The Purple People Eater
|"The Purple People Eater"|
|Single by Sheb Wooley|
|B-side||"I Can't Believe You're Mine"|
|Genre||Rock and roll, novelty, comedy rock|
|Sheb Wooley singles chronology|
|on YouTube, by Sheb Wooley. MGM Records (1958). (2:18 minutes, with lyrics)|
|on YouTube, by Sheb Wooley. Television performance (1958). (1:59 minutes)|
|on YouTube, by Ben Colder, a.k.a. Sheb Wooley. MGM Records (1967). (2:33 minutes)|
|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, reached No. 12 overall in the UK singles chart and topped the Australian charts.
"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 song establishes that the creature eats purple people, but not whether or not it is itself purple:
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".
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.
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 Best Sellers in Stores chart, peaking at No. 18. While it did not make Billboard's country chart, it reached No. 4 on the Cashbox country listing.
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.
The Hagen-Renaker ceramics company of California created a figurine of the Purple People Eater as part of its 1958–59 "Little Horribles" line. Due to the common misinterpretation of the lyrics as mentioned above, the creature was purple in color. 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 Purple People Eater". 45cat. Retrieved 2018-09-14.
- "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). 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
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 637.
- "Judy Garland with Freddy Martin And His Orchestra - At The Grove". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2016-08-29.
- "The Purple People Eater #2 / Undertaker's Love Lament". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2016-11-26.
- "Barry Cryer OBE – Comedy Scriptwriter, Comedian & Broadcaster". Gordonpoole.com. Retrieved 2010-11-23.
- "Purple People Eater". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2016-11-26.
- "The Purple People Eaters". Bob Lurtsema's Viking Update. Archived from the original on May 2, 2008. Retrieved July 1, 2009.
- "PURPLE PEOPLE EATER - Trademark Details". Trademarks.justia.com. Retrieved 2012-05-28.