Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Oh, the jukebox single... beat to hell, dirt cheap, and easily available on a Ronco comp replete with "As seen on TV!" ads. But the 45 is cheaper and only features one song that you don't want to listen to instead of twelve. So you pay for it at the resale shop counter--a few barely listenable 7"s mixed in with some Isaac Asimov paperbacks, an old high-school gym t-shirt, some old Time Magazine back issues...
Consider the scene: 1968, a Moose or Elk lodge, entertainment slot machines by the bar, and in the corner a mini-skirted, single-mom regular punching in #13 for Jeannie C. Riley's "Harper Valley P.T.A." There's a greatness to this scene no matter how you look at it.
By the late 1960's, alcohol was decidedly uncool in the youth scene. It was your dad's habit, not yours, so there's something telling in the success of this single in the year that America fell into radical bedlam--a reminder that it was the same year that Nixon was inaugurated. The song tells the story of a "Harper Valley widowed wife," tramping around in miniskirts at bars, causing a ruckus in the neighborhood, and finally telling off all the judgemental hypocrites in the P.T.A. for being just as bad as she is. What makes the song even weirder is that Jeannie C. Riley, in her 20s at the time, is singing about her own mother, a woman who would have hit her prime while the boys were overseas in the Pacific. I guess the jukebox success of this song, evidenced by the worn grooves on this particular copy, gives a little hint to the motivations and secret wildness of Nixon's silent majority.
Plantation Records proprietor Shelby Singleton, name-checked here on the label, is yet another weird fixture of the Nashville music scene, and probably deserves a book of his own. He made a fortune on this particular single, purchased Sam Phillips' Sun Records (and back catalog) in 1969, and co-founded a label with Bill Cosby called Tetragrammaton, which released John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Two Virgins." Weird. Weird all over the place.
So, you know, a drink to the jukebox single, to the Elk lodge, to everyone in town being kind of a drunk and sexpot... Nostrovia!