Whenever you see sexist hypocrisy wittily called out by a jaunty, wise-cracking woman, you know Lilith is near. In this case, she had a little help – a Uranian Eclipse and a Gemini.
In 1968, Harper Valley PTA arrived out of nowhere and immediately became a huge hit. A country music song about a woman confronting the double standards of her local Parent-Teacher-Association, recorded by an unknown, it was not expected to go anywhere. But it went straight to number one on multiple charts, selling eight million copies and inspiring thousands of women to disrupt their PTA meetings or equivalent self-appointed morality cops. Newspapers wrote scornful editorials against – e.g., “that song has done for the P.T.A. what Godzilla did for downtown Tokyo, and the Boston strangler did for door-to-door salesmen” – but nothing stopped the high-rotation or the sales.
It was one month off a Solar Eclipse conjunct Uranus in Virgo/Virago, and Jupiter in Virgo squared Lilith in Gemini.
It was a steep success trajectory for Jeannie Riley, a Libra, young mother, and aspiring performer. She’d married at 17, was working as a secretary, and posting out demo tapes to try and get a break. Her second take of Harper Valley PTA became the hit. You can see her Mercury-Lilith in Scorpio conjunction in the live television performance. It’s in the arch emphasis on certain words and knowing, conspiratorial glances.
She was suddenly famous and made enough money to buy “a house, expensive perfume, and a Cadillac.” But she drew venom from people whose ideal female performer was the “Queen of Country” Loretta Lynn and songs like “You Ain’t Woman Enough…To Take My Man.” Others were mad that she’d bumped the Beatles Hey Jude off the top of the pops chart or felt that Riley should have stopped working at marriage.
The song talks of a widow but the songwriter, quadruple Gemini Tom Hall, wanted it to be about a single mother. Presumably, that was still too rad for the mid-60s. He was born with Lilith trine his Gemini stellium and refers to Harper Valley PTA as his “novel.” He was inspired by a particular woman who awed him and his friends at the age of nine.
“I was just hanging around downtown when I was about nine years old and heard the story and got to know this lady. I was fascinated by her grit. To see this very insignificant, socially disenfranchised lady — a single mother — who was willing to march down to the local aristocracy read them the riot act, so to speak, was fascinating.
I wrote the song 30 years later; that song was my novel. I had been reading Sinclair Lewis. As a young man, I read Lewis’ novels Babbitt and Elmer Gantry, which are about hypocrisy; Babbitt is, of course, about the social structure of the small town. So, being a big Sinclair Lewis fan, when I wrote “Harper Valley,” I incorporated elements of Elmer Gantry into the song.”
It was released on August 10 and was a sensation by the end of the week – Uranus and Pluto were trine his Venus in Taurus, and Lilith was smack-bang on his Gemini Sun. It’s difficult to envisage in 2021 but back then, the prospect of being slut-shamed by the small-town establishment or deemed an “unfit mother” was a tangible threat. A pop-cultural phenom rebuffal of that mindset was enormously supportive, galvanizing the ‘women’s lib’ movement.