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,[3] 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.[4]

The song establishes that the creature eats purple people, but not whether or not it is itself purple:

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[5][6][7]

The creature also declines to eat the narrator, "cause [he's] so tough".

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 purple-colored "people eater".[4]

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 themselves 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.[4]

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.[8]

The Sheb Wooley version crossed to the Billboard R&B Best Sellers in Stores chart, peaking at No. 18.[9]

Jackie Dennis covered the song in 1958, and his version reached No. 29 in the UK.[10]

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).[11]

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.[12]

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.[13]

Wooley re-recorded the song in 1979 under the title "Purple People Eater", which Gusto Records released through its King Records subsidiary.[14]


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.[15]

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.[16]


  1. ^ "The Purple People Eater". 45cat. Retrieved 2018-09-14.
  2. ^ a b Eder, Bruce. "Sheb Wooley". Allmusic. Retrieved September 4, 2021.
  3. ^ "CHUM Hit Parade - June 16, 1958".
  4. ^ a b c "Purple, Man, Purple". Time. July 7, 1958. Retrieved July 1, 2009.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "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.
  8. ^ Production Notes, Episode 16, Incident of the Misplaced Indians, Rawhide – The Complete First Season, Region 1, Disc 5, CBS DVD, 2006
  9. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 637.
  10. ^ "JACKIE DENNIS | full Official Chart History | Official Charts Company". Retrieved 27 April 2021.
  11. ^ "Judy Garland with Freddy Martin And His Orchestra - At The Grove". Retrieved 2016-08-29.
  12. ^ "The Purple People Eater #2 / Undertaker's Love Lament". Retrieved 2016-11-26.
  13. ^ "Barry Cryer OBE – Comedy Scriptwriter, Comedian & Broadcaster". Retrieved 2010-11-23.
  14. ^ "Purple People Eater". Retrieved 2016-11-26.
  15. ^ "The Purple People Eaters". Bob Lurtsema's Viking Update. Archived from the original on May 2, 2008. Retrieved July 1, 2009.
  16. ^ "PURPLE PEOPLE EATER - Trademark Details". Retrieved 2012-05-28.

External links[edit]