking problems.

She closes by saying:

"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"

The  song was made into a movie and TV series starring Barbara Eden. Riley won a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. And the song was named Single of the Year in 1968 by the Country Music Association.


  1. I absolutely love the songs of that era as that was when we seemed to have that boom of Songs As Story. HARPER VALLEY P.T.A. is a terrific example but for me the best one is ODE TO BILLY JOE which I like to call a Southern Fried Gothic Horror Story

    1. Derrick...When I go back and research some of the songs, it seems like many of them are from that era. Some serious, some silly -- but most of them interesting. I wrote about "Ode to Billy Joe" on May 19, one of my first "Story Songs." It's one of my favorites as well.