Ask Tom T. Hall to write another “Harper Valley PTA,” a thing he’d been very vocal about his reluctance to do. But, also, he’s a big softie. It’s easy to imagine him having a hard time saying “no” when Jeannie came to him about it in 1984. Tom wrote “Return to Harper Valley” for her. He even made all the lyrics fit Jeannie’s new Christian lifestyle.
We’re back at Harper Valley High because our narrator’s grandchildren go to the school now and she’s bought a ticket to the raffle at a school dance. She’s wearing a dress that’s well below her knees because just about every character from the original song is now on the straight and narrow. But wouldn’t you know it? She spots a man giving a cigarette to a school kid and, it turns out, he’s selling drugs in the parking lot. There’s the drummer of the band doing cocaine and these kids are all getting drunk and taking pills and taking off their clothes. She thinks about going home for her gun but, instead, decides to go home, pray with her Bible and, you guessed it, bring all this up at the next meeting of the Harper Valley PTA.
In short, the song is terrible. Nobody cared, at all, even with Tom joining Jeannie for promo appearances on all the usual TV shows, like Nashville Now. There seems to have been a sense of urgency in the writing, recording and release of the song. Whatever the reason for the rush, and even if fans of the original song had grown to develop more conservative values, there simply wasn’t enough interest in this return to generate airplay or sales figures.Seven years later, in 1991, Jeannie put out what looks like will be her final formally released single, “Here’s to the Cowboys.” The entire review in Billboard is one sentence long: Riley gives a poignant reading of this tribute to “cowboys” who are committed enough to be domesticated.
As some of you may have seen on Fox News in 2002. Somewhere along the line, she apparently forgot that she worked with the guy who was probably responsible for creating the “Elvis is still alive” rumors because she went on TV and told America that Elvis is still alive. His name is spelled wrong on that gravestone because Elvis was too honest of a man to put his name on a grave that doesn’t have him in it. She knows there are people in Nashville laughing at her and calling her crazy but she doesn’t have anything to lose.
In later years, Tom would always maintain that he never felt interested in trying to duplicate “Harper Valley PTA.” It’s quite likely that is true. But, if it is true, then I’ve got another Shelby Singleton story for you. In 1968, Dee Mullins, Shelby Singleton’s go-to guy for trying to piggyback off a hit or a headline, releases the single, “The Continuing Story of Harper Valley PTA.”
Sole writer, Tom. T. Hall. Or, at least, that’s what you’d believe, if you only saw the label of the single that was released to the public. Look up the copyright info on the song or find a picture of the label for the radio promo 7” and you’ll see two other writers listed, Clark Bentley and Jerri Clark. Considering that “The Continuing Story” is written so poorly that it isn’t even funny, I suspect those writers were brought in to milk every last cent out of this cash cow. Since Tom would have to be listed any way for writing the original, it seems they decided to just make it look like he wrote the second one all by himself, too.
Sheb Wooley aka Ben Colder ~ Harper Valley P.T.A. (Later That Same Day)
A very funny lil' ditty that became Sheb's last charting Top 40 Single, making it to #24 on the country charts back in November 1968