Classic Album Review-Jeannie C. Riley “Harper Valley P. T. A.”
Let’s take a look back at the music world in late summer/early fall of 1968. On the country music side, “Mama Tried” by Merle Haggard and “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” from Eddy Arnold were two of the hottest hits, both peaking at number one. Meanwhile on the pop side, there were two classics rising above all others; The Rascals’ “People Got To Be Free” and The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”. And there was one other record that briefly enjoyed the same popularity of the above four; Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley P. T. A.”. So popular was “Harper Valley P. T. A.”, that it would knock Merle Haggard and The Rascals out of number one on their respective charts, before being knocked out of the top spots by Eddy Arnold and The Beatles. As for the album, it was released by Plantation in September, in the midst of the single’s chart run. The album would also top the country bestseller list, while peaking at twelve on the pop side.
The title cut may be one of the best known songs of it’s era, if not all time. Written by Tom T. Hall, if you’ve lived in a small town or community, there’s a very good chance that you can relate to the subject of people trying to tell others how to live, while hiding their own skeletons. In fact, I’m sure that’s one of the reasons why the song touched a nerve across the nation as it did back in 1968, So much so, in fact, that it became a number one country and pop smash.
“Widow Jones” tells the story of Widow Jones, mentioned in the previous song. This song tells us why she’s a widow and why those window shades aren’t down all the way. The song is styled very similarly to “Harper Valley P. T. A.”. It’s not a terrible song, but not particularly memorable, either.
“Big Brass Band” moves away from the Harper Valley theme, telling of a girl and her father who left for the big time, and now return to their hometown, only with the father in a casket, the victim of a bullet from a robbery that he was a part of. I’d rate this as one of the better songs on the album.
Back to the Harper Valley theme with “Mr. Harper”. Much like “Widow Jones”, a bouncy track giving more details about one of the subjects of the hit song. Also much like “Widow Jones”, not particularly memorable in any way.
Also not particularly memorable, is the track “Run Jeannie Run”. Again, I wouldn’t call it a bad song, but the word that does come to me is bland. Nice tempo, and potentially interesting story. But the track is missing something.
On the other hand, I found myself liking “Shed Me No Tears”. Catchy melody, bouncy track, it’s a very likable tune, even though the subject is morbid. Great song and great contrast with lyrics talking about when the singer passes on, mixed with an up tempo beat and bright melody.
Side two opens with a track titled “Cotton Patch”. In a nutshell, a teenage girl tires of small Texas town, runs away to Dallas where she’s going to make her fortune, only she winds up working in a dog food factory, and by the end, is trying to get back home. An okay track.
Back to the Harper Valley theme, this time with a song titled “Sippin’ Shirley Thompson”. Again, a contrast used, here. We find out about her drinking, her language (it’s colorful), and that her husband is a Bible salesman. Maybe the best of the Harper Valley-related songs, outside of the title cut.
The better songs on the album tend to be the ones not related directly to Harper Valley, such as “Little Town Square”. The song continues the up tempo, driving-type sound heard throughout the disc. This is one of the strongest tracks on the disc.
The album’s only ballad is a country-blues sound titled “The Ballad Of Louise”. The singer loses her love to Louise, only to get permanent revenge (we assume a firearm is likely involved), and will now have plenty of time to think about her actions, of which she states she will not ask forgiveness for. This one is actually a decent song for that type of song. And we find out that Jeannie is a pretty good ballad singer, as well.
The album ends with the track, “Satan Place”, which sounds like a “Harper Valley P. T. A.” take-off; only not nearly as good as “Harper Valley P. T. A.”. In this case, it’s not a PTA being taken to task, but a town council. Same story, worded a bit different. Even the melody, beat, and arrangement are similar. The question has to be asked, “When you already have the original, why waste a band on an imitation?”
As for availability, it is currently available on Cd, albeit in a shortened form, as the original eleven tracks has been pared to eight, with “Satan Place”, “The Cotton Patch”, and “The Little Town Square” having been dropped. However, the album is also available on MP3 download, of which Amazon shows to have the original eleven tracks, plus a twelfth bonus track. In addition, there are numerous used vinyl copies available, as well.
As for the album’s Standout Track, it’s a no-brainer. You have to go with “Harper Valley P. T. A.”. As for the Hidden Gem, I think I’ll have to go with “Little Town Square”. As for the Weakest Track, for me it’s “Satan Place”. Just too much of a “Harper Valley P. T. A.” clone.
This album could be considered a concept album, as several of the tracks are directly related to the hit track. Plus, all of the tracks on the album do touch upon the theme of a dark side that seems to reside in all of the subjects on each track, as well. Overall, this is a decent, but not great album. While there is no question as to “Harper Valley P. T. A.” being a classic and a great song, the other songs related to it are not nearly as good. They are not terrible, I’d label them as average. On the other hand, there are a couple of the other tracks that are very good. As for Jeannie, herself, she was an underrated vocalist, who possessed a fine, strong sound, yet could effectively handle the intimacies of a ballad when called upon to do so. She’s a singer who should have been longer in the spotlight, but unfortunately, often didn’t have the same level of material that her contemporaries did. I do like the overall sound of the album, kind of an edgy, in-your-face country sound. Taking all of this into consideration, I would have to give this album a rating of 3.5 out of 5. How about your opinion? Please take a moment and leave me a comment on what you think of the album, Jeannie C. Riley, or the song “Harper Valley P. T. A.”.
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