Rewinding the Country Charts: In 1968, Jeannie C. Riley's 'Harper Valley P.T.A.' Didn't Skirt Social Issues

Michael Rougier/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
Jeannie C. Riley seated between guitars and cymbals in a musical instrument store in Nashville, Tenn. 

Her statement song also made history atop Hot Country Songs and the Hot 100.

On Sept. 28, 1968, Jeannie C. Riley, then 22, topped Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart with "Harper Valley P.T.A.," a week after it had led the Billboard Hot 100. The female empowerment anthem was the first song by a woman to rule both surveys, and none would again until Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" in 1981.

Written by Tom T. Hall, "Valley" tells the story of the widow Johnson and her teenage daughter, who attends Harper Valley Jr. High. Not pleased with Mrs. Johnson's mini-skirts, the P.T.A. sends the daughter home with a note, addressing its disapproval. The result? The spunky widow, rocking a dress "way too high," struts into a PTA meeting and lets the "Harper Valley hypocrites" have it, reeling off a list of their indiscretions.

As the song's lyrics read like a script, no surprise that the tune led to a 1978 film and 1981 TV series, both starring Barbara Eden.

"Harper Valley P.T.A." was Riley's lone Hot Country Songs No. 1, but her career yielded 24 appearances on the chart, including six top 10s. Meanwhile, the song's parent LP of the same name crowned Top Country Albums for four weeks in November 1968.

Now 70, Riley, who became a born-again Christian in the 1970s, penned the 1980 autobiography From Harper Valley to the Mountain Top. She resides in Franklin, Tennessee.