The Purple People Eater

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"The Purple People Eater"
Single by Sheb Wooley
B-side"I Can't Believe You're Mine"
ReleasedMay 1958[1]
Songwriter(s)Sheb Wooley
Sheb Wooley singles chronology
"I Found Me an Angel" / "So Close to Heaven"
"The Purple People Eater" / "I Can't Believe You're Mine"
"The Chase" / "Monkey Jive"
Music videos
The Purple People Eater on YouTube, by Sheb Wooley. MGM Records (1958). (2:18 minutes, with lyrics)
The Purple People Eater on YouTube, by Sheb Wooley. Television performance (1958). (1:59 minutes)
The Purple People Eater #2 on YouTube, by Ben Colder, a.k.a. Sheb Wooley. MGM Records (1967). (2:33 minutes)
Purple People Eater on YouTube, by Sheb Wooley. Gusto Records (1979). (2:25 minutes)

"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, No. 1 in Canada,[4] reached No. 12 overall in the UK Singles Chart, and topped the Australian 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.[5]

Much of the song's humor derives from toying with the listener's expectations. The creature is initially described as having "one long horn", suggestive of an anatomical horn, yet the song ends with the creature playing music from the horn, implying that it is acoustic or instrumental.

Likewise, challenging the listener's assumption that the creature is a purple-colored people-eater, the creature asserts that it eats purple people:

I said Mr. Purple People Eater, what's your line?
He said eating purple people, and it sure is fine,
But that's not the reason that I came to land
I wanna get a job in a rock 'n roll band.[6][7][8]

The creature also declines to eat the narrator "'cause [he's] so tough", a term which can be interpreted either as fierce or not easily chewed.

Attempts to clarify the ambiguities in the song have persisted since its original release. The 1958 sheet music portrayed a purple creature playing the single horn on his head like a woodwind instrument, and MGM used the same image on record sleeves in foreign markets such as Australia and Japan. In response to requests from radio disc jockeys to portray the creature, listeners drew pictures that show a purple-colored people eater.[5]

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. Alvin and the Chipmunks eventually covered "Purple People Eater" for their 1998 album The A-Files: Alien Songs. The sound of a toy saxophone was produced in a similar fashion, as the saxophone was originally recorded at a reduced speed.[5]

Notable recordings[edit]

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.[9]

The Sheb Wooley version crossed to the Billboard R&B Best Sellers in Stores chart, peaking at No. 18.[10]

Jackie Dennis covered the song in 1958, and his version reached No. 29 in the UK.[11]

Judy Garland recorded the song on her 1958 Capitol Records album Garland at the Grove, accompanied by Freddy Martin & his Orchestra, issued as Capitol T 1118 (mono) and ST 1118 (stereo).[12]

Wooley recorded another version of the song in 1967, titled "The Purple People Eater #2" and credited to his alter ego Ben Colder, on the MGM label.[13]

A cover version recorded by British comedian Barry Cryer reached No. 1 in the Finnish chart after contractual reasons prevented Wooley's version being released in Scandinavia.[14]

Wooley re-recorded the song in 1979 under the title "Purple People Eater", which Gusto Records released through its King Records subsidiary.[15]

A dubstep song under the title "Purple People Eater" by the Swedish electronic music group Pegboard Nerds was released in 2018 and samples the original piece.[16][17]


The enduring popularity of the song led to the nicknaming of the highly effective "Purple People Eaters", the Minnesota Vikings defensive line of the 1970s, whose team colors include purple.[18]

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.[19]

In the 1984 post-apocalyptic novel Brother in the Land, cannibals are nicknamed "Purples", from the song.[20][21]

The 2022 film Nope features a cinematographer, Antlers Holst, who is hired to capture an alien on camera. While preparing to capture camera footage of the alien creature, Holst recites the lyrics from "The Purple People Eater".[22]

In Winter 2022/2023, the USDA Agricultural Research Service held the “Name that Holiday Pepper - Violet to Red” contest[23] on to name new varieties of ornamental peppers they had developed. The winning name for a purple pepper with Cayenne pepper spiciness level was "Purple People Heater".[24]


  1. ^ "The Purple People Eater". 45cat. Retrieved 2018-09-14.
  2. ^ a b Eder, Bruce. "Sheb Wooley". Allmusic. Retrieved September 4, 2021.
  3. ^ Snyder, Michael (September 30, 2019). "Spooky, scary, and silly tunes". Marina Times. Retrieved May 28, 2023. "The Purple People Eater," Sheb Wooley's doo-wop style novelty number...
  4. ^ "CHUM Hit Parade - June 16, 1958".
  5. ^ a b c "Purple, Man, Purple". Time. July 7, 1958. Retrieved July 1, 2009.[dead link]
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Pulfer, Mike (March 25, 2002). "Ask a stupid question". Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved April 24, 2009.[dead link] Says it should have been written "purple-people eater" to make clearer the apparent intent that "purple" refers to the people eaten.
  8. ^ "Some records are meant to make you bust a gut". Beaumont Enterprise. June 7, 2002 – via Newsbank (Article ID: 0206070061). Says the "flying purple people eater ... ate purple people." Retrieved April 24, 2009.
  9. ^ Production Notes, Episode 16, Incident of the Misplaced Indians, Rawhide – The Complete First Season, Region 1, Disc 5, CBS DVD, 2006
  10. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 637.
  11. ^ "JACKIE DENNIS | full Official Chart History | Official Charts Company". Retrieved 27 April 2021.
  12. ^ "Judy Garland with Freddy Martin And His Orchestra - At The Grove". Retrieved 2016-08-29.
  13. ^ "The Purple People Eater #2 / Undertaker's Love Lament". 1967. Retrieved 2016-11-26.
  14. ^ "Barry Cryer OBE – Comedy Scriptwriter, Comedian & Broadcaster". Retrieved 2010-11-23.
  15. ^ "Purple People Eater". 1986. Retrieved 2016-11-26.
  16. ^ "Pegboard Nerds Kick Off #NERDWEEK With "Purple People Eater" | Your EDM". 2018-07-25. Archived from the original on 2018-07-25. Retrieved 2023-09-28.
  17. ^ Pegboard Nerds - Purple People Eater [Monstercat Release], retrieved 2023-09-28
  18. ^ "The Purple People Eaters". Bob Lurtsema's Viking Update. Archived from the original on May 2, 2008. Retrieved July 1, 2009.
  19. ^ "PURPLE PEOPLE EATER - Trademark Details". Retrieved 2012-05-28.
  20. ^ "Brother in the Land told me (at 10) why I wouldn't survive nuclear war | Owen Jones". the Guardian. August 7, 2014.
  21. ^ Nelms, Beth; Nelms, Ben (1986). "Young Adult Literature: Wars and Rumors of Wars". The English Journal. 75 (3): 106–108. doi:10.2307/818888. JSTOR 818888 – via JSTOR.
  22. ^ Izay, Ryan (July 31, 2022). "Nope's Easter Eggs & References Explained". ScreenRant.
  23. ^ "Can you help us name this holiday pepper?". Instagram. December 21, 2022.
  24. ^ "USDA ARS Contest Winner Announcement". LinkedIn. January 12, 2023.

External links[edit]