The Purple People Eater
|"The Purple People Eater"|
|Single by Sheb Wooley|
|B-side||"I Can't Believe You're Mine"|
|Format||7 inch 45 R.P.M.|
|Genre||Rock and roll, novelty, comedy rock|
|Sheb Wooley chronology|
"The Purple People Eater" is a novelty song written and performed by Sheb Wooley, which reached no. 1 in the Billboard pop charts in 1958 from June 9 to July 14, and reached no. 12 overall in the UK singles chart.
"The Purple People Eater" tells how a strange creature (described as a "one-eyed, one-horned, flying, purple people eater") descends to Earth because it wants to be in a rock 'n' roll band. The premise of the song came from a joke told by the child of a friend of Wooley's; Wooley finished composing it within an hour.
The creature is not necessarily purple, but rather it eats purple people:
However, the creature also claims that the reason he chooses not to eat the narrator is because the narrator is "so tough", as opposed to the simple fact that the narrator is not purple, thus excluding him from the creature's stated diet.
The ambiguity of the song was present when it was originally played on the radio. In responses to requests from radio disc jockeys, listeners drew pictures that show a "people eater" colored purple.
The voice of the purple people eater is a sped-up recording, giving it a voice similar to, but not quite as high-pitched or as fast, as Mike Sammes's 1957 "Pinky and Perky", or Ross Bagdasarian's "Witch Doctor", another hit from earlier in 1958; and "The Chipmunk Song" which was released late in 1958. (The Chipmunks themselves eventually covered "Purple People Eater" for their album The A-Files: Alien Songs (1998).) The sound of a toy saxophone was produced in a similar fashion as the saxophone was originally recorded at a reduced speed. (The Chipmunks' cover version has a longer sax solo, and it was recorded and played at its normal speed.)
According to Wooley, MGM Records initially rejected the song, saying that it was not the type of music with which they wanted to be identified. An acetate of the song reached MGM Records' New York office. The acetate became popular with the office's young people. Up to 50 people would listen to the song at lunchtime. The front office noticed, reconsidered their decision, and decided to release the song.
The Sheb Wooley version crossed to the Billboard R&B listings, and while it did not make Billboard's country chart, it reached #4 on the Cashbox country listing.
A parody version of the song, "Purple Herring Fresser", with English-Yiddish lyrics by Lee Tully, was released shortly after the original in 1958.
The Hagen-Renaker ceramics company of California created a figurine of the Purple People Eater as part of its 1958–59 "Little Horribles" line. As mentioned above, the design takes its cue from a misinterpretation of the lyrics, coloring the creature purple. The figure was a best seller.
From 1982, major British toy manufacturer Waddingtons marketed a children's game inspired by the song. Players competed to remove tiny "people" from the rubber Purple People Eater shell, using tweezers on a wire loop which activated an alarm if coming into contact with its metal jaws.
The character was used as the basis for the film Purple People Eater (1988), with a cast including Neil Patrick Harris, Ned Beatty, Shelley Winters, Thora Birch, Little Richard, Chubby Checker and Wooley himself.
- "Purple, Man, Purple". Time. July 7, 1958. Retrieved July 1, 2009.
- Behrends, Ehrhard (2008). Five minute mathematics. AMS Bookstore. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-8218-4348-2. Retrieved April 24, 2009. Discusses this article, and notes lack of associativity in English.
- Pulfer, Mike (March 25, 2002). "Ask a stupid question". Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved April 24, 2009. Says it should have been written "purple-people eater" to make clearer the apparent intent that "purple" refers to the people eaten.
- "Some records are meant to make you bust a gut". Beaumont Enterprise. June 7, 2002 – via Newsbank (Article ID: 0206070061). (subscription required (. )) Says the "flying purple people eater ... ate purple people." Retrieved April 24, 2009.
- Production Notes, Episode 16, Incident of the Misplaced Indians, Rawhide -- The Complete First Season, Region 1, Disc 5, CBS DVD, 2006
- "Judy Garland with Freddy Martin And His Orchestra - At The Grove". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2016-08-29.
- "Barry Cryer OBE – Comedy Scriptwriter, Comedian & Broadcaster". Gordonpoole.com. Retrieved 2010-11-23.
- "The Purple People Eaters". Bob Lurtsema's Viking Update. Retrieved July 1, 2009.
- "PURPLE PEOPLE EATER - Trademark Details". Trademarks.justia.com. Retrieved 2012-05-28.
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|Billboard Top 100 number-one single (Sheb Wooley version)
June 9, 1958 (6 weeks)
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