Jeannie C. Riley, 'Harper Valley PTA'
Written by Tom T. Hall, riding country-soul rhythms and Jerry Kennedy's whiplash Dobro, and delivered indelibly by husky-voiced Jeannie C. Riley, "Harper Valley P.T.A." was an enormous hit: The single climbed to Number One on Billboard's country survey, succeeding "Mama Tried," and on its pop chart, preceding "Hey Jude." Like those records, it was era-defining. It also launched a great concept album. Several tracks here find Tom T. fleshing out stories for characters already told off by the single's famous, mini-skirt-wearing narrator. We learn, for instance, that "Widow Jones" needs "to keep her window shades all pulled completely down" because she likes to run around the house naked, and she's a widow because her husband drowned under questionable circumstances. Hall's songs aside, it's Riley who makes the album a country masterpiece. On "The Ballad of Louise," she's one frightening scorned lover. In "The Cotton Patch," she's a class warrior, weighing limited options and taking no shit.